Food Picks For When You're Sick

Mucus-free options for cold relief
small girl holding a handkerchief over her nose
© Can Stock Photo / reana

Are you looking for mucus-free foods to help reduce that runny nose and wet cough? While most colds are pretty minor and will run their course in 5–9 days, there are a few things that can be done to support the body’s ability to fight through it, and reduce discomfort in the process. Here are some common mucus-free foods to look for, and mucus producing foods to avoid.

Foods that are mucus-free heroes!

Some foods help reduce mucus production and speed up the healing process. These foods are generally flavourful, warming, and a little spicy. These properties help to slightly increase the temperature of the body, thin out the mucus, and get things moving. This property is often called mucokinetic (“muco” referring to mucus, and “kinetic” referring to movement). This might mean that your nose may start running a little more with the first few bites! This is a good, healthy sign that things are being cleared out.

  • Ginger – ginger powder or fresh, grated ginger root in smoothies, stir-fries and soup.
  • Onions & garlic – in powder form or fresh and chopped in soup, stir-fries and pasta.
  • Cayenne – add a pinch or two to soups and stir-fries, or smoothies if you’re feeling brave.
  • Plenty of vegetables, preferably not raw – full of antioxidants and powerful nutrients that the body needs to fight infection.
  • 8 glasses of water per day, at least – mucus is primarily water-based, so being sick increases your demand for water.
  • Hot liquidsherbal tea (can count towards your 8 glasses per day) or clear soups like bone broth can help promote movement of mucus and assist in the clearing.

Your body needs some mucus!

Mucus is a necessary and important part of the fight against a cold virus. It's produced naturally by the body to protect the mucus membranes and lungs by reducing inflammation, keeping everything moist, and preventing the entrance of foreign bodies (like viruses, dust, pet dander or pollen) into the lungs. Once a virus is present in the body, the immune system kicks mucus production into overdrive to help kick it out. Normal, healthy mucus is thin and clear, but thick, opaque and yellow-green mucus can be a sign of a cold or infection.

Unfortunately, it can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as headaches, coughs, difficulty breathing, postnasal drip, trouble sleeping, and loss of taste and smell, among other things. Suppressing mucus production entirely (as in the case of a decongestant) is not usually recommended, but you also don’t want to encourage excess mucus! There are certain mucus producing (or mucogenic) foods that exacerbate the body’s production of mucus that would be prudent to avoid during a cold.

When you or your little one first starts to show signs of a cold, cut the following things out until it has passed. It will help your body fight the cold quicker, reduce the likelihood of the cold progressing to something worse, and help you to feel a little less yucky in the meantime.

Mucus producing foods to avoid

  • Dairy products – cow and goat milk, cheese, butter, yogurt
  • Refined sugar – candy, maple syrup, chocolate, sugary cereals
  • Bananas
  • Avocados
  • Wheat products – bread, tortillas, crackers, noodles

While it is not yet well understood why these foods contribute to the build-up of mucus in the system, it is theorized that they are common allergens that may trigger the production of leukotrienesmolecules produced by our immune system in response to an allergen and which are known to increase inflammation and play a role in the symptoms of asthma and allergies–coughs, scratchy throats, runny nose, postnasal drip. It’s no coincidence that these symptoms overlap with many of the symptoms of a cold.

A typical cold should last 5–9 days, but if it’s holding on for much longer, or symptoms are getting worse, check in with your doctor. Combine adequate rest and sleep with healthy food and warm liquids, and you and your little ones will be back to normal much faster.