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COPD: Managing Sodium and Potassium Intake

When you have COPD, healthy eating habits are critical for feeling your best. Two nutrients you should be aware of are sodium and potassium. Below are the whys and hows of watching these nutrients.


Sodium helps regulate the normal flow of fluids in and out of body cells. Too much sodium and salt (sodium chloride) can cause the body to retain too much fluid. This makes breathing more difficult. The excess fluid in the blood makes the heart work harder, which can damage it over time.

Here are some tips for cutting down on sodium and salt:

  • Check for food labels that say sodium-free, low-sodium, reduced-sodium, or unsalted. Talk with your health care provider about goals for sodium intake. According to the 2010 dietary recommendations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you should limit your sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day. The daily sodium intake should be further reduced to 1,500 mg for African-Americans and for people diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, as well as individuals 51 and older. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone--not just certain populations--limit daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg. 

  • Skip salty snacks, such as chips, pretzels, and salted nuts or seeds.

  • Season foods with spices and herbs instead of salt when cooking.

  • Take the saltshaker off the dinner table.

  • Have your meal prepared without salt when dining out.

  • Check with your health care provider before using a salt substitute. Some are just as harmful as salt.


Potassium also helps maintain the body’s fluid balance. It helps contract muscles, send nerve impulses, and maintain healthy heart function. If you take diuretics (water pills), you might need extra potassium to make up for the amount that is lost in urine.

Good food sources include oranges, bananas, potatoes, spinach, asparagus, strawberries, raisins, and tomatoes. Beets, lima beans, and baked potatoes with the skins on also contain a lot of potassium. Check with your health care provider about medications that may also help to maintain potassium levels.