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You’ve heard the advice — feed a cold and starve a fever. You’re plenty hungry, but the thought of eating with your nose and throat closed up with gunk doesn’t appetize you one bit. You need some foods that destroy mucus, stat.
Although this substance isn’t harmful, it can make you miserable. When it occurs in excess, mucus can keep you from getting the nutrition you need to heal.
Your body is a fascinating biochemical experiment and everything you put into it affects it differently, including the foods you eat. Some meals increase mucus production while others suppress it.
You want the latter kind if you’re drowning in your own fluids and hoping to feel better quickly. You’re in luck — here are 20 foods that destroy mucus.
Mucus is the thick, gelatinous slime coat lining your nose, throat, lungs, sinuses, digestive system, cervix — if female — and urinary tract. When everything works as it should, this stuff is clear and so thin in consistency you don’t notice it. It oils the wheels of your system, keeping everything flowing smoothly.
However, when you get sick, an increase in white blood cells and the germs they destroy change its color to green or yellow. While you don’t necessarily produce more of it when sick, you’ll notice a thicker consistency.
Mucus does more than serve as your body’s motor oil — it contains antibodies and enzymes that help kill harmful bacteria. Its gel-like consistency also prevents dust and environmental toxins from entering nasal passages and causing harm to your body.
The mucus lining in your gut may significantly prevent inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer. Some scientists believe the right mix of probiotics and other dietary ingredients can improve overall gut health and possibly the symptoms of different conditions. For example, your intestines manufacture 95% of your body’s serotonin and treating the intestinal microbiome sometimes brings dramatic mental health improvements.
In short, your mucus typically protects you. It only becomes problematic when it destroys your appetite for healthy foods when you need them the most to heal.
How do you get rid of phlegm? You consume ingredients that act against it. You already know your mucus contains antibodies and enzymes. Ninety-five percent of this stuff is water and the rest consists of various proteins and fats. Therefore, if you want to know how to get rid of phlegm, seek foods that break down these two substances.
How do you break down proteins and fats? Ask a chef, particularly one who knows how to make fatty cuts of meat taste good. It probably won’t surprise you that many herbs make the list.
It might be easier to start by eliminating foods that encourage mucus production. One such category is ultra-processed convenience foods. What makes these bad when you have a cold? Besides offering little nutrition, they often contain various binders and fillers — the opposite of what you want. Leave those inexpensive TV dinners for another time, as tempting as they may look when you’re sick and tired. They increase gunk.
Another category of foods you should avoid is those high in histamines, which can stimulate an allergic reaction in sensitive people. You already have enough snot to deal with, so pass on the following:
Coffee and chocolate are problematic for some people because they can weaken the esophageal sphincter muscles, causing acid reflux. The excess irritation increases mucus production when stomach acid backflows into your esophagus. Therefore, stay away from these substances, especially if you’re prone to GERD.
Some people also struggle with carbonated beverages, as the gas bubbles can cause irritation that increases mucus production. If you sip ginger ale for an upset stomach accompanying your cold, ensure it’s good and flat.
Finally, deep-fried and overly fatty meats can increase GERD symptoms and mucus production. It’s okay to dig into a hearty bowl of miso soup but leave the Peking duck for another time.
What should you eat if you have a cold and your head feels like a ball of snot? What foods destroy mucus? You can get off to a good start on the mucus-free diet by seasoning your meal with the following herbs.
Chefs have used herbs since before recorded history to break down fats and proteins in foods, increase their nutritional value and make them easier to digest. Fortunately, these substances have similar activity in the human body, helping break down mucus so you can breathe freely enough to enjoy a hearty meal.
You probably recognize garlic from your favorite Italian meals, although you should avoid tomatoes if such sauces give you heartburn. Fortunately, you can use the crushed herb in various other dishes to help destroy mucus.
This stuff also benefits you when you have a cold. One study found a group that took garlic capsules had fewer bouts of sickness over three months compared to the control group.
Cumin seeds function as excellent anti-congestive agents. In Ayurvedic medicine, they’re often used to treat conditions like asthma to clear air pathways.
Cumin enhances the sweetness of root vegetables like carrots and beets. It also enriches savory meats like beef, making it a natural addition to that healthy pot of stew you plan to enjoy with a slice of rustic, whole-grain bread.
You might think of ginger as a tummy remedy, but there’s more to this root herb than banishing bloat. It’s one of the three primary ingredients in trikatu, an Ayurvedic formula even western minds are considering as a treatment for COVID-19. The other two ingredients are black pepper and Indian long pepper.
You can pick up trikatu blends — often in golden milk — for a healthy herbal tea for your cold. Additionally, you can use ginger to add a tangy sweetness to dishes. Perhaps you can whip up a batch of homemade ginger snaps as a preemptive celebration for nursing yourself back to health.
Anyone who’s dined at an authentic Mexican restaurant and tried the house salsa knows the capsaicin in hot peppers makes you sweat. You might have also noticed needing a box of tissues, as the spice makes your nose run like a faucet.
You can put that heat to the test, letting it serve as a miniature, controlled fever to destroy that excess mucus making it impossible for you to breathe. Grab some healthy tortillas and the hottest salsa you can find. As a bonus, you’ll also work up a mighty thirst, perfect for helping you rehydrate.
Turmeric is another root herb often appearing in commercial golden milk formulations — it can stain everything yellow. However, this root herb’s long-lasting hue is secondary to its healing properties.
It’s one of the best anti-inflammatory agents around, especially when mixed with black pepper. The piperine in the pepper makes the curcumin — the magic stuff — 2,000 times more bioavailable. That means your body can use it to fight infection and inflammation elsewhere, like your joints that ache from arthritis.
If a herb is powerful enough to kill the MRSA virus, you know it’s a food that destroys mucus. Guess what? Oregano fits the bill. While you shouldn’t take the essential oil internally, you can sprinkle the raw herb on scores of dishes.
The rich flavor of this herb comes from the essential oils pinene, limonene, thymol and carvacrol. You probably know it best for flavoring Italian dishes, but you can avoid those problematic tomatoes. You can also use oregano to make a delicious Oaxacan mole or chimichurri sauce.
Thyme is another herb with healing properties that’s frequently in Italian dishes. However, this stuff also lends fabulous flavor to roasted vegetables, which may be easier to eat with a scratchy throat than the rougher raw versions.
Select your favorite blend of fresh or frozen produce to make easy mixed roasted vegetables. Toss them in a freezer bag with two tablespoons of olive oil and a herb blend containing thyme, oregano, chili powder and lemon pepper. You’ll be rewarded with a quick and easy treat that’s low in salt and calories and high in the nutrients your body needs to recover.
You might have heard of using cloves for a toothache. That’s because this herb helps retain the beneficial bacteria in your mouth while eliminating the harmful variety.
Cloves also play a role in digestion, helping to break down foods and stimulate digestive enzymes. They also have potent antioxidant and antimicrobial properties to help you battle the germs causing your mucus to thicken.
You might not want an ooey-gooey cinnamon roll when you’re sick, but you should avoid highly processed foods, anyway. Instead, sprinkle a piece of whole or sprouted-grain toast with a bit of cinnamon and monk fruit powder for a sweet treat that helps destroy mucus without unwittingly spurring further production.
Cinnamon also mixes well with ginger in sweet treats. Those snaps are sounding better and better, especially with tea instead of milk.
Holy basil isn’t the same stuff you probably put in your spaghetti sauce. While both are popular cooking ingredients, the lesser-known variety has a better reputation for eliminating phlegm.
Holy basil or tulsi is more peppery and clove-like in flavor, making it an interesting addition to soups and stews. You can also find commercial supplements, but try experimenting with the leaves first — they also taste delightful when added to herbal teas.
You have your herbs — how do you use them to get rid of phlegm? Add them to these foods that destroy mucus for a one-two punch of goodness.
You knew this classic favorite had to make the list. Bone broth is one of the best mucus-free foods there are. The hot steam opens your nasal passages, while the combination of electrolytes and nutrients like glutamine, potassium and magnesium soothes the inflammation accompanying excess mucus production.
Best of all, adding herbs like thyme, garlic, oregano and turmeric into your soup mix is natural. If you like it hot, a few chili peppers make a delightfully spicy broth.
Is the sea an unending source of goodness? Its fruits do so many positive things for the human body, you might begin to wonder why people didn’t evolve fins. Fatty fish are more than foods that destroy mucus, though — they’re also crucial to a cholesterol-lowering diet for their proven ability to lower triglyceride levels.
You should avoid getting tipsy when you’re sick, as alcohol increases inflammation and mucus production. However, you can make a reasonable facsimile of a mixed drink with some apple cider vinegar and a few of the above herbs as part of your anti-mucus diet. Add a cherry to the following recipe and it will seem like a treat:
Mix all ingredients well and serve over ice in a whiskey glass for an elegant “mixed drink.”
Like garlic, onions contain sulfur compounds that perform many healing functions in the body, including decreasing mucus. They’re also a natural addition to soups and stews and add a natural tang to salads, no dressing necessary.
Citrus fruits aren’t naturally high in histamines, but they are histamine-liberators, meaning they trigger the release of this substance in your blood. You probably know you use antihistamines to treat allergy symptoms like excess mucus, so you don’t want more of these foods in your diet. However, they’re among your best sources of vitamin C. What to do?
Fortunately, part of a food’s vitamins transfers to water when left to soak in it overnight. Therefore, make lemon water your solution to getting extra vitamin C and staying hydrated. Keep a pitcher with lemons in your refrigerator for chilled goodness by the glass.
Celery juice might have seemed like another one of those weird diet fads people followed for no apparent reason. However, getting rid of phlegm qualifies as a good one. According to Anthony William — author of “Celery Juice: The Most Powerful Medicine of Our Time Healing Millions Worldwide” — this stuff can strip mucus from your intestinal walls, so theoretically, adding it to your chicken soup is a wise idea.
If you have ever baked ham, you might have added sliced pineapple or pineapple juice to the pan. Why? Bromelain is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that breaks down tough proteins like those found in pork. It may also do the same for mucus, although you should use caution as it can increase histamines in some people.
In general, oils increase mucus production, as fried foods can increase acid reflux symptoms. However, avocado oil’s high smoke point makes it an excellent choice for cooking and the monounsaturated fatty acids don’t typically spur inflammation as much as other varieties.
Olive oil wins hands down as the healthiest cooking oil, although it has a relatively low smoke point. However, it’s packed with polyphenols that fight inflammation and mucus production. It should be your go-to for salad dressings and light sautéeing.
Flax is a wonder food thanks to its 4:1 omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. While you need both types for good health, most Americans eat too much omega-6 from various vegetable oils, which some researchers believe spurs inflammation.
You can even use flax as a vegetable oil alternative in baking. Substitute one cup of ground flax seeds for each ⅓ cup of vegetable oil.
You can probably guess that an anti-mucus diet is high in the above foods. It also keeps mucus-producing foods to a minimum, so you should avoid staying on one after your illness heals. Some foods on that list — like dairy — offer considerable health benefits.
However, you do have one more trick in your toolkit for getting rid of phlegm, although it may not involve the mucus-producing foods listed above — identifying specific food allergies that spur mucus production in you, if not others. Here’s what you should know.
First of all, you can develop an allergy to nearly anything. While you should know the top eight that the FDA identifies as most common, less frequently seen allergies occur and cause real trouble.
The top eight food allergy offenders are:
How do you test for food allergies? While your doctor can request a panel, many insurances gripe about filling the order until you undergo other tests. Therefore, your best bet is an elimination diet to identify the likely culprit, then request confirmation if you decide you need it. Of course, you could always simply stop eating the problematic food.
A diet rich in mucus-free foods helps after you come down with a cold. How can you keep from getting phlegm in the first place? Here are some general tips to follow all year, not only during the cold and flu season:
Are you trying to feed a cold but first need to know how to get rid of phlegm? The anti-mucus diet might be your ticket to easier breathing — and eating. Prepare one of these foods that destroy mucus, filling it with healthy herbs that help break down its consistency.