24 Best Foods For Lung Health

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Whether you’re a smoker, have a lung condition, or you’re just concerned about your general wellbeing, knowing the best foods for lung health should be a top priority!

Here at OriGym, we’ve collated this list of lung healing foods so you can boost your breathing capacity and repair any damage to these vital organs.

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Why Is Lung Health Important?

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Lungs are one of the most important organs as they are the main part of the body’s system for breathing and the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which means keeping them healthy is imperative.

Positioned in your chest on either side of your heart, your lungs look like large greyish pink sponges. Your lungs are connected to the bronchus which is then attached to the trachea, the airway that transports air into your lungs. 

Oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange occurs in the capillaries, which are minuscule blood vessels located at the end of the bronchial tubes that surround the alveoli. The heart sends deoxygenated blood to the lungs, and the oxygen-rich blood is sent back once exchanged within the lungs.

The heart then transports the oxygen around the body.

Although the lungs are actually self-cleaning, creating layers of mucus that trap pollutants, they can easily become inflamed or irritated. In healthy people, this mucus gets swallowed without notice, whilst some lung diseases can cause excess mucus, and some everyday substances (like dust and pollen!) can cause bad reactions in the lungs. 

Having a healthy diet and consuming some of the following lung healing foods helps maintain properly functioning lungs, which ultimately allows for better and easier breathing as well as better quality of life.

25 Best Foods for Lung Health

#1 Walnuts

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Walnuts (and nuts more generally) are widely considered a great food for energy and athletic performance. They contain an excellent mix of carbohydrates and fibre, making them ideal for a sustained energy boost. 

It’s a less well-known fact that walnuts are also superior lung repair foods due to their unique vitamin/mineral mix. They’re a great food to consume if your lungs are damaged, and even individuals with healthy lungs can benefit.

The secret comes from the walnut’s unique combination of magnesium and antioxidants. Multiple studies have linked magnesium to improved lung function. 

Magnesium is an electrolyte that has a direct and profound effect on the muscles in the lungs. It helps them to function, makes them stronger and generally supports respiration. 

Walnuts are one of the best sources of magnesium around, so snacking on these nuts will give lung function an undeniable boost.

Better still (and the reason that walnuts can be classed as lung healing foods) is their high antioxidant content. 

Antioxidants are fairly well-known in the world of health foods. They soak up harmful free radicals in the bloodstream, and in doing so help to combat oxidative damage and inflammation, especially on muscle tissue. 

This has a striking effect on the lungs, and it’s even more pronounced for those suffering from impaired function.

Quite simply, antioxidants can make it easier to breathe. Their anti-inflammatory effect works to reduce inflammation on lung tissue and muscle, making respiration much easier. This is especially pronounced during physical activity, but anybody with damaged or inflamed lungs will feel the effects. 

That’s not all though. Since the antioxidants in walnuts are derived from omega-3 acids, they could also help to prevent and fight lung infections. That fact alone makes walnuts one of the best foods to eat for lung health.


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#2 Apples

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Eating apples regularly is a science-backed way to bolster lung strength and improve their function. There are plenty of studies to this effect, and they all link apple consumption to better lung health. 

Apples are cheap, convenient, and you can do a lot with them. Simple dietary solutions are often the best way to improve health, and it doesn’t get much simpler than the humble apple.

This news is particularly encouraging for smokers. Studies have found that smokers with high apple intake experience slower lung degradation

Similarly, eating five or more apples every week can lead to better lung function in the majority of people, and also decrease your chances of developing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a debilitating and life-limiting illness. 

Apple consumption has also been linked to a lower risk of developing asthma and lung cancer. That's because apples contain high concentrations of antioxidants and flavonoids. Antioxidants soak up free radicals in the bloodstream, which can prevent disease onset. 

Cancer, for example, is a big risk factor linked to excess free radicals. This means that apples can even be added to the lung cancer-fighting foods list, a big accolade for such a common foodstuff!

These fruits are a great choice because not only do they lower your risk of lung disease, but they can improve lung function more generally. Eating just five per week can make a huge difference. 

Anyone wondering whether foods prevent lung cancer only needs to look at the studies on this topic to understand the potential of apples.

#3 Tomatoes

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Tomatoes are one of the most versatile foods for lung health, and they can help a range of people suffering from lung diseases. They’re up there with the top foods that are good for lung health because they have the dual effect of giving lung function a boost in healthy individuals while offering some significant therapeutic effects for anyone who smokes or has damaged lungs.

Tomatoes are brilliant lung healing foods because they're one of the most lycopene dense foods in the world. 

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant of the carotenoid variety, which is particularly effective on the lungs. There have been plenty of studies linking carotenoid antioxidants to vastly enhanced lung health, and it’s one of the most important organic compounds for breathing.

As such, tomatoes (and tomato-based products) show excellent potential for lung health. Lycopene helps soothe the irritated airways associated with asthma and can bolster the lung function of COPD sufferers. 

There are benefits for smokers too. Any smoker will inevitably experience lung decline, and the best treatment is to give up smoking. However, it is believed that this decline is much slower in those who eat a lot of tomatoes.

These advantages aren’t limited solely to raw tomatoes, either. Any tomato product including tomato soup, puree, and juice (even ketchup, although you should check how much tomato it contains as well as its salt levels), will yield the same beneficial effect. 

These products are fantastic for people suffering from a range of lung complaints and have the potential to improve quality of life so should be incorporated into your meal plans and healthy recipes!

#4 Mushrooms

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There are plenty of different types of mushroom available, and they’re all associated with slightly different benefits. All varieties do share a common nutritional profile, though, most notably their high Vitamin D content. 

Vitamin D is essential for lung health and maintenance. More generally, it works to support the immune system, which can stop you from contracting respiratory illnesses in the first place.

The high Vitamin D content makes mushrooms excellent lung detox foods and a great choice for general lung maintenance. Mushrooms contain a huge amount of Vitamin D and are easily the best source on the list. Vitamin D not only supports lung health directly, but it can soothe and calm irritated airways, making breathing easier and quelling some persistent coughs. 

Alongside their Vitamin D content, mushrooms are also a fairly good source of beta-glucans. These are antioxidants that protect the body from free radicals and the associated oxidative stress. Much like Vitamin D, antioxidants can soothe inflamed airways, but they also have the additional benefit of protecting lung tissue. 

All in all, mushrooms are a fantastic way to protect your lungs from damage or provide some healing.

It’s easy to incorporate these lung cleansing foods into your diet. Mushrooms can be roasted and consumed on their own, or cooked into dishes like stews and casseroles. 

The only caveat is how you prepare them. Baking and roasting are both healthy, but fried mushrooms (the type you’ll often find included with a cooked breakfast) aren’t as beneficial. Unhealthy cooking oils increase their fat content and high heat frying can destroy some of their nutrients.

#5 Fatty fish

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The many health benefits of fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are well known. These fish are loaded with healthy omega-3 acids, antioxidants, and a range of vitamins and minerals. 

Fatty fish make a great addition to anyone’s diet, but their benefits are particularly pronounced in the area of lung health. Fish like trout and sardines rank high on the list of foods to eat for lung health, and they can be useful for people already suffering from lung disease.

The Lung Health Institute suggests that fatty fish are the go-to lung healing foods for a variety of conditions. Studies have linked the fish to a much-improved prognosis in those suffering from chronic lung diseases like COPD and asthma. In those patients, fatty fish can boost lung function and also help to tackle some of the underlying causes of the disease.

The effects are down to those all-important omega-3 fatty acids. Their primary role is to combat inflammation, which is a particular problem for people with damaged lungs or those suffering from asthma. 

They also support the immune system and can help to stave off lung infections in the first place. That’s of the utmost importance for people suffering from chronic lung conditions, as an infection can be much more serious.

As an added bonus, omega-3 fatty acids are also great at alleviating the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Those symptoms can be profound in people suffering particularly debilitating lung conditions, especially if those conditions affect their quality of life. 

All in all, fatty fish are a great addition to any diet, but if you have a chronic lung condition they can make a huge difference. 

If you’re not keen on eating fish then cod liver oil supplements can provide that much-needed omega-3.

#6 Broccoli 

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Broccoli is a commonplace food, but its profound health benefits, especially for the lungs, are only just beginning to be understood. Anyone searching for foods that improve lung health will be pleased to hear that not only does broccoli give lung function a boost, but it can offer some protection against lung diseases.

Broccoli contains large amounts of the organic compound sulforaphane, which has a shielding effect on the lungs. This compound generates protective enzymes that help to ward off lung conditions including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. 

The presence of sulforaphane also assures broccoli of its position on the lung cancer-fighting foods list and makes it one of the most protective foods that you can eat. 

It also contains high amounts of Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Vitamin B6, all of which are important for good lung health. Magnesium and iron are present too. 

The effects of broccoli are so marked, in fact, that sulforaphane is being trialled as a treatment for chronic lung diseases. It offers immune system protection and helps to cleanse the airways. It does this by reactivating the NRF2 pathway, which is damaged by smoking.

Broccoli isn’t the only food to contain this important nutrient. You’ll find sulforaphane in a range of cruciferous vegetables including Brussel sprouts, cabbage and kale. 

It’s worthwhile combining these vegetables into a superfood green salad, which will up your sulforaphane intake quite dramatically. Since sulforaphane is undergoing therapeutic tests as we speak, it’s highly likely that we’ll hear much more about this compound in the near future.

#7 Olive Oil

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The Mediterranean diet has long been linked with increased longevity and better overall health. A diet consisting of healthy vegetables and minimal red meat has a range of benefits, but Mediterranean cuisine contains one crucial ingredient: olive oil. 

The health benefits of olive oil are universally touted, so much so that some people go as far as taking a spoonful per day. Olive oil is full of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.

Unsurprisingly, it’s also one of the best foods for lung health. Studies have linked olive oil’s beneficial effects on the lungs to its relatively high Vitamin E content, which assists with regular lung function. 

Interestingly, not all sources of Vitamin E are created equal, and when the vitamin was derived from soy, canola and corn oils it can actually be detrimental to the lungs.

That’s because olive oil (along with some other oils including sunflower) contains Vitamin E in alpha-tocopherol form. This type of Vitamin E is linked to enhanced lung function, oxygenation and, therefore, general lung health. Vitamin E is required in the correct form, so olive oil is the best choice.

If you’re looking for foods that promote good lung health and are easy to incorporate into your diet, olive oil is ideal. It can be used for cooking (at low temperatures) or simply drizzled over salads for a peppery, enhanced taste. 

Not only is it one of the best foods for lung health, but it can encourage you to adopt a healthier diet. Many of the meals that involve olive oil (salads, pasta, etc.) are healthy in themselves.

#8 Blueberries

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Many people swear by blueberries as one of the most effective superfoods of all. A cup of blueberries per day is said to boost heart health, protect against cancer, improve skin and eye health, and much more.

These diminutive berries certainly pack a huge vitamin and mineral punch, and there are definite, science-backed benefits associated with consuming them every day. They’re great foods that promote lung health and can have a profound effect.

Blueberries have the dual benefit of both preserving and protecting lung function, which means they’re not only great for individuals suffering from lung disease, but for healthy people too. 

They contain huge numbers of anthocyanins. These are a type of special pigment, and they work directly to protect lung tissue from oxidative damage.

That high level of protection ensures lung function, especially amongst the elderly. One study looked at 839 veterans and found that those who consumed just two or more blueberry servings each week showed 38% less lung decline than those who didn’t

That’s down almost entirely to those anthocyanins, and since blueberries contain so many different types (peonidin, petunidin, malvidin and delphinidin), they’re easily the best source on the list.

The effect of these compounds is especially pronounced for people suffering from a lung disease, but it’s encouraging to know that they also offer protection to anybody. 

Blueberries can slow the natural lung decline associated with ageing, and keep your lungs functioning well for longer. That has a knock-on effect on fitness and means that you’ll be able to exercise for longer even as you get older, retaining mobility. 

Blueberries are one of the best foods for lung health, but they can have a genuine effect on the quality of life, too.


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#9 Coffee

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Coffee probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind when you think of foods that promote lung health, but it contains many lung-essential compounds. In fact, coffee's nutrient profile is so favourable that it even qualifies as one of those elusive lung repair foods, so people with damaged lungs will benefit from their morning cup! 

Coffee doesn’t always have the best reputation, and there are certainly downsides associated with drinking too much caffeine, but the potential upsides are indisputable.

Caffeine itself is known to yield an anti-inflammatory effect. We know that this stops the lungs from becoming irritated, protects airways and generally shields them from damage. 

That, in turn, leads to boosted oxygen uptake and enhanced long function. Anti-inflammatories are particularly important if you’re suffering from chronic lung disease or you smoke, as they’ll help to protect you from further damage.

Better still, coffee is bursting with healthy polyphenols. These compounds are another strong antioxidant that, when combined with caffeine, yield a potent effect. The anti-inflammatory properties of coffee can’t be overstated. 

Since it contains two different types of antioxidant, it has a tangible effect on lung health. Polyphenols also purge free radicals from the bloodstream, protecting your lungs against oxidative damage as well as diseases and cancers.

Of course, coffee is caffeine-rich and should be drunk in moderation. Too much caffeine can lead to an array of unwanted side effects including jitters, energy crashes and even anxiety. It’s important to moderate your caffeine intake and balance the many lung benefits with the potential downsides. 

Take a look at our post on natural energy drinks if you’re looking for other sources of caffeine.

#10 Garlic

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Garlic is one of the most popular flavourings in the world, and you’ll find it in everything from curries to casseroles and even salads. It’s an exceptionally versatile ingredient, which makes it easy to incorporate into your diet. 

The benefits of doing so are plentiful, and garlic is one of the most effective foods for lung health. It’s considered by many to be a superfood and with good reason.

Garlic has the somewhat unique benefit of helping your body to help itself. It contains lots of flavonoids, which the body needs to make glutathione

Flavonoids stimulate glutathione production, and glutathione is needed to flush carcinogens and toxins out of the bloodstream. The effect is similar to how antioxidants work, cleansing your body and protecting you from inflammation and disease.

Garlic has a detoxifying effect, placing it high on the lung detox foods list. That such a simple foodstuff can stimulate the body into protecting itself is impressive. 

Garlic is cheap and lasts a long time, so if you’re after convenient foods that improve lung health then you really can’t go wrong. By removing toxins from the blood, garlic might even provide a defence against lung cancer, and it will certainly help to stave off lung infections.

Try incorporating garlic into some of your favourite dishes. Its flavour is somewhat pungent, but it can really bring a dish to life. Two or three cloves are usually enough to harness those lung protecting properties, but the more garlic you can squeeze into your diet the better!

#11 Salmon

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Fatty fish has already made an appearance on the list, but salmon warrants its position as one of the best lung cleansing foods in its own right. While all fatty fish contain omega-3, salmon offers a particularly large amount (followed by mackerel, sardines and anchovies). 

It’s also packed with quite a few other important vitamins and nutrients that benefit the lungs and since salmon is so easy to prepare, it's simple to incorporate into your diet.

Lung detox foods don’t come much better than salmon. The omega-3 fatty acids will protect your lungs and work an anti-inflammatory effect. It’s also rich in lung essential B Vitamins and potassium.

One of the best ways to maximise the effects of salmon is to combine it with other lung benefiting foods. The Lung Health Institute recommends pairing salmon with green beans and then topping it with walnuts. 

Walnuts are on this list as one of the best lung healing foods, and green beans have quite a few benefits too. Mixing these ingredients together will give you a lung superfood with omega-3 rich salmon at its core.

To capitalise on these benefits, be selective with your salmon. Aggressively farmed salmon doesn’t have quite the same quantity of nutrients as the line caught kind, and be careful how you prepare it too. 

Fish that’s steamed retains most of its nutrients, while fried fish doesn’t offer quite the same amount. Frying is thought to destroy some of the vitamins and minerals in the fish, and the addition of unhealthy cooking fats can transform a healthy meal into something much less desirable.

#12 Green tea

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Green tea is a perennial high flyer on any list of healthy foods. The tea has attained near-mythical status as a brilliant source of clean energy, potent antioxidants and even an effective skin treatment! 

It contains an array of active compounds that benefit nearly every part of the body, so it’s hardly surprising that green tea is one of the best foods to support lung health.

The first thing to note is green tea’s sky-high antioxidant content. It’s one of the most antioxidant-rich foodstuffs on the list, and one of the best sources available. 

Antioxidants have the dual purpose of removing harmful free radicals and fighting inflammation. That makes them a great choice for damaged or inflamed lungs, and they can make breathing much easier.

Green tea contains high concentrations of flavanol and epigallocatechin-3-gallate, which are especially potent antioxidants. These will help to soothe irritation and ensure that green tea might be one of the most promising lung cancer-fighting foods. 

By reducing inflammation, green tea can also help anybody suffering from a persistent cough caused by irritation of their lung tissue. Similarly, antioxidants protect and support muscle function, making breathing easier (especially during exercise).

All of this means that green tea is one of the best lung detox foods, but there’s more. Green tea also contains a compound called quercetin. This is quite rare and doesn’t appear in any of the other foods on the list. 

Quercetin has a similar mechanism to antihistamine tablets. It slows down the release of histamines. These, of course, are linked to allergic reactions and irritation, so drinking green tea can really soothe your lungs.

#13 Oranges

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The first thing that usually springs to mind when we think of oranges is Vitamin C. A single orange contains a staggering 53.2g of Vitamin C, which has been linked to stronger immune systems. 

That, of course, means protection from a whole host of lung infections. There are plenty of other reasons to consider oranges lung cleansing foods apart from just their high Vitamin C content, though.

Oranges contain a lot of calcium, and while this might not have an immediate effect on the lungs, it is important for people suffering from long term and chronic lung diseases. 

Many such individuals will find themselves on steroids, which can deplete the body's stores of calcium. A calcium deficiency comes with a set of problems all of its own, which is why oranges are often recommended as a way to top up these levels.

As such, they’re considered excellent foods to support lung health while you’re on treatment. Of course, Vitamin C also has a preventative effect that can stop you from needing any kind of treatment in the first place. 

The vitamin is famously linked to a stronger immune system, which is why people choose to take supplements over the winter. Vitamin C can offer some protection against serious lung diseases like COPD and even lung cancer.

Lung healing foods don’t come with much more Vitamin C than oranges, so they make excellent support food. 

Orange juice is a brilliant way to start your day, and adding oranges to a healthy fruit smoothie is similarly beneficial. Of course, you can choose to eat them on their own, or even add them to a varied fruit salad and get some benefits from other types of fruit too.

#14 Red pepper

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Red peppers have a similar set of benefits to oranges, and they actually contain more Vitamin C

Just half a cup of red pepper is enough to hit your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C, all without the aid of supplements or tablets. Just how you distribute that half-cup (peppers can be chopped into a salad, baked or even added to smoothies) is up to you, but you’ll be doing your lungs a favour whatever you choose.

Foods that promote lung health are often rich in Vitamin C, which can offer protection from certain chronic diseases and even lung cancer. Vitamin C is famed for its immune benefits, and many people choose supplements as a way to bolster their defences over the winter or when they’re feeling under the weather. 

While supplements are useful, it’s always preferable to get your vitamins via food, as you’ll get a host of other nutrients too.

Red peppers are also a strong antioxidant. That’s particularly useful for people suffering from asthma or other diseases that involve obstruction of the airways. 

For other foods with similar properties, take a look at our list of the 25 best antioxidant foods.

Antioxidants are notorious for their anti-inflammatory properties and can soothe irritated airways. Much like Vitamin C, they also offer some protection against chronic lung diseases. They do this by soaking up harmful free radicals, which can even be responsible for the formation of cancer cells.

Best of all, red pepper pairs brilliantly with some of the other lung cleansing foods on the list. A dish consisting of chicken and red pepper makes a delicious and healthy snack, and red peppers pair wonderfully with fatty fish like salmon.

#15 Ginger

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While all of the lung cleansing foods on this list work some wonderful long term effects on the lungs, ginger is one of the few that will yield immediate results. 

Ginger is known for its ability to relieve congestion. Much like over the counter anti-congestion medicines, ginger will clear your airways and help you breathe easier. 

Its benefits stretch well beyond congestion relief, though. Ginger actively improves blood circulation to the lungs, which boosts their function and elevates oxygen uptake. That, in turn, allows them to work more efficiently, protects them from strain and helps them grow stronger. Boosted oxygen uptake and clearer airways are particularly important for anybody suffering from asthma or obstructive lung diseases.

Ginger is also an antioxidant, but of a special kind. All antioxidants help to fight inflammation, but the antioxidants in ginger can also detoxify. This means that they take pollutants out of the lungs and help to cleanse them. 

In this way, ginger really can be considered one of the best lung detox foods available. That makes it hugely beneficial for smokers, and ginger is a popular choice amongst people who suffer from chronic lung diseases.

Ginger joins the list of foods to eat for lung health due to its immediate and long term effects. You’ll often find ginger in health shots designed to deliver a highly concentrated amount.

It’s also widely available in capsule form, and it’s an increasingly popular supplement. Ginger has plenty of benefits, but it’s assured of its position on this list as one of the best foods for lung health.

Ginger is also one of the best herbs for weight loss, read our article to find out why!


Become a Nutrition Specialist with OriGym

Contact us about our Level 4 Sports Nutrition Course to find out how you can launch an exciting career!

#16 Flax Seeds

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Flax is one of the less common foods for lung health, but it's one of the most effective. These small seeds are exceptionally nutritious, and they’re widely recommended to help with a number of diseases. 

They’re particularly effective for lung conditions due to their unique combination of omega-3 fatty oils and magnesium. When taken together these two compounds can have a profound effect not just on lung health, but on how protected your lungs are.

Studies put this to the test on mice. Researchers found that mice who were fed flax seeds and then exposed to radiation suffered far less lung damage. We can surmise from this that flax seeds offer some strong protection. They shield lung tissue from the damages associated with chronic diseases. 

The seeds are also loaded with lung healthy nutrients. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have an anti-inflammatory effect. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly beneficial for asthma sufferers and can soothe their airways. Of course, anybody can benefit from the anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s, and they're widely linked to a healthier outlook.

Magnesium is important too. It helps the bronchi muscles to relax. That opens up your airways and prevents constriction, so you’ll be able to get air more easily, boosting lung function and increasing oxygen uptake, both of which are crucial for people suffering from asthma. 

Of course, it’s also helpful for athletes undergoing arduous workouts or long runs, who need to get as much oxygen into their bloodstream as possible.

Flax seeds work great as a snack, but they’re also an effective way to make other dishes more lung healthy. 

The seeds can be sprinkled over salads or added to smoothies, but to unleash their full potential you can combine them with some of the other additions on this list. They pair well with salmon and taste great with leafy green vegetables.

#17 Turmeric

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The popularity of turmeric as a supplement knows no bounds. You’ll often find it added to energy drinks, health food supplements or even in stand-alone capsules. It’s one of the most well-known spices in the world, and it’s widely consumed as a way to boost energy, bolster the immune system and even keep your skin looking healthy!

The benefits of turmeric are wide-ranging, and it is one of the most effective foods that improve lung health. Its potent efficacy can be attributed in part to its high antioxidant count and the presence of the compound curcumin

Studies have linked the consumption of this compound to vastly enhanced lung function

Crucially, this effect was also found in smokers. Smokers with a high curcumin intake were found to have substantially better lung function than those with low intake. The effect was so pronounced, in fact, that smokers who consumed high levels of turmeric enjoyed 9.2% better lung function. 

That makes turmeric one of the best lung repair foods on the list and assures it of its superfood reputation. 

Antioxidants make a big difference too. They act as anti-inflammatories and calm any irritation in the lungs. That’s why turmeric is particularly popular amongst asthma sufferers as a way to help them breathe easier. 

All of these factors combine to make turmeric one of the best foods to eat for lung health, and one of the healthiest foods full stop. 

It can be added to dishes or taken in its raw form as a supplement. Turmeric capsules and shots are widely available for anybody who wants to give this powerful spice a try.

#18 Beetroot

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Beetroot (and beets in general) owe their lung protecting properties to one crucial component: nitrates. These play a crucial role in how blood travels around the body and how oxygen is processed in the lungs. 

Beetroot has been shown to work a profound effect on those suffering from long term lung conditions, making it one of the best lung healing foods on the list.

Nitrates work on your blood vessels and cause them to relax. This, in turn, facilities better blood flow and reduces blood pressure. 

These two factors combined give oxygen uptake a boost, and mean that more oxygenated blood flows around the body, keeping the lungs in good condition. Increased oxygen uptake means that your lungs don’t have to work as hard, especially during exercise.

One of the most interesting effects of nitrates is linked to exercise in those suffering from lung conditions like pulmonary hypertension and COPD. 

High levels of beetroot in the form of supplements have been shown to improve the athletic capabilities of those individuals, allowing them to work out harder and for longer. 

Of course, exercise improves both aerobic and cardiovascular function, which also has a beneficial effect on the lungs. 

All of this makes beetroot one of the most effective lung repair foods. It can help sufferers get back to exercise and gradually build up their tolerance. 

The benefits don’t end there either. Beetroot is rich in minerals including Vitamin C, potassium and magnesium. These all have crucial roles to play in lung health, especially magnesium. 

It packs quite a big antioxidant punch too, which will help with irritation and protect the lungs from inflammation.

#19 Pumpkin

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Pumpkin doesn’t have to be reserved purely for the holidays, and it has enough associated health benefits to make it a great year-round dietary choice. 

It's one of the best foods that improve lung health in smokers and can make a real difference to their quality of life. 

Pumpkins might not be the most common food on the list, but they can be incorporated into smoothies and make excellent salad additions when paired with spinach.

It has been suggested that pumpkin is one of the best lung healing foods that you can find. It’s been linked to vastly improved lung function in smokers, which is all down to its high carotenoid count. 

These are found in the flesh of the pumpkin (rather than the seeds) and include lutein, beta carotene and zeaxanthin. Not only are these potent antioxidants capable of warding off inflammation and irritation, but they’re compounds that heavy smokers are often deficient in.

In fact, various studies suggest that smokers have as few as 25% of the carotenoids as non-smokers. That’s a big problem since these antioxidants protect the lungs from inflammation and generally boost their function. 

There’s plenty of evidence that shows high levels of carotenoids in the bloodstream enhance lung function regardless of age, so they’re essential to young and old alike.

The high carotenoid content of pumpkins makes them excellent foods to eat for lung health, especially if you are or were a smoker. They can help smokers rebuild some of their lung function and set them on the path towards recovery.

#20 Oysters

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Oysters make the list due to the sheer number of vital vitamins and minerals that they contain. They’re undoubtedly one of the most nutrient-dense foods available, and adding oysters to your diet will benefit anybody, regardless of their health and fitness aims. 

Of course, with so many nutrients on offer, it’s no surprise that they’re one of the most effective lung cleansing foods around and can even ward off serious conditions like COPD.

Some of the vitamins in oysters include B Vitamins, zinc, copper and selenium

Ensuring you have the right levels of amino acids will ensure minerals like selenium are properly absorbed by the body.

Copper and selenium have been linked, time and again, to improved lung function compared to individuals with lower concentrations in their bloodstream. The presence of these two nutrients makes oysters one of the best foods to eat for lung health generally, but there are a few more specific benefits for smokers.

Smoking depletes the body's stock of B Vitamins, which are essential for both lung and general health. Consuming oysters is an excellent and efficient way to replenish those stores. 

Perhaps most strikingly of all, a heightened zinc intake has been shown to reduce the risk of smokers developing COPD. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a debilitating condition that causes obstructed airflow, coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing.

The disease can have a devastating effect and reduce the quality of life quite dramatically. Smokers are at an increased risk, but zinc can go some way to cut that risk. Oysters are one of the most zinc dense foodstuffs on the list, so qualify as fantastic lung cleansing foods. 

Few other foods offer this range of vitamins and minerals, and fewer still can boast of the same lung-protective effects.

#21 Onions

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Adding onions to your diet is a great way to look after your lungs since they’re one of the most important foods to eat for lung health. 

Onions have a great deal in common with garlic, which also has an appearance on this list. They both belong to the same vegetable family (allium) and have been used across the ages as folk medicines to treat all kinds of different maladies. 

Nowadays they’re favoured for their antioxidant properties.

Antioxidants protect the lungs from inflammation and oxidative stress, so they’re useful for soothing irritated or inflamed lungs. Moreover, antioxidants are known to hinder the growth and multiplication of cancer cells, so they’re a wonderful way to reduce your cancer risk. 

Onions are full of antioxidants, making them one of the most important foods to avoid lung cancer.

That’s not the full story, though. Onions have other cancer-preventing properties too. 

They contain a special flavonoid called quercetin. This compound has known anti-cancer effects which, when taken alongside antioxidants, means that onions offer some genuine protection against lung cancer. That’s something which has been borne out by studies, and science is rapidly catching up with the folk knowledge that made onions a popular remedy for so long.

The effects of onions are so pronounced, in fact, that studies are ongoing about how best to harness them. Onion might soon be incorporated into supplements or shots, which would deliver a big and concentrated hit of antioxidants and quercetin. 

In the meantime, these vegetables are easy to add to a variety of dishes. Cooked onion can be incorporated into casseroles and stews, and raw onion is great with everything from salads to sandwiches!

#22 Spinach

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Spinach (and leafy greens more generally) are known for their terrific health benefits. They're chosen by athletes the world over to boost performance and enhance workouts. 

Spinach is exceptionally iron-rich, so it supports muscle function during aerobic exercise. Its dense nutrient profile provides plenty of additional vitamins like Vitamin A, magnesium, B2 and manganese.

All of these nutrients promote healthy breathing and help to make spinach one of the best foods to eat for lung health. Spinach is perhaps most famous as a muscle food (popularised by Popeye), which is down to its high iron content. 

Iron helps red blood cells transport oxygen around the body and increases oxygen uptake. That has a profound effect on the lungs too, boosting their function and helping them to work more efficiently. 

Lung circulation is further boosted by the presence of chlorophyll, which gives the leaves their green colour. This compound is extremely effective at facilitating blood flow and enhancing lung function. 

Spinach is rich in carotenoids too, particularly zeaxanthin and lutein, which are antioxidants. These protect the lungs from inflammation and remove free radicals which can cause damage. Antioxidants are often associated with a decreased risk from certain cancers, so their beneficial effects are wide-ranging and profound. 

Taken together, all these individual factors make spinach one of the most effective foods for healthy lung function. 

Best of all, since it contains so many nutrients, it’s a healthy addition to any diet. Other leafy greens (especially kale) share similar properties with spinach, and many people choose to mix them together in a healthy green salad. These dishes are especially healthy, and a great way to protect your lungs.


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#23 Chicken

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Red meat has been widely linked to a heightened risk of developing cancer, heart disease and blood pressure, so chicken already has the advantage of being one of the healthier meats around. 

Studies have suggested that those who consume red meat are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer. 

Unsurprisingly, that risk increases the more you eat and rises by about 22% per 100g of red meat consumed per day. That’s a striking figure, and reason enough to swap meats like beef and lamb for far healthier chicken.

Chicken doesn't join the lung cancer-fighting foods list just because it isn’t red meat, though. Statistically speaking it’s one of the best foods to avoid developing cancer. 

People who eat large quantities of chicken are around 10% less at risk of developing lung cancer, and the good news doesn’t end there. Chicken is a brilliant source of protein too, and while this doesn’t directly benefit lung function it will fuel you for exercise, thus boosting your aerobic capacity.

The exact mechanisms behind chicken’s efficacy at lowering cancer risk remain uncertain, although it’s probably linked to the meat’s high concentration of vitamins and minerals. 

Chicken is low fat and excellent at lowering cholesterol, so it’s heart-healthy meat too. A healthy heart is linked to increased lung function and improved oxygenation, all of which make chicken great for lung health.

If you’re searching for foods that improve lung health you can’t get much more versatile than chicken. 

It makes an excellent addition to healthy salads or can be eaten on its own. It’s always best to look for organic chicken, which will decrease the risk of exposing yourself to potentially harmful or even carcinogenic chemicals.

#24 Wheat germ

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The idea of wheat germ as one of the best foods for healthy lung function has an interesting history. 

A study in China looked at 72,000 non-smoking women who were exposed to high levels of passive smoking in their homes. Passive smoking is extremely harmful and isn’t far behind first-hand smoke with the damage it causes. Nonetheless, the women who consumed a diet high in Vitamin E were 46% less at risk of developing lung cancer.

This is where things get interesting. The study also found that taking Vitamin E supplements alone didn’t offer the same level of protection, and the women who took supplements actually seemed to increase their risk of developing lung cancer. 

Only Vitamin E from natural food sources was effective. That’s where wheat germ comes in.

Wheat germ is one of the most Vitamin E dense foods available. You won’t be able to get more Vitamin E from any other foodstuff, which makes wheat germ one of the best foods to avoid lung cancer. 

Cereals (especially Special K) are rich in wheat germ, and it can also be found in many whole-grain foods. 

It’s important to be selective, though. Wheat germ is the rough part of the wheat kernel and it’s often removed during the manufacturing process. As a general rule, the more refined a cereal is, the less wheat germ it’s likely to contain, so always check labels thoroughly. 

You can get Vitamin E from some other sources, albeit in smaller amounts. Almonds are a good source, as are sunflower seeds, and these can be added to a range of dishes.

Other Ways To Maintain Healthy Lungs

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Water is undoubtedly the most important part of any diet. It plays a crucial role in all bodily functions, and dehydration can have a devastating and even fatal effect on a person. 

While water’s role in maintaining good lung health might not be immediately obvious, consuming enough liquid is essential.

Quite simply, when your lungs become dry they don’t function well. Simply increasing your fluid intake will moisten your lungs and enhance their function, an effect that will be especially pronounced during arduous exercise. 

Your lungs are coated with something called respiratory mucosa. It’s a moist mucus that protects the airways from irritation and helps you to breathe more easily. This mucus requires water, and not drinking enough means that it will dry up. If you don’t rehydrate, the mucus can’t reform, and the layer of protection vanishes, leaving your lungs prone to irritation. That can cause them to labour, especially during intense exercise. 

Drinking roughly six to eight full glasses of water per day will be enough to keep your lungs in good shape, and will have an all-round beneficial effect on your health.


Before You Go!

Knowing which foods prevent lung cancer and can ultimately repair any damage is hugely beneficial to everyone, not just smokers or those with lung diseases. With there being so many readily available, you’ll easily be able to add them into your diet. You probably already eat a few of them anyway!

Having healthy lungs has a huge impact on the quality of life. Protecting these vital organs should be a top priority, and now you have the knowledge to keep them in top shape.

Do you think you have what it takes to enter the health and nutrition industry? Set yourself apart from your competition by finding out about our  Level 4 Nutrition Course here.

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  1. Garcia-Larsen, V., Potts, J.F., Omenaas, E., Heinrich, J., Svanes, C., Garcia-Aymerich, J., Burney, P.G. and Jarvis, Deborah L. (2017). Dietary Antioxidants and 10-year Lung Function Decline in Adults from the ECRHS Survey. European Respiratory Journal, 50(6), p.1602286.
  2. Lee, J.C., Krochak, R., Blouin, A., Kanterakis, S., Chatterjee, S., Arguiri, E., Vachani, A., Solomides, C.C., Cengel, K.A. and Christofidou-Solomidou, M. (2009). Dietary Flaxseed Prevents radiation-induced Oxidative Lung damage, Inflammation and Fibrosis in a Mouse Model of Thoracic Radiation Injury. Cancer Biology & Therapy, 8(1), pp.47–53.
  3. Mehta, A.J., Cassidy, A., Litonjua, A.A., Sparrow, D., Vokonas, P. and Schwartz, J. (2016). Dietary Anthocyanin Intake and age-related Decline in Lung function: Longitudinal Findings from the VA Normative Aging Study1–3. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, [online] 103(2), pp.542–550.
  4. Satia, J.A., Littman, A., Slatore, C.G., Galanko, J.A. and White, E. (2009). Long-term Use of beta-carotene, retinol, lycopene, and Lutein Supplements and Lung Cancer risk: Results from the VITamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, [online] 169(7), pp.815–828. Available at: .
  5. Scoditti, E., Massaro, M., Garbarino, S. and Toraldo, D.M. (2019). Role of Diet in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Prevention and Treatment. Nutrients, [online] 11(6), p.1357.
  6. Schunemann, H.J., McCann, S., Grant, B.J.B., Trevisan, M., Muti, P. and Freudenheim, J.L. (2002). Lung Function in Relation to Intake of Carotenoids and Other Antioxidant Vitamins in a Population-based Study. American Journal of Epidemiology, 155(5), pp.463–471.
  7. Venkatesan N, Punithavathi D, Babu M. Protection from acute and chronic lung diseases by curcumin. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2007;595:379-405. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-46401-5_17. PMID: 17569221.
  8. Wang, F., Sun, G.P. and Zou, Y.F. (2013). Meat Consumption and Risk of Lung cancer: Evidence from Observational Studies. Annals of Oncology, 24(1), pp.266–267.
  9. Whyand, T., Hurst, J.R., Beckles, M. and Caplin, M.E. (2018). Pollution and Respiratory disease: Can Diet or Supplements help? a Review. Respiratory Research, 19(1).
  10. Yang, L., Tong, E.K., Mao, Z. and Hu, T. (2010). Exposure to Secondhand Smoke and Associated Factors among Non-Smoking Pregnant Women with Smoking Husbands in Sichuan Province, China. Acta Obstetricia Et Gynecologica Scandinavica, [online] 89(4), pp.549–557.

Written by Dee Hammond-Blackburn

Fitness Content Executive, OriGym

Join Dee on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Dee holds a BA (Hons) in English Literature, and is currently finishing her MA in Marketing Communications and Branding from Edge Hill University. Her passion for fitness and content writing brought her to OriGym, and she has since become a qualified Personal Trainer and a Sports Nutrition Specialist. Combining her skills in fitness and writing, Dee has a professional interest in fitness blogging, content creation, and social media. Outside of her writing role Dee enjoys reading, healthy cooking, and playing football with her dalmation.

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