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Foods That Help Lung Capacity & Breathing

author image Bonnie Singleton
Bonnie Singleton has been writing professionally since 1996. She has written for various newspapers and magazines including "The Washington Times" and "Woman's World." She also wrote for the BBC-TV news magazine "From Washington" and worked for Discovery Channel online for more than a decade. Singleton holds a master's degree in musicology from Florida State University and is a member of the American Independent Writers.
Foods That Help Lung Capacity & Breathing
A woman catches her breath after a run.

Most people probably take their breathing for granted, with an average adult inhaling 15 to 20 times a minute, or more than 20,000 times per day, according to the American Lung Association. Various diseases, the aging process and pollution all take their toll on the lungs, but lifestyle changes like exercise and diet can help keep lungs healthy. Even so, some foods appear to be better than others in promoting lung capacity and the lungs’ natural defenses.

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Apples for sale at a market.
Apples for sale at a market.

The saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” may actually have some weight, particularly when it comes to lung health. Researchers at London’s St. George’s Hospital Medical School studied the diets of more than 2,500 men aged 45 to 49 and then looked at the subjects' ability to exhale using a special test called an FEV1. The results, published in the journal “Thorax” in February 2000, showed that good lung function was linked to higher consumption of foods containing vitamins C, E and beta-carotene. However, the only food that made a significant difference was eating five or more apples a week, with apple-eaters having a lung capacity 138 milliliters higher than those who didn’t consume apples. A 2008 lab study published in “Planta Medica” found that one or more apples a day may reduce your risk for lung and colon cancer.


Grilled salmon and vegetables.
Grilled salmon and vegetables.

Fish oil contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids that help fight inflammation in your body. A study from 1994, published in the “European Respiratory Journal,” looked at a diet high in fish consumption and its effects on asthma and other pulmonary diseases. The researchers reviewed data from more than 2,500 adults in the First National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, regarding diet and FEV1 breath exhalation test results. The data showed chronic dietary intake of fish is likely associated with higher levels of pulmonary function, probably due to effect of fish oil on moderating harmful levels of arachidonic acid in your body.

Red Bell Peppers

A close-up of a red bell pepper.
A close-up of a red bell pepper.

Foods such as red bell peppers that are high in an orange-red compound called beta-cryptoxanthin may help lower your risk for lung cancer. A study reported in 2003 in the journal “Cancer, Epidemiology Markers and Prevention” reviewed dietary data from more than 60,000 adults in Shanghai, China and found those consuming the most beta-cryptoxanthin foods had a 27 percent decrease in lung cancer risk. Red bell peppers also contain high levels of vitamin A. Researchers at Kansas State University investigated the link between vitamin A and both lung inflammation and the lung disease emphysema. The study found laboratory animals fed a vitamin A-deficient diet developed emphysema, and a diet rich in the vitamin was able to counter the effect and reduce emphysema rates.


A man pours a glass of red wine.
A man pours a glass of red wine.

A study published in “BMC Pulmonary Medicine” in 2002 studied antioxidant-rich wine and its effects on the lungs. A random sample of subjects were given FEV1 and forced vital capacity, or FVC, tests. After analyzing the 30-day and lifetime alcohol consumption behaviors of the subjects, the researchers were able to link higher rates of both red and white wine consumption to the best lung function test results. The researchers concluded that although a healthier lifestyle in wine drinkers might affect the results, the tests were suggestive that moderate wine intake may be good for your lungs.

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