Best and Worst Foods for Lung Health

photo of preparing healthy meal

Why Food Matters

A healthy, well-balanced diet goes a long way to keep your body strong, including your lungs. In general, aim for a variety of foods from each food group to keep your lungs happy. (Hint: More plants and fewer processed foods are better for just about everyone.) To keep your lungs in tiptop shape, here are some examples of foods to enjoy and avoid or limit — along with not smoking and other lung-friendly habits.

photo of raspberries peas lentils black beans

Good: High-Fiber Foods

What do raspberries, peas, lentils, and black beans have in common? They’re all high in fiber, which is great for your lungs. Research suggests people who eat more fiber have lungs that work better than those who don’t eat much fiber. Other fiber-rich foods include whole-wheat spaghetti, baked beans, chia seeds, quinoa, pears, and broccoli.

photo of sliced peppered salami

Bad: Processed Meats

Studies show a link between processed, or cured, meats and worse lung function. Researchers think the nitrites used in processing and preserving cured meats may cause inflammation and stress to the lungs. Bacon, ham, deli meat, and sausage all fall into the category of processed meats.

photo of cup of coffee

Good: Coffee

Good news for coffee lovers: Your morning cup could be doing your lungs a favor. Research points to a connection between regular coffee and healthier lungs. This could be due to the caffeine, which is anti-inflammatory, and polyphenols, which are antioxidant and also anti-inflammatory.

photo of couple drinking alcohol

Bad: Too Much Alcohol

Heavy drinking is bad for your liver and for your lungs. Sulfites in alcohol can worsen asthma symptoms, and ethanol affects your lung cells. If you drink too much, you’re more likely to get pneumonia and other lung problems. But a little bit is OK. Two drinks or less per day, especially if it’s wine, may be good for your lung health. Health experts don’t recommend anyone start drinking, though — and if you do drink, keep it moderate.

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Good: Whole Grains

Whole grains are great for your lungs. They include brown rice, whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, oats, quinoa, and barley. Not only are whole-grain foods high in fiber, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities, but they’re full of vitamin E, selenium, and essential fatty acids, which are good for lung health. Refined grains, like white flour and white rice, lose many of their nutrients in the milling process.

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Bad: Sugary Drinks

Do your lungs a favor and swap out soft drinks for water. A study found adults who drank more than five sweetened soft drinks a week were more likely to have ongoing bronchitis, and kids were more likely to have asthma. It’s not clear that the sodas were the reason why, but the pattern stood out. If you smoke, even unsweetened soft drinks can be bad for your lungs.

photo of blueberries and strawberries

Good: Berries

Red and blue fruits like blueberries and strawberries are rich in a flavonoid called anthocyanin, which gives them their color and is also a strong antioxidant. Research suggests this pigment can slow down your lungs’ natural decline as you age. In one study, older men who ate at least two servings of blueberries a week had notably less decline in lung function than those who ate fewer or no blueberries.

photo of sprinkling salt into pot

Bad: Too Much Salt

A little adds flavor, but a lot adds to your odds for lung problems. People who eat a lot of salt are more likely to have long-term bronchitis. And a high-sodium diet can worsen asthma symptoms, but you may be able to help your lungs work better if you go light on salt for a couple of weeks. Cook from scratch, and avoid restaurants and packaged foods. Read labels, and ask your doctor how much is too much. Limits are usually 1,500 to 2,300 mg per day.

photo of sauteed garlic spinach

Good: Leafy Green Vegetables

Load your plate with spinach, Swiss chard, and other leafy greens, and you could lower your chance of getting lung cancer. One study found that Chinese greens are particularly good for this purpose. This could be because they are high in carotenoids, which are antioxidant.

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Good: Dairy Products

Research suggests drinking milk and eating cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products can lower your chances of dying from lung cancer. Unless you’re allergic to it, dairy is tied to anti-inflammatory properties. On the flip side, if you have asthma or another lung problem, going dairy-free may help cut down on your mucus production.

photo of slicing tomatoes

Good: Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene, which is linked to lung health. Eating tomatoes and tomato products like tomato juice can improve airway inflammation if you have asthma and may lower your chance of death if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Lycopene is also tied to less decline in lung function for young adults. These benefits are even more pronounced for people who used to smoke.

Surprising Uses for Cornstarch

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Good For Cooking — And Much More

Chances are you reach for your box of cornstarch when you want to thicken sauces and puddings or coat meat for a stir-fry. But this starch, milled from corn, has dozens of uses beyond the kitchen. It’s a staple in industries that make paper, adhesives, and coatings. Scientists are even turning it into products for pest control. But you don’t have to ace Chem 101 to put cornstarch to work for you.

photo of cornstarch paste on face

Take the Sizzle out of Sunburn

Dab sunburned spots with a light paste made of cornstarch and water. Then, after a cool soak in a lukewarm tub, sprinkle cornstarch between your sheets before you get into bed. Its silky texture cuts down on friction between your scorched skin and the fabric.

photo of father and daughter baking

Whip Up a Vegan Swap for Eggs

Back in the kitchen, a mix of cornstarch and water can replace an egg in many baked items. The ratio varies between recipes, but on average, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to 3 tablespoons of water matches the liquid content of an egg. Always dissolve the cornstarch in the water before you add it to other ingredients to avoid any lumps.

photo of putting cornstarch paste on bug bite

De-Sting Bug Bites

Go old-school and make a poultice — a thick paste that can ease the pain. Mix about 3 tablespoons of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of cold water, and gently smear it over the spot. Let it dry. You can even leave it on overnight to work its magic.

photo of dog getting groomed

De-Tangle Rover’s Coat

It’s a shaggy dog story, but not the good kind. Many dogs get matted fur, especially if their coats are long or curly. Those tangles look bad and can also pull on the skin, causing pain. To help get them out before you have to cut them out, rub a generous amount of cornstarch into your furry friend’s coat, and then brush gently from the bottom to the top of the mat with a slicker brush. 

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Make Dry Shampoo Simple

Cornstarch is great at soaking up oil, which makes it a handy fix between shampoos. The secret is to mix two parts cornstarch with one part of another kitchen shelf staple, baking soda. Dab on the mixture close to your roots and brush through thoroughly.

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Keep Blisters at Bay

It’s a simple formula: Sweat plus friction equals blisters. Keep feet smooth and dry with a sprinkle of cornstarch before you slip on your shoes, especially if you go sockless. If you get a small blister despite your efforts, cushion it with a bandage until it reabsorbs. If it’s large, place a doughnut pad — a cushion with a center hole — around the blister. Make your own with felt or foam, and keep it in place with a big bandage. 

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Clean Up Around the House

Cornstarch is a multipurpose natural cleanser around the house. To shine up silver, rub on a thick water-and-cornstarch paste, let it dry, and then buff with a soft cloth. Spray a thin solution on glass, rinse with plain water, and dry for a nice sparkle. Sprinkle it dry on wood, and use elbow grease to remove real grease and furniture polish buildup. 

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Make a DIY Deodorant

Want to skip the chemicals in store-bought products? Mix equal amounts of cornstarch and baking soda in the palm of your hand, and use an oversized makeup brush or cotton balls to apply. This is a great swap for people having radiation treatment for cancer, as regular deodorant can irritate treated skin. 

photo of making oobleck

Have Some Silly Fun with the Kids

Just for fun, make your own Oobleck — a version of the children’s toy called Slime named after a Dr. Seuss book. Mix 1 cup of water tinted with a few drops of food coloring with 2 cups of cornstarch. Press it into a slippery ball with your hands, then watch it go back to a liquid when you let go. Squiggle it through a strainer. Wash up with plain warm water, but to avoid a clog, throw your Oobleck away in the trash, never down the drain.