In fact, there are plenty of foods for a stuffy nose that may offer relief. Here we’ll dive into what nutrients have been found to help relieve sinus congestion, as well as some excellent food (and beverage) sources to help you quickly recover.
Nutrients to soothe a stuffy nose
When you have a stuffy nose, what’s usually happening is the air-filled sacs around your eyes and nose (also known as your sinuses) become inflamed. This often also results in mucus build-up within the sinuses that can lead to pain and pressure in the forehead, cheeks, and nose seemingly no amount of tissues can relieve.
While stuffy noses often resolve on their own in a few days, certain nutrients may help speed the process along (though always defer to your health-care provider). Here are a few key ones to focus on:
- Vitamin C: It’s no secret that vitamin C is a potent immune-booster that can be a great addition to our routine when you're not feeling the best. “Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and helps decrease inflammation in the body, including in a stuffy nose,” says Amy Davis, RD, LDN, registered dietitian at FRESH Communications.
- Zinc: Zinc is another micronutrient known for its antioxidant properties and has long been associated with common cold (and sinus congestion) relief. Though, the research behind this claim has been hit or miss with some studies finding zinc to not provide much benefit for cold symptoms while others find the mineral to shorten their duration.
- Bromelain: As an enzyme that can both aid digestion and tenderize meats in cooking, bromelain has entered the chat for both health-care and culinary professionals alike. However, bromelain has also been shown to “help reduce pain and swelling in the body and can also assist in breaking down excess mucus in the nasal cavity,” says Davis.
- Plant compounds: As a subset of micronutrients alongside vitamins and minerals, plant compounds are key players in maintaining immune health. This is thanks to their antioxidant properties that help to reduce inflammation in the body and fight off free radicals, the oxidative molecules often to blame for a range of illnesses from chronic diseases to acute illnesses like sinus pressure and stuffy noses.
- Salicylic acid: “Salicylic acid is also anti-inflammatory and can help break down the proteins in mucus to support clear sinuses,” says Davis. And while many of us have salicylic acid products in our bathroom cabinets to help treat and prevent acne, it’s also naturally found in plenty of foods.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: When it comes to anti-inflammatory nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids rank high on the list and they may even specifically target sinus congestion. A 2019 animal study found omega-3 fatty acid supplementation to reduce symptoms1, including nasal congestion, associated with allergic rhinitis.
- Cysteine: Cysteine is an amino acid that acts as a building block for protein as well as another powerful antioxidant in the body. However, research also shows that it may benefit stuffy noses as a mucolytic agent2, or something that helps to break down mucus in the body.
- Water: And finally you have water, which is always encouraged during times of illness, especially when you're congested. “Staying hydrated with plenty of water and hot tea can help thin mucus and prevent further sinus pressure,” Davis explains.
9 best foods for a stuffy nose
Taking these nutrients into account, here's a list of some of the best foods (and drinks) to reach for when burdened with a stuffy nose.
As one of the best natural sources of bromelain and vitamin C, pineapple (and pineapple juice!) can be an excellent grab when your sinus congestion just won’t quit. Frozen, fresh, and canned pineapple will all provide these benefits, but just be sure to watch out for added sugar in frozen and canned versions as refined cane sugar can make inflammation worse.
While some Tiktokers suggest stuffing garlic cloves up your nose to relieve congestion (we’re not kidding), just eating it will suffice. This is because garlic is a powerful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiviral agent, helping to target the root cause of your stuffy nose.
3. Chicken soup
Few things are as comforting as a warm bowl of chicken soup when you're feeling under the weather. But beyond the nostalgia, chicken soup is full of water and the amino acid cysteine while also releasing steam—all of which may relieve stuffy nose symptoms. One study found chicken soup to help clear nasal mucus3 faster than hot water.
Beyond being a delicious natural sweetener, honey has been a popular natural remedy for thousands of years thanks to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. Plus, it contains salicylic acid which bodes well when you're in the fog of nasal congestion. A 2021 review even found honey to be an effective treatment for upper respiratory infections4, which often result in a stuffy nose.
A variety of seafood options can also be helpful when combatting sinus issues. This is because options like oysters and blue crab are some of the best dietary sources of zinc available while sardines, anchovies, salmon, mackerel, trout, and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
“Ginger steeped in hot water can help to clear sinuses and soothe a sore throat,” explains Davis. This is thanks to the plant compounds it contains that help reduce inflammation. Plus, ginger is high in antihistamines, which can be majorly beneficial if your stuffy nose is related to allergies. A small 2020 randomized control trial found ginger extract to be as effective as Claritin in relieving nasal symptoms5, though more research is needed to prove this claim.
Inhaling the steam of any tea will start to break up the mucus responsible for your stuffy nose. But certain varieties may be more beneficial than others thanks to their nutrient content. Green and peppermint tea may be especially helpful as they are rich in plant compounds, working to reduce inflammation. Plus, peppermint oil is specifically linked to sinus symptom relief.
While all citrus fruits are fantastic sources of immune-supportive vitamin C, grapefruit is high in salicylic acid, helping to target stuffy noses for quicker and more effective relief. And there’s no better time to reach for citrus than cold and flu season as these zesty fruits are seasonal to winter.
9. Chili peppers
Finally, you have hot chili peppers to round out our list of foods and drinks for a stuffy nose. If you’ve ever eaten a dish made with really spicy peppers in the past, you likely don’t need to explain why these veggies are great for clearing out the sinuses. But research backs this up with one study showing capsaicin (the active compound in chili peppers) to provide quick and effective nasal symptom relief6.
- Sawane, Kento et al. “Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acid Dampens Allergic Rhinitis via Eosinophilic Production of the Anti-Allergic Lipid Mediator 15-Hydroxyeicosapentaenoic Acid in Mice.” Nutrients vol. 11,12 2868. 22 Nov. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11122868
- Sadowska, Anna M., et al. “Role of N-acetylcysteine in the Management of COPD.” International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, vol. 1, no. 4, 2006, pp. 425–434. Published online 2006 Dec. doi: 10.2147/copd.2006.1.4.425. PMID: 18044098; PMCID: PMC2707813.
- Saketkhoo, Kiumars, Adolph Januszkiewicz, and Marvin A. Sackner. “Effects of Drinking Hot Water, Cold Water, and Chicken Soup on Nasal Mucus Velocity and Nasal Airflow Resistance.” Chest, vol. 74, no. 4, October 1978, pp. 408-410. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0012-3692(15)37387-6.
- Abuelgasim, Hibatullah et al. “Effectiveness of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” BMJ evidence-based medicine vol. 26,2 (2021): 57-64. doi:10.1136/bmjebm-2020-111336
- Yamprasert, Rodsarin et al. “Ginger extract versus Loratadine in the treatment of allergic rhinitis: a randomized controlled trial.” BMC complementary medicine and therapies vol. 20,1 119. 20 Apr. 2020, doi:10.1186/s12906-020-2875-z
- Couroux, Peter R., Basma Ismail, Diane Houtman, Tabassum Khadari, and Anne Marie Marie Salapatek. “Capsaicin Nasal Spray Showed Significant And Rapid Relief In All Nasal Symptoms In Subjects With Non-Allergic Rhinitis.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 143, no. 2, Supplement, AB63, February 2019, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2018.12.193.
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