Eight Foods to Avoid to Eliminate Mucus

Some food items have been linked to increased mucosity. Which are they? What should you know about them? In this article, we'll give you all the details.
Eight Foods to Avoid to Eliminate Mucus
Elisa Morales Lupayante

Reviewed and approved by the pedagogue in physical education and nutritionist Elisa Morales Lupayante.

Last update: 26 May, 2022

The build-up of mucus in the airways causes symptoms such as congestion. While it can be controlled with some medications, it’s also important to watch your diet. For instance, did you know that you should avoid some foods in order to eliminate mucus?

Although these foods aren’t the direct triggers of excess mucus, their intake can affect the processes that increase their production. Therefore, even though many contain important nutrients, it’s better to avoid them when suffering from this problem. We’ll tell you all about them here.

What’s the function of mucus?

Mucus is a viscous secretion that covers membranes in the body and contains antiseptic enzymes and immunoglobins. In the respiratory system, mucus is responsible for trapping tiny particles, like bacteria and dust, that enter through the nose.

Because it works to protect the lungs, mucus often accumulates in the airways when an infection is present. This is the case with colds and flu, as well as allergies.

Excess mucus is an annoying symptom that can leave us feeling weak and sick during the day. What’s worse, if not properly treated soon enough, it can spread to other areas of the body like the nose, chest, ears, and throat.

This symptom is a defense mechanism against viruses and bacteria that affect the respiratory system. For this reason, it’s important to treat the problem at its source to keep the body from producing it in excess.

You also might like to read 10 Tips to Get Rid of Excessive Mucus

Foods to avoid to eliminate mucus

One of the things you can do when you’re suffering from excess mucus is to avoid certain foods that can increase its production, as detailed by the Lung Institute. At the same time, you should also avoid ingredients that affect your immune system.

1. Dairy and its derivatives

Dairy products can make some people feel like their mucus and saliva is thicker and harder to swallow. However, as a review published in the British Medical Journal showed, there’s no evidence that milk leads to excessive mucus secretion.

With this in mind, you should only avoid these types of food if you feel they make your mucus thicker. Otherwise, you can safely consume them.

Some milk in bottles.
Dairy doesn’t increase mucus production. However, it appears that it can increase the discomfort of the symptoms.

2. Red meat

Research has been unable to prove that red meat causes mucus increase. Nevertheless, it’s believed that its consumption may worsen the secretion and accumulation of mucus in the respiratory tract. Therefore, in the case of flu, colds, and similar, it should be avoided.

3. Animal fats

The majority of diets include large amounts of animal fats and oils. For example, butter, lard, and omega 6 fatty acids. However, it’s really important to avoid animal fats. Instead, you should opt for healthy fats like olive oil and foods with omega 3 fatty acids to eliminate mucus.

4. Certain types of fruit and vegetables

We all know that fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and we should eat them daily to take advantage of all their benefits. Nevertheless, when you have excessive mucus, it’s best to avoid:

  • Corn.
  • Cabbage.
  • Sweet potatoes.
  • Potatoes.

You might also be interested to read What Do the Different Colors of Mucus Mean?

5. Wheat

Wheat is one of the foods that can cause mucus production. It’s difficult to know which of its components causes excess mucus, but a study reveals it could be related to gluten. In any case, limiting wheat products when you’re suffering from a cold or flu should help avoid congestion.

A doctor saying no to bread.
Wheat appears to make mucus worse. Although there’s no conclusive evidence, it seems that it’s due to its gluten content.

6. Drinks that dehydrate the body

When you have a respiratory infection, it’s essential to increase your liquid intake and eat foods with higher water content. Therefore, you might consider that drinking soft drinks and carbonated beverages is a great way to hydrate your body.

However, these kinds of drinks contain high quantities of sugars and other compounds that can dehydrate the body. This can make it difficult to expel excess mucus.

7. Tree nuts

Tree nuts can increase the production of mucus and phlegm in certain people that have an intolerance and are highly allergic. It’s explained in this edition of the Journal of Asthma and Allergy . The same occurs with other types of food intolerances.

8. Processed foods

Processed foods like sugar and flour are difficult to digest and can make congestion problems worse. Furthermore, those with gluten intolerance should avoid these products because, along with causing digestive problems, they can create discomfort by increasing mucus and phlegm levels.

A diet to eliminate mucus

If you suffer from excess mucus, the best idea is to limit the foods we mentioned above. Although the evidence isn’t conclusive, the general consensus suggests that they worsen the condition.

Instead, it’s recommended to increase the consumption of healthy foods that help strengthen the immune system. In fact,  according to an article published on the website of the Harvard School of Public Health, it’s advisable to consume sources of probiotics and prebiotics; vitamins A, B6, C, D, and E; and minerals like zinc, selenium, iron, and copper.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • American Lung Association. Bronchitis symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. Marzo 2020.
  • Bachert C, Calus L, Gevaert P. Rhinosinusitis and nasal polyps. In: Adkinson NF, Bochner BS, Burks AW, et al, eds. Middleton’s Allergy: Principles and Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 43.
  • Balfour-Lynn, I. M. (2019). Milk, mucus and myths. Archives of Disease in Childhood104(1), 91–93. https://doi.org/10.1136/archdischild-2018-314896.
  • Bleich SN, Vercammen KA. The negative impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on children’s health: an update of the literature. BMC Obes. 2018;5:6. Published 2018 Feb 20. doi:10.1186/s40608-017-0178-9
  • Butler, L. M., Koh, W.-P., Lee, H.-P., Yu, M. C., & London, S. J. (2004). Dietary Fiber and Reduced Cough with Phlegm. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1164/rccm.200306-789OC.
  • Harvard T. H. Chan. Nutrition and Immunity. Harvard School of Public Health.
  • Przywojski P. Fight off flu with immune-boosting nutrients. Mayo Clinic Health System.
  • Sisson J. H. Alcohol and airways function in health and disease. Alcohol. Agosto 2007. 41 (5): 293-307.
  • Shewry PR, Hey SJ. Do we need to worry about eating wheat?. Nutr Bull. 2016;41(1):6–13. doi:10.1111/nbu.12186
  • Weinberger T, Sicherer S. Current perspectives on tree nut allergy: a review. J Asthma Allergy. 2018;11:41–51. Published 2018 Mar 26. doi:10.2147/JAA.S141636

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.