Foods That Make Congestion Worse

January 11, 2019  |  
12 of 15

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Congestion isn’t just uncomfortable—it’s frustrating. When you’re all stuffed up, you can rarely speak half a sentence before having to stop to blow your nose. Simply having a conversation feels like a hassle. Then there’s the fact that you can’t sleep. The only way you can possibly breathe while you’re in bed is by propping yourself up on so many pillows that you’re basically sitting up. You just can’t doze off like that. You’ve also got a tiny trashcan next to your bed and a tissue box because you have to blow your nose every half hour. You’re breathing through your mouth, which leaves your lips chapped and your breath particularly funky. You sound funny, so some people can’t even understand a word you say. And you have this terrible pressure between your eyeballs. If you took a few wrong turns and caught a cold, and you’re trying to go easy on the over-the-counter drugs, make sure your diet is on your side. Here are foods that make congestion worse.


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Refined sugar causes inflammation, which means a closing of the nasal passages and throat. When these become narrow, it becomes even harder to pass mucus through them. Avoid candy and cake when you’re stuffed up.

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The hot stuff

Have you ever noticed that spicy food makes your nose run? That’s because it creates more histamine in your body, an inflammatory compound. Don’t accidentally eat spicy food, hoping that a runny nose will clear congestion—it makes things worse.

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Whole milk

You’ve likely found yourself clearing your throat more after a bowl of cereal with real milk or your favorite coffee drink with whole milk. That happens because whole milk makes mucus thicker, which makes it harder to pass through your body.

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Burgers and steak

The high protein content of red meat actually causes mucus buildup in your body. Avoid burgers, steak, and other red-meat-heavy dishes while you’re stuffed up.

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Since whole milk is off the table, you guessed it—so is cheese. You may get away with low-fat options but it’s best to just avoid dairy entirely while you’re congested. Skim and low-fat dairy may not cause congestion if you don’t have any, but it can aggravate pre-existing congestion.

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Grains and gluten create excess yeast in the body, which can lead to an excess of mucus-causing bacteria. Even if you don’t typically follow a gluten-free diet, consider one when you’re stuffed up.

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Though tomatoes boast a lot of great vitamins, they’re also highly acidic. The acid can cause the throat to swell, making it harder to clear out mucus.

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This fruit

Though high in vitamin C that can fight the cold, if you already have the cold and the congestion that comes with it, banana, papaya, and strawberries are a no-go. These produce inflammatory histamine.

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And this fruit

Orange is another fruit that you should eat to prevent sickness, but may want to avoid if you catch a cold. Oranges contain a compound that is similar to one found in pollen, and can irritate congestion.

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Though a great source of fatty acids and a healthy way to get your protein, tuna is a histamine-producing food. While tuna melts may be comforting, due to their cheese, gluten, and tuna, they won’t do your congestion any good.

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Liquor like whiskey and rum is very high in sugar, which can up your histamine production. So, no, you can’t have a hot toddy to soothe your throat—it will actually irritate it.

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If you want a little buzz and are thinking, “Beer is low in sugar,” there’s still a problem: beer contains gluten. You may just need to stay sober until your sinuses clear up.

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Refined carbohydrates turn into histamine-producing sugar. So just because your bagel and cream cheese aren’t sweet, doesn’t mean they won’t be a problem for your congestion.

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Fast Chinese food

MSG can cause inflammation in the body, making congestion much worse. Stay away from it when congested, but also all of the time.

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Even if you don’t have a nut allergy, nuts have been found to make congestion worse. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—due to their sugar, gluten, and nuts—are off limits during congestion.

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