Top Foods for Your Respiratory System

Article by Graciela Corrales
respiratory system

A wonderful article by our Nutrition Ambassador, Graciela Corrales. Check out her page for more posts.

The respiratory system is composed mainly of the trachea, throat, lungs and nose.


Its primary function is to inhale fresh oxygen into the lungs and exhale old air in the form of carbon dioxide. Unfortunately,  sometimes things such as air pollutants, sinus infections, microbes and allergies can cause inflammation in the airways and lungs, making harder to breathe.

Being active, not smoking, and avoiding pollution are some ways to improve breathing and support lung health. But did you know that certain foods can help as well?


1.  According to data published in the American Journal of Physiology, a diet rich in antioxidants may improve lung function and protect against the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)  (1).   Flavonoids in blueberries, strawberries, cherries, blackberries, grapes, radishes and blackcurrants are a good example.


2.  Green, red and orange vegetables are rich in carotenoids. Carotenoid-rich foods such as carrots, tomatoes, pumpkin, squash, tangerines and sweet potatoes may have a protective effect against lung cancer. A recent review of eighteen prospective studies found a positive correlation between reduced lung cancer risk and higher concentrations of several carotenoids and retinol in the blood (2).


3. Green tea contains catechin, a potent anti-inflammatory compound with therapeutic potential. Its consumption may have positive effects in pulmonary conditions such as bronchitis, asthma and emphysema (3).


4. Vitamin E has shown to boosts antioxidant defence, protect cell membrane and enhance immune function. It may lower the risk of contracting upper respiratory tract infections, especially the common cold. Excellent sources are avocados, raw seeds and nuts such as almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and flaxseed (4).


5. Honey has had a remarkable place in traditional medicine for centuries. It has been reported to contain about 200 healing substances that work together to provide a synergistic antioxidant, anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effect. It has been shown to aid common lung and chest infections, as well as those caused by chronic diseases such ascystic fibrosis, and pneumonia (5).


6. Zinc has shown to support the immune system and may be beneficial, reducing the duration and severity of symptoms of the common cold (6). Oysters, spinach, pumpkin seeds, beans, cashews and wheat germ are excellent sources.


7. Allicin, a substance found in garlic, has proven a variety of antimicrobial activities and it is commonly used in naturopathic medicine as an antiviral, antifungal and antiparasitic agent. To benefit from its therapeutic effect, it must be consumed raw or as a supplement (7).


What we put on our plates can dramatically affect our health. The above is just an example of some of the foods that have shown to strengthen the respiratory system, helping us to fight infections and reduce inflammation. Introducing them daily in your diet can help you to promote an optimal respiratory health.



1. Rossman, Matthew J. et al. “Oral Antioxidants Improve Leg Blood Flow during Exercise in Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.” American Journal of Physiology – Heart and  Circulatory  Physiology  309.5  (2015):  H977–H985.  PMC.  Web. 15  Mar. 2017.

2. Abar,  Leila et  al. “Blood  Concentrations of  Carotenoids and  Retinol  and Lung  Cancer Risk: An  Update of  the  WCRF–AICR  Systematic  Review of  Published  Prospective Studies.” Cancer Medicine 5.8 (2016): 2069–2083. PMC. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

3. Massimo  Donà et  al.  “Neutrophil  Restraint by  Green  Tea:  Inhibition of  Inflammation, Associated  Angiogenesis, and  Pulmonary  Fibrosis” The  Journal of  Immunology 170.8 (2003): 4335-4341; DOI: 10.4049/jimmunol.170.8.4335

4. Hanson, Corrine et al. “Serum Tocopherol Levels and Vitamin E Intake Are Associated with Lung  Function in the Normative Aging Study.” Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland) 35.1 (2016): 169–174. PMC. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

5. Eteraf-Oskouei,  Tahereh,  and  Moslem  Najafi. “Traditional and  Modern  Uses of  Natural Honey in Human Diseases: A Review.” Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences 16.6 (2013): 731–742. PMC. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.

6. Hulisz Dl.  Efficacy of zinc against common cold viruses: an overview Journal of the American Pharmacy Association 44(5)(2003):594-603. PMC. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

7. Farrell  Frankel, et al. Health Functionality of Organosulfides:  A Review. 19:3  (2016) International Journal of Food Properties, 537-548. PMC. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

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