If you want to protect your lungs, quitting smoking is a no-brainer. But what you put on your plate can also help, too: Eating certain kinds of produce can help boost lung health, a new study in the European Respiratory Journal suggests.
In the study, researchers asked 680 people, including never-smokers, former smokers, and current smokers, about their dietary habits, and then performed a spirometry—a test that measures lung function based on inhalation and exhalation—on them. Then they repeated the lung function test 10 years later. The researchers discovered that the more apples, bananas, and tomatoes the former smokers ate, the slower their decline in lung function was over that time period.
That’s important, since aging and smoking are the biggest established factors responsible for lung function decline, the researchers say.
So why are these foods so important for your lung health? It probably comes down to their antioxidants, the researchers believe. Take tomatoes: Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, an antioxidant that may help reduce airway inflammation, potentially boosting lung health.
Another group of antioxidants known as flavonoids might also be responsible. These compounds found in high amounts in many fruits and vegetables may also have anti-inflammatory effects, helping you breathe easier. This may help explain why the apples and bananas were linked to less lung decline, too.
The association between lung health preservation and tomato, banana, and apple consumption was more evident in former smokers, compared to those who never lit up. This suggests that these antioxidants may possible contribute to lung restoration, helping mitigate the damage to lung tissue caused by smoking, the researchers say.
This isn’t the first time that scientists have linked what you put on your plate to your lung health: Last March, researchers discovered that people who ate foods containing the most carotenoids—the plant pigments responsible for the orange, red, or yellow hues—were less likely to develop lung cancer. And the effect was even more pronounced in former smokers, too: Guys who lit up in the past and ate the most lycopene, for instance, slashed their risk of developing lung cancer by 52 percent, as we reported.