How To Improve Lung Health

April 8, 2023

It’s easy to take healthy lungs and a healthy respiratory system for granted when things are working correctly. Today, we’re going to offer you some things to think about when it comes to breathing and your lungs. We’ll talk about the most common lung-related issues and how the right nutrition can play a big role in reducing symptoms. You’ll walk away with tips on how you can prevent lung inflammation whether you or the kids in your life have asthma, frequent bronchitis, post-COVID symptoms, other respiratory conditions, or just want to breathe a little easier.

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Hello and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition. Before we start today's podcast, we want to let you know about a great deal we're offering this month on our individual self-paced online classes. Now through April 15th, a selection of our self-paced online classes are 50% off. So instead of $25 each, they're just $12.50 cents. And with almost 20 options to choose from, we're sure you'll find a helpful, interesting class.

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KARA: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We're a company specializing in life-changing nutrition education and counseling. I'm Kara Carper. I'm a Licensed Nutritionist and Certified Nutritionist. I have a master's in Holistic Health and I teach classes at the Wayzata office and also virtual like most of my colleagues. And I'm really excited to be here today with my cohost, Nikki Doering. Nikki's a Licensed and Registered Dietitian, and she also sees clients and teaches in Wayzata.

NIKKI: I do. Hi, Kara. Its good to be here. I am a, like you mentioned, a registered and licensed dietitian. I've worked here at Nutritional Weight and Wellness for about four and a half years. I do work here in Wayzata and then I also work in Maple Grove, so I see clients in both locations and I see obviously virtually as well too, which is great. And I recently, about six months ago, got back from a maternity leave, so I have a 10-month-old daughter and a six-year-old son.

KARA: Little Quinn or big Quinn, I should say.

NIKKI: Yes, little Quinn. And then I have big Max who's six years old. So yeah, I'm super excited to be back doing Dishing Up Nutrition and back in the offices.

KARA: Yeah. We missed you when you were gone.

NIKKI: I missed everybody.

KARA: We’re happy you back. Well Nikki, I'm really fascinated with our topic today. And you know, of course we're kind of biased. We probably believe that all of our show topics are interesting, but when I was doing research for the show today, it really had me thinking in a different way about breath and breathing. So how many breaths do you think you took yesterday? Like the average amount of breaths for one day?

NIKKI: Oh, Kara, I didn't know you were going to quiz me. No. That's a really good question. I'm really not sure about that. And you know, breathing is something that most of us don't really think much about, but obviously it's a huge part of our everyday life.

KARA: I know, it is one of those things, I think many, I, my personally, I take it for granted. And I didn't know the answer to that either, but I did recently read that we take about 25,000 breaths every single day. So I only think about breathing when something doesn't feel right. And I think that's kind of common. So whenever I've felt short of breath, maybe I had a chronic cough for whatever reason, that's when I've realized how critical it is to have a respiratory system that's working properly.

NIKKI: Exactly. And I can kind of relate. When I was pregnant with Quinn and Max, actually, I remember the shortness of the breath really bothered me. It's one of the biggest pregnancy symptoms that I didn't know was coming and didn't really enjoy because I was, I'm a fast walker, I love, you know, I go upstairs whenever I can. It was hard when you are short of breath to do that. So I, I agree. Same here. And it's easy to take healthy lungs and a healthy respiratory system for granted when things are working properly. We're going to talk today about the most common lung related issues and how right nutrition can play a big role in reducing those symptoms.

2 most common respiratory diseases: asthma and COPD

KARA: Yeah. And that might be a new thought for people that nutrition is even related to the respiratory system. So the two most common respiratory diseases are asthma, and then the other one, it's called COPD. And if listeners have not heard of that acronym, it stands for cardio obstructive pulmonary disease. Now, asthma is more common than COPD. 25 million Americans have asthma. So that's an average of one in 13. And 5 million diagnosed with asthma are kids who are under 18.

NIKKI: My clients, I see some clients that come in sometimes with asthma and they either have asthma themselves or they make an appointment with me to discuss their child's asthma diagnosis, which I think is pretty common. We just mentioned how it was. And they say it's one of the scariest things to either personally live through or experience or witness their child to have.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways. These are tubes that carry air in and out of our lungs. If you have asthma, the inside walls of your airways are inflamed or swollen. This makes the airways sensitive. So they react to things you're allergic to or find irritating. Once the airway is narrowed, it's harder for the air to flow in and out. And this can cause that coughing or wheezing, maybe chest tightness or even shortness of breath., which is scary.

KARA: As you know, because you experience that during pregnancy; probably took you off guard too.


KARA: And asthma in kids, it's one of the most common causes of missed school days. And if you think about it, you know, asthma can disrupt sleep, play, academics, everything throughout the day. So it's a really stressful disease for both kids and parents. And there can be, like you said, there's a lot of triggers for asthma. Some are related to allergies, whether that's an environmental allergy, could be a food sensitivity or a food allergy. Sometimes there's exercise induced asthma. Stress can, you know, cause an asthma attack or sometimes an illness or an infection can trigger an asthma episode.

NIKKI: Yeah. And I just remember, you know, kids and their sports is one of the biggest things that they care about when they have asthma, and adults too with their activity level. It can be so hindering. 

What is COPD?

So now let me give the definition of COPD. The cardio obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is sort of an umbrella term for lung disease that gets worse over time. So it's different than asthma, what we just related to. If someone has COPD, they can have constriction of their airway or they can have discomfort with breathing. When someone is diagnosed with COPD, it is usually because they have a disease called emphysema or they've had chronic bronchitis for years and emphysema or bronchitis has done a lot of damage to their lungs. So it's, they get those symptoms more frequently and sometimes end up needing oxygen.

KARA: Yeah, I know and well, you and I were talking before the show, we both have experience with knowing people who are on oxygen. And I didn't realize that about you, but my grandmother passed from emphysema.


KARA: And she was on oxygen for years.

NIKKI: Yeah. Yes. My grandmother too. She had the same thing.

KARA: Yeah. So that's, we learned something about each other there.


What can be some potential causes/triggers for lung conditions?

KARA: When I was seeing clients, and this was several years ago, I didn't have a lot of people coming in with asthma or COPD. So I had to do a deep dive in preparation for this show about this subtle differences in these terms. So they do have similar symptoms, but they're not considered the same disease. And asthma tends to develop, like we had mentioned at a younger age. It's very common in 18 or under. And it's more common that asthma will flare up from environmental triggers and foods and drinks too. COPD is caused by what you said, Nikki, more of that long-term damage to the lungs from maybe chronic bronchitis that keeps reoccurring and things like that.

NIKKI: Yeah. So exactly. And here's some interesting statistics because we always like to throw some statistics at our listeners. So from the American Lung Association, 85 to 90% of COPD cases are caused from smoking. To recap, chronic bronchitis and emphysema are almost always caused from smoking.

KARA: And you know, my grandmother was a smoker as well.

NIKKI: So yeah. My grandmother was around secondhand smoke.

KARA: Okay.

NIKKI: Yeah.

KARA: So if someone is diagnosed with chronic bronchitis or emphysema and wasn't a smoker like you were just talking about, so that would be the other 10 to 15% of folks, it's usually because of secondhand smoke exposure, exposure to air pollution, working with chemicals or fumes. And a smaller percentage could happen from genetics or a childhood respiratory infection.

NIKKI: Well, and that's interesting because my grandmother also was a cleaning lady, so she was exposed to those environmental, like cleaning products and so she kind of falls into that 10 to 15%.

KARA: That's interesting. So she was, she had the secondhand smoke exposure and the cleaning, the environmental piece as well.

NIKKI: And they've compared in some studies, smoking and cleaning chemicals, and they're similar to so many cigarettes a day smoking. So for cleaning people. Yes. Yeah. They've done some research on that and studies on that. And although our listeners already know that smoking is not good for overall health and especially lung health; it's kind of a given. We've learned that a long time now.

KARA: Yeah.

NIKKI: It's important to also share that smoking is number one on the list for lung damaging activities and is the leading cause of lung cancer. So there's that big C word: cancer, cancer that makes us our eyes open typically. And that's according to the Centers of Disease Control. Smoking causes 80 to 90% of all cases of lung cancer. Even secondhand smoke can increase the risk for lung cancer up to 20 to 30%.

KARA: Right. And although, you know, that's not our topic today is lung cancer, We just wanted to share that information because it is, it is pretty prevalent when you're talking about 20 to 30%.

NIKKI: Exactly.

KARA: So, well it's time to take our first break, Nikki. So you're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition and today's topic is lung health. And we'll be talking a lot more about how cutting out inflammatory foods and beverages can reduce lung inflammation and either reduce or remove those awful symptoms that a lot of people experience, like shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and gagging.

Gut health is connected to lung health

Did you know that the health of your gut is directly connected to your lung health? Now that might be another new thought for you that the health of your intestinal tract is related to your breathing. A study looked at 250,000 children. The conclusion was that breastfeeding was associated with a 19% lower chance of a child getting asthma. So I'll just kind of reword that. Breastfeeding an infant prevented the chances of the child getting asthma, which just as a reminder, asthma is the most common respiratory disease. So we'll be right back to talk more about this.


NIKKI: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. I'm Nikki Doering, Licensed and Registered Dietitian here with Kara Carper, Licensed Nutritionist. Kara shared before break that a study with 250,000 participants found that children who were breastfed had a 19% lesser chance of getting asthma compared to those who were not breastfed. And let me tell you, that's a huge study: 250,000 participants. So that's a big one. That's, that's a big study.

The big takeaway from this study and many other similar studies is that having enough good gut bacteria can help to prevent or reduce asthma symptoms and any other inflammatory lung disease or issue. Breast milk contains protective, good bacteria, especially bifido bacteria. So babies who are breastfed benefit from that good protective source of bifido bacteria.

KARA: And so Nikki, if we, if you had a client come to you and you know, she was pregnant, the dietitians at Nutritional Weight and Wellness would say, you know, if you can breastfeed, we do recommend that. But of course we understand there are circumstances when it's not possible and some moms just choose not to. So really regardless of the situation around breastfeeding, having an infant, a toddler, or a child of any age, you know, they can supplement with bifido bacteria as well. And that can be a really great preventative approach for situations like asthma, allergies, even acid reflux or GERD.

So that's relevant for adults too. It's not just the babies and the, and the kids. So it's never too late to start taking a probiotic supplement to improve the health of the respiratory system.

NIKKI: Exactly. And I will say that although I breastfed Quinn, I supplemented her with probiotics when we were breastfeeding and then when we kind of transitioned because I needed to supplement with formula as well cause I just didn't make the volume and I just put the little probiotic right in her formula bottles or mixed it into, you know, when she started solids, you know, some fruit puree or things like that. So it's easy to get it into your baby even when breastfeeding might not be the option for certain people.

KARA: Right.

NIKKI: Or if you are breastfeeding.

KARA: Yeah. You could do both, I mean because sometimes the breast milk may not be really high in the bifido bacteria, depending on the intestinal health of the mother.

NIKKI: Exactly, yes.

KARA: Maybe the mother was on antibiotics and wasn't having enough good bacteria to start with.

NIKKI: Yep, yep. Antibiotics are very, very common for babies and mothers and a combination. I unfortunately had to be on antibiotics too. So that was one of the reasons that got me on board with the probiotics right away when she was born; both my kids actually. And the great thing is bifido comes in a lot of different forms. So you can get bifido capsules. We have powder form of bifido. We also have multi strain probiotics like Biotic 7, which contain that bifido bacteria and several other different strains of bacteria that support that intestinal lining and the health.

Overcome smoking & other addictions with nutrition counseling

KARA: So before a break, Nikki, we were talking about smoking and lung cancer is very common when someone is smoking. And we know that probably not new information that lung damage can happen from smoking. But we just thought it was important to share that if a listener is smoking, you know, quitting at any age can certainly lower that risk of developing lung cancer.

And Nikki, I don't know how many clients you have that struggle with giving up smoking, but I remember when I was seeing clients, the one-on-one nutritional counseling really can be beneficial if someone's having a difficult time, you know, cutting back or quitting smoking because those cravings for tobacco, they're really similar to other addictive substances. So the dietitians and nutritionists know how to counsel people with a variety of addictions, whether that's tobacco, alcohol, sugar, soda. There's a lot of addictive substances.

Schedule Nutrition Counseling

NIKKI: Yes. And luckily there's not a, I don't have a lot of clients that struggle with smoking. I, I feel like it is going down. I think the numbers are going down of people who smoke, but I do have a few and yeah, it's, it's very addictive and it's, it's good to, it feels good to help. And I remember, you know, taking the dietitian like RD exam, the registered dietitian RD exam, and one of the questions on there was if this patient had, you know, these health things going on that needed to be, you know, what would be the first thing you would work on? And one of them was listed smoking. And so that had nothing to do with nutrition obviously. But they said that was the first thing you want to work on with people is having, helping people quit smoking.

KARA: Oh that's interesting.

NIKKI: Yeah. So I'm glad that as a nutritionist and dietitian, we kind of learned that right away. Like we are part of that help.

KARA: That's great. Yeah. Yeah.

Lower inflammation to help improve chronic lung conditions

NIKKI: So like we've been talking about, there are certain habits, addictions and environmental factors that can lead to lung disease, but the focus of our show is the nutritional factors; obviously Dishing Up Nutrition. Right? And nutrition plays a role. We know that any type of lung condition or lung disease is happening because of inflammation. It's super important to lower inflammation. Inflammation causes chronic disease. It doesn't really matter where the inflammation is, it can cause chronic disease and it stems, you know, in any form.

KARA: I'm so glad you brought that up too, because inflammation really is the driver behind major diseases, whether we're talking about asthma, COPD, cancer, heart disease. Right?


Sugar increases inflammation

KARA: So it's really that, that inflammation: we need to tame that. And Nikki, you shared with me before the show that the most common lung issues you see when you're meeting with clients is asthma. And asthma is so prevalent, especially with the kiddos. And so listeners, did you know that perhaps the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that was packed for lunch could be contributing to asthma? Or the juice box, carton of milk, maybe it's a sport drink like Gatorade. Those could all be setting up a situation for an asthma attack.

NIKKI: And I will admit that I didn't really know that before I worked at Nutritional Weight and Wellness that those foods and those drinks caused inflammation. So this I can understand, could be really new information to our listeners, but we don't want parents or caregivers to feel guilty or bad. We're just here to educate folks on how to reduce asthmatic symptoms in kids and adults. Sugar and foods and drinks that turn into a lot of sugar lead to inflammation. And those lungs are really vulnerable to anything causing inflammation. Sugar and foods that turn into sugar quickly are a big asthma trigger.

KARA: And the Journal of Asthma published a study had over 2000 5th graders and the study found that the kids who drank sweetened beverages on a regular basis were at an increased risk of developing respiratory symptoms and asthma. So that's really interesting because you're kind of tying in not just inflammatory foods but sweetened beverages as well.

NIKKI: Exactly. And that's another big story or big study: 2000 kids. And I remember too, like now that I'm going to the pediatrician a lot more with my two kids, they are talking about sugary beverages more frequently, which is good to hear. I'm kind of happy about that when I put my little dietitian hat on when I'm in the office.

So it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that kids need to have something to drink that isn't just water. I think not only kids but adults fall into that trap a lot too. I know I struggle that with my clients, you know, educating my clients on what's the best thing for our body beverage wise? It's water. Especially if they are in sports and coaches or parents are providing energy drinks or electrolyte drinks like Gatorade or Powerade, which I think are pretty common.

KARA: They really are. I know I, I coached softball for my daughter's softball team the last couple of summers and the kids get so excited when parents, you know, are bringing like these sports drinks because…

NIKKI: And they're almost expected.

KARA: They kind of are.

NIKKI: I need these things.

KARA: Regardless of like how much energy the kiddos are exerting. It's like, oh I need like a 20-ounce Gatorade, which is a lot of sugar.

NIKKI: It's a lot.

KARA: You know, most of those drinks, they're either high in sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup. That's very triggering for asthma and just in general lung inflammation. And if those drinks are not high in sugar, it's usually because they have some sort of an artificial sweetener. Sucralose, which is Splenda or aspartame, which is NutraSweet. And both of those chemicals, they're not good for the brain or the body. So we just encourage you, you know, read the labels. If you see high fructose corn syrup, if you see sugar, aspartame or sucralose, just avoid those beverages.

More potential food triggers for lung inflammation: corn & fast food

NIKKI: Yes. Yes. I think you're doing a healthy activity, why cause inflammation when we're trying to reduce it? I think of, you know, my clients who have come in with asthma or breathing issues, mostly asthma. Corn has been a big trigger for several of my clients. And even fast food. I've had a lot of kids tell me when they eat fast food, they have more wheezing and harder time breathing, which is kind of eye-opening.

KARA: All right. Well Nikki, it's time for our second break and so we'll talk more about that when we come back. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition and today we're talking about ways that you can prevent lung inflammation, whether the condition is asthma, chronic bronchitis, or maybe a different respiratory condition. Really the key takeaway from today's show is to reduce inflammation, and we'll talk more after break about an essential fatty acid that's called GLA: gamma linolenic acid. And that's been found to greatly reduce lung inflammation. So we'll be right back.


Hello, this is Teresa, one of the licensed dietitians with Nutritional Weight and Wellness. Before we get back to the show, I want to invite you to a special virtual event we have coming up called “What to Expect From Nutrition for Weight Loss”. If you've, you've been listening to Dishing Up Nutrition for a while, you've probably heard us talk about the Nutrition for Weight Loss program and you might have been thinking, is this program right for me? Can it really help me achieve my health goals?

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I hope you will join us April 16th to learn more about what to expect from the Nutrition for Weight Loss program. Thank you for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition and let's get back to the show.

GLA: helpful in reducing lung inflammation

NIKKI: Welcome back. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. As mentioned prior to the break, we were talking about GLA. It's an essential fatty acid that has been found to reduce inflammation in the lungs, and I recommend it to many of my clients, especially those struggling with asthma or COPD or residual respiratory issues that go along with some COVID cases. I think we've heard a lot about that just in clinic in the last three years after the pandemic.

KARA: Mm-Hmm.

NIKKI: GLA is an essential fatty acid that can be difficult to get from food sources. That's one of the reasons many people are deficient in it.

KARA: And you know, it's also common that some folks just do not have the enzyme that is needed to break down food sources. So basically like they could be eating omega six food sources, maybe nuts and seeds and things like that. And technically they have omega six fatty acids, but if you don't have the, is it the Delta-6 desaturase enzyme?

NIKKI: Yes. Nice memory.

KARA: A lot of folks don't have that enzyme that's working so they're not able to break down the nuts and seeds that will turn into the active form, which is that GLA and just, you know, GLA is what will reduce lung inflammation. So sometimes I guess my point is it's helpful to take GLA as a supplement.

NIKKI: Yeah, the supplement. Yes. Yeah. And we have a GLA supplement that's great that I recommend a lot of times with my clients. And usually we have them a client taking between three and six of the softgels of the Nutrikey GLA, and that can really help with reducing the respiratory inflammation. GLA also helps other body symptoms like dry or brittle hair, skin and nails.

KARA: Mm-Hmm.

NIKKI: I know that I like it for hangnails. I notice like I might if I start getting hangnails, I've noticed when I take GLA the hangnails get healed up, or like if you have that kind of dry skin on your heels, that's another thing that you could try GLA for.

KARA: And I use it for kind of that bumpy kind of almost, we call it chicken skin.


KARA: I noticed that, you know, sometimes in the winter I'm like oh I think I am deficient in GLA and I'll buy a bottle and within like a month my skin is much smoother.

NIKKI: Yes, I see the same thing. I may be drinking tons of water thinking that's my issue. But yeah, a little GLA helps hydrate those tissues.

KARA: Yeah.

NIKKI: Bring your skin back to life. So before break we were kind of talking about those sweetened beverages, especially at sporting events: the Gatorade and the, what's the other one?

KARA: Powerade. Powerade is another brand.

NIKKI: Yes. And we mentioned like seeing those at sporting events and your daughter has seen some of that.

KARA: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, I had mentioned that she would love it at softball when Gatorade was served. Because to be honest, Nikki, it's like drinking a dessert.


KARA: I mean ounce for ounce, it does have the same amount of sugar as soda does.

NIKKI: Which is kind of shocking.

KARA: So maybe a lot of people might not know that.

NIKKI: And it's high fructose corn syrup too. It's not a real natural sugar that's in those.

KARA: So I think the reason that happens is probably just because there's a misconception and this goes for kids or adults, that when they're exercising, that it's necessary to drink something with electrolyte replacements. And so I don't know personally I always think of who's making money on this; the electrolyte replacement companies. But biochemically we really just need water and good nutrition during exercise. And there are cases, you know, if someone is doing an endurance activity: cycling or you know, running a half marathon or a marathon for more than 90 minutes, those could be a different circumstance. And maybe you can talk about what would be a good alternative.

Healthier alternatives to electrolyte replacement high-sugar beverages

NIKKI: Yes. I, I think that's a big thing and I always picture like 90 minutes, you know, you could have a kid doing a 90 minute sport, but are they really exercising that entire time? Are they out being, you know, or are they sitting on the sidelines while their friends are out playing? You know, so really evaluate, is this an electrolyte need or not?

KARA: Right. Like soccer might be something where they're running, running, running, but softball, there's a lot of like dugout time and like non-active time.

NIKKI: Yep. So when preparing for exercise for you or your kiddo, a good rule of thumb is to drink an extra eight ounces of water for every 30 minutes of activity. For those adults or kids who are exercising 90 minutes or more without stopping, I recommend electrolyte replacements with no sugar and no artificial sweeteners.

KARA: And we actually have one at our office that I really like. It's called Endura. There aren't a lot of times when I'm exercising for more than 90 minutes straight, but if that happens, I would just put a scoop of the Endura in a water bottle. It mixes up really well and it's flavorless so it's got an even better mix of electrolytes compared to Gatorade or Powerade. It's got no sugar, no artificial sweeteners. So I wanted to actually talk about another option for kids, especially if, if they're like, well I kind of like a flavor.


KARA: You know, so a really great option that again does not have sugar or artificial sweeteners; it's something, it's called Nutrikey Key Greens and you could just put a half scoop or even a full scoop in water. It's really delicious. I think there's probably 10 flavors. A lot of times I'll just put it in a smoothie, you know, strawberry kiwi, there's even like a chocolate flavor. I will mix it up in plain full fat yogurt for my daughter and have that as a snack. So that's just another option for getting in some antioxidants and electrolytes.

NIKKI: Yeah, it reminds me, I just did that this week with my, I just poured a half a scoop or maybe I put a whole scoop in. I think there’s a tangerine flavor. And my son's eyes like bugged out of his head because it was this pretty like pinky purply color and he's like, I want that. So there you go. If your kids need a little bit of that razzle dazzle.

KARA: And it, I should say too, it be, it does have a sweet flavor, because the sweeteners that they use are either stevia or monk fruit, which are just plant-based.


KARA: They're not, it's not sugar or artificial sweeteners.

More sugar and processed carb foods that can lead to lung inflammation

NIKKI: Yep. So I want to talk about some other foods that lead to more inflammation in the lungs; basically any foods high in sugar or processed carbs that act like sugar in the body. I see a lot of kid foods in the grocery store that parents may not even realize are high in sugar. So I think of like fruit snacks or I see those fruit chews, those kind of long strips of fruit.

KARA: Oh yeah. I can't remember what those are called.

NIKKI: They’re organic and yeah, yeah, fruits.

KARA: They're like rolled up. They're rolled up. Or even just, they're long flat things and they, they're fruits right. And they are made out of fruit but they're concentrated sugar. Cold cereal, hot cereal for that matter has a lot of sugar, can have a lot of sugar in it as well. Granola or breakfast bars: I think anything, if you look over on the label and you see 45 grams of total carbohydrates in there, that's a lot of carbs and then even flavored yogurt has a lot of sugar in it.

KARA: They sure do. I know and that's great that you said the 45 grams of carbs. So listeners, if you are reading labels, we encourage you to read labels. Look for that total carbohydrate content and just do a little math quick in your head at the grocery store, divide by four, that's how many teaspoons of sugar that food item is being converted to in your bloodstream. So 45, you know, there's 11 teaspoons of sugar, 45 carbs.

NIKKI: So even a healthy, organic, great ingredients on the label could be 11 teaspoons of sugar.

KARA: 11 teaspoons of sugar. And sugar drives that lung inflammation. So there's other high carbohydrate foods too. And a lot of the inflammatory, more processed carbs are made from flour. Think about bread, pasta, muffins, bagels, chips, crackers, things like that. Just by nature, they're spiking up that blood sugar. And that leads to inflammation.

Correlation between gluten and asthma

NIKKI: Yep. And Kara, they've actually done studies: The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology; that's kind of a mouthful. One of their studies found a correlation between eating gluten and asthma. This is huge because it's not very often that doctors will recommend removing certain foods to see if their patient's asthma symptoms will improve. That might be new information for some of some of you, especially if you suffer from asthma, you might have never heard that from a provider to say, hey, have you ever tried cutting out certain things? Asthma and other inflammatory lung conditions are often happening because of food allergies or sensitivities.

KARA: And I had mentioned earlier I shared that my grandmother, she passed after a long bout with emphysema. That was very, very difficult to watch with the oxygen and hospital bed in her home and things. So I've seen firsthand what it's like to have loved ones deal with the shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing. In fact Nikki, I've witnessed it with four different very close family members and unfortunately have all passed on.

So it's a terrible condition to have and most people are just kind of in that situation. They're trying to just get through their day. Maybe they're using short-term inhalers. Some folks need long-term more of the corticosteroid inhalers. There's other steroids like prednisone and a lot of other medications and treatments. So you know, being short of breath can really reduce the enjoyment of life and from people being able to participate in a variety of activities.

So you're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. I'm Kara Carper, Licensed Nutritionist. I'm here with Nikki Doering, Licensed and Registered Dietitian and we will be right back after break.


NIKKI: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. We've had shows in the past about how nutrition can support, improve and heal symptoms from people experiencing COVID long haul. One specific show that I think about is “Nutrition Tips for COVID Long Haulers” and it was actually dated April 3rd, 2022 if you're looking to listen to that. We have to remember that COVID is a form of extreme inflammation.

So ask yourself, what am I eating that can lead to more inflammation, especially for folks that have had a lower respiratory symptoms of COVID and the symptoms that have “hung on”. It’s important to look at your nutrition and reduce anything that may be causing more inflammation. So I think of foods like breads, pasta, maybe cereals, muffins, chips, wine, beer. They all turn into sugar and cause that swelling and that inflammation.

KARA: Right. And food sources, but also certain beverages: alcohol. We talked about like the sport drinks and, and of course soda as well falls in that category. So Nikki, before break you were talking about a really interesting study from the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, which is a mouthful. That study found a correlation between eating gluten and higher incidence of asthma.

And so, and then I was sharing, you know, what it's like to see like a loved one struggle with shortness of breath or that wheezing or coughing. And so it can really reduce just the quality of life. So if you're listening and you either have asthma or other lung issues or maybe your child does, Nikki and I really, really encourage you to remove those grains containing gluten from your diet. Just try it for three weeks. Most people in three weeks notice a huge improvement even after I would say about a week.

NIKKI: Yeah.

KARA: I've heard multiple stories of people who have removed gluten from their diet and they've been able to stop using their inhalers. Or maybe instead of having the inhaler on hand all day, they kind of forget about it and they're like, oh I only need it for like an emergency. I'm not needing it several times per day.

NIKKI: Yep. That's exactly what we do in clinic is cut this out and kind of watch your symptoms and see if they improve. And many people see improvement. There have been many studies that have found a link between celiac disease and asthma, but you don't have to have full-blown celiac disease to stop eating gluten. Even if you have a gluten sensitivity or don't test positive for celiac disease, the gluten still creates lung inflammation and needs to be removed from the diet.

Gluten is found in foods that have wheat, barley and rye and some even some cross-contamination in oats. All of those processed carbs we discussed earlier, like breads, crackers or pasta, noodles, muffins and bagels need to be avoided. And I don't mean go and get gluten-free necessarily items of those because those are also refined grains that can cause inflammation from the sugar load that you get in them.

KARA: Yes, a hundred percent. And so back to our look, read the labels, and maybe it's a gluten-free bread for example. It's still going to have probably eight teaspoons of sugar and maybe it's from rice flour instead of wheat, but it's still going to drive up that inflammation.

NIKKI: Exactly.

KARA: So a better option Nikki would be switching over to more vegetable carbohydrates.

NIKKI: Yeah. Vegetable carbohydrates. Even you know, sweet potatoes for that starchier more concentrated carbohydrate.

KARA: Yeah. Having you know, occasional fruits as well, which are higher in sugar but still a better option than the grains.

NIKKI: Yep. Yep.

KARA: …when it comes to rounding out a meal.

NIKKI: Yeah. And rounding out a meal with the non-starchy vegetables like cucumbers, green beans, broccoli, those sort of thing.

Dairy can be a food trigger for lung inflammation

KARA: You know, there are other triggers as well. Foods with dairy can be a trigger for lung inflammation, especially the dairy sources that tend to be higher in dairy protein, which is called casein. So examples of higher casein dairy products would be milk, yogurt, ice cream, cheese and cottage cheese; honestly a lot of my favorites.

NIKKI: Yes. Yeah.

KARA: But we do want to just educate that those can trigger asthma and lung inflammation.

Other potential food triggers for lung inflammation: eggs, soy, peanuts, cashews, wine & beer

NIKKI: Yep. And it really depends on the person too as to what foods should be eliminated or to reduce the inflammation in the lungs. So again, it's not a one like size fits all situation. Other common foods that trigger inflammation in the lungs could be eggs, soy, peanuts, cashews and wine or even beer. We encourage you or your child or your loved one to start by eliminating gluten for just three weeks and keep track in a journal of some kind, keep track of your symptoms and how often you have an asthma attack or have to use your inhaler.

If you're not familiar with doing an elimination diet to figure out what foods and drinks are triggers, it would be really helpful to book an appointment with a dietitian or nutritionist. We work with clients every day to put an individual food plans together and we can help fill in the gaps and give ideas for replacements for things like gluten and dairy.

Schedule Nutrition Counseling

KARA: Yeah. Because that can be real overwhelming. If someone has never, you know, given up gluten or dairy, they may not know where to start. So, and I remember Dar, she's the owner of Nutritional Weight and Wellness, and she always would say that when someone has lung inflammation, the diet needs to be pretty dialed in, pretty strict to reduce that inflammation.

But just imagine the relief, you know, if someone's feeling breathless, coughing, gagging and wheezing, imagine the relief of being able to take a full deep breath without struggling. I have to say I've personally not experienced shortness of breath except for when I was pregnant as well. But if that was something occurring on a regular basis, I really believe I would try eliminating just about any food or beverage if the end result was easier breathing.

NIKKI: Yeah. And I think it's important for listeners to hear that even though we say maybe strict following of a certain diet, that doesn't mean restrictive; seeing a nutritionist or a dietitian.

KARA: Yeah. And maybe we shouldn't use the word strict.

NIKKI: No, but no, I think it's important because although you have to be very careful, you can have a, a very full and delicious nutrition plan that doesn't include those few things, but very fulfilling and very delicious.

KARA: Oh definitely. Especially when you're adding in like the good healthy fats

NIKKI: Oh yes, yes, yes. So and Kara, as dietitians and nutritionists, we understand the inside workings of the lungs. For lungs to work at their best capacity, they need a compound called lung surfactant. I remember learning about that in anatomy and physiology. It's a substance that allows air to pass in and out of the lungs easily.

Fatty acids are critical for healthy lungs

KARA: Absolutely. And, and so this is how it works; little physiology here. We breathe in oxygen rich air as we inhale and when we exhale our lungs are breathing out or they're getting rid of carbon dioxide. And so the compound with that fancy name that you just mentioned, lung surfactant, it's made up of two fatty acids and the fatty acids allow the air to pass through that surfactant membrane.

So the reason that Nikki brought this up is because there's a really big connection between the type of oils and fats that people are eating and how well air is able to pass through in and out during breathing. So it all has to do with the fatty acids. Of course all of our cell membranes are made up of fatty acids.

NIKKI: Mm-Hmm. And you and I were really nerding out about a study that we had found prior to this show just prepping for today's topic. And this study was also in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The study was titled “Fatty Acids, Inflammation and Asthma”. The study found that the participants who ate more saturated fat: think butter people; yum; had less asthma flare ups compared to the participants who ate margarines or other refined vegetable oils.

KARA: So the saturated healthy fat coming from real butter supported those membranes in the lungs and made it easier to inhale and exhale. So that makes a lot of sense because we've known that any refined oils, processed oils; examples would be margarine, any kind of vegetable oil spread with canola oil, maybe soybean corn oil or cottonseed, those are all refined processed oils that create more inflammation. And so the result is it's going to be harder for air to flow in and out.

NIKKI: Yeah. And I just think of the processed foods and that could be, you know, the fast food I mentioned earlier, you know, they, most restaurants and fast food places, they really use those processed oils, those refined oils in their foods cause so could that be causing inflammation? So the take home message is really, we want to eat real butter and other real nourishing fats and oils not made in a laboratory. Real fats like butter, I think of, of avocados, avocado oil, coconut products like canned coconut milk, the full fat versions, coconut, olives, olive oil, these are all very, very anti-inflammatory and good for your body.

KARA: Right. So I know we have to wrap up our show here, but the really the take home message is reducing that in all of the inflammatory foods and beverages because anything you know that makes it harder for people to breathe, that is a sign of lung inflammation. So we can really improve that with our nutrition choices. And our goal at Nutritional Weight and Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. It's a simple yet powerful message. Eating real food is life changing. And thank you all for listening and I hope you have a wonderful day.

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