When you have a sore throat, it can be difficult to eat as usual. The irritation and soreness can make it painful to swallow, and certain foods and liquids can aggravate or scratch your throat when it is already tender and sore. While there is a lack of evidence-based recommendations on the dietary management of sore throat, you may find relief if you avoid irritating foods until your symptoms subside.
Clear guidelines on foods to include or avoid with a sore throat are not available. For example, clinical practice guidelines published in the July 2012 issue of “American Family Physician” outline evidence-based recommendations for cold and cough treatment, but do not discuss dietary restrictions to improve sore throat pain. Therefore, any recommendations to avoid certain foods are based on the belief that they may cause irritation or discomfort. Ultimately, you can decide what works best for you. The goal, however, is to ensure you are drinking plenty of fluids and eating enough to meet your energy needs.
If your throat is sore, acidic foods may be irritating and you may want to temporarily avoid foods such as tomatoes, tomato sauce, oranges, grapefruit, limes and lemon. Instead of having citrus fruits, choose fruits that are soothing to the throat such as bananas, melons, pears and peaches. The texture of soft or canned fruit may be easier to swallow.
Spicy foods may also aggravate or worsen a sore throat, and it may help to avoid these foods until your symptoms improve. Any foods seasoned with hot sauce, pepper, chili powder, horseradish or Cajun spice are examples of foods that may worsen symptoms. It may help to eat bland foods until your sore throat improves.
Foods that are rough-textured such as salad, fresh vegetables, granola and dry toast have the potential to scratch and worsen a sore throat. You may have more success with foods that are soft and easy to chew and swallow, such as tender, cooked chicken, stewed meats, mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables, rice, soups, casseroles, yogurt, milkshakes, eggs, ice cream or cooked cereals.
Consuming adequate fluids is important to minimize sore throat pain. Cold or room temperature foods may work better than hot foods. If the pain makes it difficult to eat or drink, American Family Physician 2012 clinical practice guidelines report using over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be an effective way to relieve pain. Also gargling with salt water, or using OTC sore throat lozenges or throat relief sprays can help. Contact your doctor if the throat pain is severe, if the symptoms don’t resolve after a few days, or if the sore throat is accompanied by swollen glands, a fever or a rash.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD