To find out what not to eat, and what to try when you have a sore throat, we turned to Neal Patel, DO, a family medicine specialist with Providence St. Joseph Hospital in California, and primary care physician Chantel Strachan, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. Here’s what they had to say.
“Foods that are spicy or have hot sauce and peppers can irritate the throat because they stimulate mucous production, and increase inflammation in that area.”—Neal Patel, DO, a family medicine specialist.
3 Foods to Avoid When You Have a Sore Throat
1. Spicy and acidic food
Spicy foods have health benefits galore but aren’t great for sore throats. Even if you’re used to eating the hottest food, this is not the time to indulge your love for ghost peppers. “Foods that are spicy or have hot sauce and peppers can irritate the throat because they stimulate mucous production, and increase inflammation in that area,” says Dr. Patel.
Acidic foods have the same effect. Spicy foods like salsa often contain high-acid ingredients, like tomatoes. Other acidic foods include citrus fruits, like oranges, grapefruit, and lemons. According to Dr. Strachan, these can have a stinging effect on the sore tissue lining of the throat. “They can also indirectly trigger acid reflux from the stomach, making sore throat pain much worse,” she adds.
2. Salty and crunchy food
Foods with rough surfaces feel like sandpaper on a sore throat. If they’re coated in salt, like pretzels or potato chips, they may also exacerbate your condition. “Foods that are salty can dry out the throat even more, which can cause irritation when trying to swallow,” says Dr. Patel, who cautions that it’s not just salty foods you should avoid. He advises against eating anything with a rough or hard surface like nuts, raw carrots, or sugar candies.
3. Alcohol in any form (and smoking)
You may have heard that a hot toddy made with whiskey or rum is a good remedy for a sore throat, but it’s not the alcohol that makes this drink feel good going down – it’s the honey. “Like spicy food, alcohol can further irritate a sore throat, plus generate acid reflux,” says Dr. Strachan. Alcohol also dehydrates you, making your temperature rise and your sore throat worse.
If you smoke when you drink, that’s a double-negative health whammy, with or without a sore throat. In addition to releasing hundreds of chemicals into your system, smoking and vaping generate dry heat. This can severely irritate your throat, causing soreness and inflammation, even when you’re not sick. If you are sick, smoking can hamper recuperation and lengthen the amount of time you spend feeling awful.
What kinds of foods and home remedies can actually help a sore throat?
One of the best ways to soothe a sore throat at home is to gargle with saltwater, says Dr. Strachan. Another tip? Avoid dehydration. “I always recommend honey with warm tea and warm soup to my patients. Frozen popsicles are another good way to calm an inflamed throat, plus increase hydration,” she adds.
Dr. Patel echoes that honey can be particularly beneficial, as long as it’s not accompanied by rum. “Honey is a well-known, traditional remedy that can help heal the throat since it has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-fungal properties,” he says.
Turmeric and ginger can also help ease a sore throat, says Dr. Patel. “These are high in antioxidants that decrease inflammation and hasten the healing process. Try adding turmeric and black pepper to warm tea or milk, and ginger to foods that feel cool on the throat, like yogurt or smoothies,” he adds.
Keeping your throat moist is also a good idea. Cough drops can help, just make sure to avoid those with menthol and don’t chew them, as this may be irritating. Finally, using a humidifier—especially at night—can keep your throat from drying out, and making it hurt more. You may even try adding eucalyptus or rosemary to your steam inhalation to help soothe your throat so you can wake up feeling a bit more refreshed.
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