Protective foods

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There is evidence that certain vitamins and nutrients should be included in our diet on a regular basis to keep our lungs as healthy as possible.



Oxidative stress

Several lung diseases are associated with a process termed oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when the level of oxidant insults (such as cigarette smoke, air pollution and infections) is greater than our body’s antioxidant defence system can deal with.

Lung diseases

The lung diseases that have been associated with oxidative stress include:

  • Asthma
  • Emphysema and COPD
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Pneumonia
  • Interstitial lung diseases
  • Adult acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Tuberculosis

Eating the right foods

It is important to ensure we all consume the right dietary factors and nutrients that can help prevent damage and potentially protect our lungs from oxidative stress.

Antioxidant vitamins

Antioxidant vitamins, as the name suggests, are beneficial to lung health. Examples of some of the dietary sources of the various antioxidant vitamins are shown below:


Vitamins Dietary source
Vitamin C Citrus fruits and juices, kiwi fruit, broccoli, green pepper
β-carotene Apricot, cantaloupe melon, mango, carrot, pepper, spinach, sweet potato
Vitamin E Wheat germ, grains, vegetable oil, margarine, almond, peanut
Selenium Grains (depending on soil content), animal products, seafood


Other nutrients

Other nutrients that have been shown to be beneficial to lung health include magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids.


Magnesium is beneficial as it plays a role in enzyme activity, it is involved in bronchodilation of the smooth muscle of the airways, it inhibits some nerve transmission and it stabilises cells involved in inflammation.

The dietary sources of magnesium include nuts, legumes, cereals, whole grains and seeds, carrots, spinach and seafood.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are involved in decreasing leukotrienes synthesis, the inhibition of prostaglandin E2 synthesis and the growth regulation of malignant cells.

It is not the amount of omega-3 fatty acid intake that is the most important for us, but rather the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish oils, fish and shellfish, soy, flaxseed oil and leafy vegetables.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oil, margarine, mayonnaise and processed food with oil.

We should eat 4 to 10 times more of omega-3 fatty acids when compared to omega 6.


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