You don't have to have aspirations of singing on stage or touring as a public speaker to have a valid desire to be in your best voice. Every time you open your mouth and let sound come out, people make assessments about your knowledge, credibility, authority and more. Changing your voice for the better can bring positive change to your life. Although voice practice is important to train your best sound, what you eat also affects the quality of your voice.
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Why Food Matters
Your larynx lies partway down your throat, but its extrinsic muscles pull it out of the way when you swallow food. However, it does a lot more than merely help you make sound and get out of the way. The larynx directs food into your stomach and directs air into your lungs to breathe.
What you eat can also affect any physical disorders that affect your larynx and, thus, your voice. Certain foods can aggravate esophageal reflux disease, causing acid from the stomach to back up and affect the larynx, resulting in hoarseness, coughing, sore throat and chronic inflammation of the vocal folds, i.e., the vocal cords.
Another condition affecting the larynx and voice is dysphagia. Those with the disorder find it difficult to swallow properly due to the larynx not closing tightly enough during swallowing. Getting food particles stuck in your vocal folds can be one way the disease presents itself, but in its more severe forms, a person might not even be able to swallow at all.
Good: Hydrating Drinks
Staying hydrated is important for every part of the body, but it's especially crucial for the vocal cords, as dehydration can lead to permanent tissue damage. Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Associates recommends drinking a minimum of 64 ounces of water daily to keep mucus thin and your folds well hydrated. The result will be less throat-clearing, which is hard on your larynx.
Forget about having a glass of cold ice water on the podium when you speak or hydrating with hot water and lemon before a concert. Avoid extreme temperature liquids for at least two to three hours before you'll need to speak or sing, according to the Deva Method.
Good: Juicy Fruits
Juicy fruits make excellent choices for hydrating your vocal cords. When you need a snack before you sing or speak, bite into a succulent peach, pear, apple, plum or melon. Some of the highest in water content include:
- Applesauce, 88 percent water
- Cucumber, 96.7 percent
- Green peppers, 93.9 percent
- Strawberries, 91.0 percent
- Tomatoes, 94.5 percent
- Watermelon, 91.5 percent
Good: High-Water Content Veggies
- Cauliflower, 92.1 percent
- Celery, 95.4 percent
- Iceberg lettuce, 95.6 percent
- Radishes, 95.3 percent
- Spinach, 91.4 percent
Good: Moist Protein
- Chicken, 67 percent
- Egg, 76 percent
- Hummus, 71 percent
- Tuna, 78 percent
Read more: 8 Unconventional Protein Sources
Bad: Stuff That Dries Your Throat
Avoid anything with diuretic properties, as this will have a drying effect on your larynx. As people age, even healthy vocal cords naturally thin and dry out, but don't hurry it along. Avoid more than two servings of coffee per day, recommends the Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Associates. The substance can also cause some of your muscles in your throat to tighten, making it more difficult to relax your larynx and diaphragm for singing or speaking in pleasant tones.
Caffeinated tea is another culprit. If you're a regular caffeine drinker, avoid it on the day you'll be singing or speaking. Tannins contained in the tea also have a drying effect. Instead, stick to herbal teas and sweeten them with honey.
Alcohol is one of two substances linked to larynx cancer — the other being tobacco — so eliminate the substance or partake of small amounts infrequently. It irritates and dries your throat and can also distort your hearing, so you may be unsure of how loudly or quietly you're speaking or singing, according to the Penn State Collegian.
Bad: Stuff That Produces Phlegm
Milk and other dairy products trap phlegm in your throat, making it difficult to produce a rich, clear tone. The reason is that the dairy thickens the phlegm, making it harder to clear from your healthy vocal cords. Clearing your throat repeatedly can bring on a bad voice quality, at least short term. Substitute cashew milk or other low-sugar, non-dairy milk in your smoothie the day of your concert, meeting or speech.
Read more: What Type of Milk (or Nondairy Milk) is best?
Bad: Food That Creates Acid Reflux
Even if you don't have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, you could be damaging your healthy vocal cords by eating foods that cause stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. Lions Voice Clinic reports that the majority of their patients diagnosed with laryngeal symptoms of GERD have no heartburn or stomach discomfort.
Laryngopharyngeal reflux disorder, or LPRD, causes a bad voice sound that is gritty or gravelly, especially when you wake up in the morning or after continued voice use. Take a hard pass when it comes to the primary culprits that cause the problem:
- Acidic foods like tomato products or a lot of citrus. Although a squeeze of lemon in warm water can help clear your folds, chowing down on a few grapefruits or chugging orange juice can have a destructive effect.
- Carbonated drinks such as soda, sparkling water, etc.
- Dairy products
- Greasy food
- Spicy food
- Rough foods such as popcorn, peanuts or fibrous raw vegetables
Read more: 10 Ways to Reap the Health Benefits of Singing
Good: An Oxygen Cocktail
Although it's not technically food, oxygen is essential to nourishing your healthy vocal cords. Use good diaphragmatic breathing throughout the day, not just when you're singing. Take a "belly breath break" a few times a day, suggests the Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Associates. Use the practice to quiet your mind and release any stress or tension you're holding in your neck, shoulders, chest and diaphragm.
- Cleveland Clinic: Larangology
- Fox Chase Cancer Center: What Is a Larynx and Why Do I Need One?
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health: Modeling Viscous Dissipation During Vocal Fold Contact
- Charlotte Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat Associates: Resolve to Care for Your Voice
- NHS: Laryngeal Cancer Causes
- The Collegian: The Do's and Don'ts of a Singer: How to Take Care of Your Voice
- Sing Like a Star: Vocal Hygiene
- University of Florida: Puréed Foods, Thickened Beverages, and Water Needs