Your lungs work ceaselessly, breathing in about 2,900 gallons of air every day. In addition to fresh air and healthy exercise, your lungs appreciate good food. While a healthy, balanced diet provides all the nutrients your lungs need, some nutrients are required in higher amounts than others. Knowing which foods provide these can help you make healthy choices and breathe easier.
Soy foods may help you reduce your risk for lung cancer by as much as 60 percent, according to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Phytonutrients called isoflavones in soy foods protect both smokers and non-smokers from developing lung cancer. A study published in the April 2011 issue of the "Journal of Thoracic Oncology" found soy isoflavones inhibit DNA repair in certain types of lung cancer cells. This effect both inhibits lung cancer and makes cancer cells more sensitive to radiation therapy.
Wheat Germ and Nuts
Women who get plenty of vitamin E have less risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, according to Cornell University. The antioxidant vitamin prevents inflammation and free radical damage to delicate lung tissues. A laboratory animal study published in the June 2012 issue of the journal "Biomedical and Environmental Sciences" found that vitamin E prevented damaging effects of a pesticide on lungs. It also concluded that vitamin E in combination with the mineral selenium was more effective than either nutrient by itself. One of the best food sources for vitamin E is fresh wheat germ. Almonds, peanuts, avocados, mangoes and sweet potatoes also provide generous amounts of this important nutrient.
Orange and Yellow Fruits and Vegetables
Orange, red, yellow and green fruits and vegetables contain vitamins in the carotenoid family, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, that can help make your lungs strong and resilient, according to the University of Buffalo. Young adults with high levels of carotenoids have better lung capacity, according to a study published in the November 2011 issue of the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." To keep your carotenoid intake up, choose pumpkin, carrots and spinach for alpha- and beta-carotenes. Spinach, kale, turnip greens and collards provide the greatest amounts of lutein and zeaxanthin, which show the strongest association with lung benefits. Tomatoes top the list for lycopene content.
Fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C offer powerful, lung-boosting benefits for babies born to women who smoke, according to Oregon Health Sciences University. Women who are unable to quit during pregnancy and take 500 milligrams of vitamin C per day can improve lung development in their babies and help prevent some of the adverse effects on the baby's lung function from smoking. Poor lung function at birth is associated with higher risk for asthma in childhood. Good sources of vitamin C include sweet red peppers, which provide 95 milligrams per 1/2-cup serving; cooked broccoli, with 51 milligrams in 1/2 cup; and strawberries, which provide 85 milligrams of vitamin C in 1 cup.
- Journal of Thoracid Oncology: Soy Isoflavones Augment Radiation Effect by Inhibiting Ape1/Ref-1 DNA Repair Activity in Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
- Oregon Health Sciences University: Vitamin C Improves Lung Function in Newborns of Pregnant Smoking Women
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin C
- University of Buffalo: Diet Can Help Maintain Healthy Lungs
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Serum Carotenoid Concentrations Predict Lung Function Evolution in Young Adults: The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (Cardia) Study
- Linus Pauling Institute: Carotenoids
- Cornell University: Study: Long-Term Use of Vitamin E May Decrease COPD Risk
- Biomedical and Environmental Sciences: Dimethoate Induced Oxidative Damage and Histopathological Changes in Lung of Adult Rats: Modulatory Effects of Selenium And/Or Vitamin E
- Ohio State University Extension: Vitamin E
Tracey Roizman, DC is a writer and speaker on natural and preventive health care and a practicing chiropractor. She also holds a B.S. in nutritional biochemistry.