Mucus, or phlegm, is a thick, slippery substance secreted by glands and cells in your body. When you think about mucus, you might picture the annoying throat discomfort and stuffy nose that come along with too much of it. However, mucus is important to your immune system, trapping microorganisms, dirt and other particles that shouldn't be in your airway.
Increased mucus production can occur with illnesses including respiratory infections, such as the common cold and bronchitis. It is also associated with more serious medical conditions including cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to the Lung Institute, some foods increase production of mucus or thicken mucus that is already present. In addition to medical treatment and rest, certain foods might help minimize your symptoms.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are top sources of antioxidants — nutrients that promote your body's ability to fight off infections and disease. In addition to supplying nutrients, garlic, watercress, celery, pickles, onions, lemons and parsley reduce mucus production, according to the Lung Institute. Avoid cabbage, corn and corn products, potatoes and bananas, which might accelerate mucus production. Fruits and vegetables particularly rich in antioxidants include berries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, leafy greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, bell peppers and winter squash.
Choose Olive Oil
Olive oil is a valuable source of unsaturated, heart-healthy fat. According to a report published in "Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry" in June 2010, the substance oleocanthal in olive oil produces effects similar to the anti-inflammatory drug ibuprofen, which is often used to reduce bronchitis symptoms. If you're prone to mucus, try swapping saturated fat sources in your diet, such as butter and margarine, out for olive oil. Because fats promote nutrient absorption, consume olive oil with nutritious foods, such as leafy green salads and whole grains, for added benefits.
Drink Warm Fluids
Warm fluids provide soothing dietary options. Because they promote hydration, sipping fluids throughout the day might help your body flush toxins out through urine, allowing you to heal faster. Chicken soup, broth and tea can also be mucus reducing foods. Choose noncaffeinated fluids over coffee and soft drinks, which are less hydrating and might disrupt your ability to rest. Avoid thick, creamy soups and beverages, which might thicken mucus.
Eat Fatty Fish
Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, lake trout, sardines and flounder, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids — healthy fats that might help reduce inflammation. Omega-3 fats also boost immunity. For optimum benefits, replace protein sources that might worsen inflammation and mucus production, such as red meat, whole milk and high-fat cheese, with baked, grilled or broiled fatty fish.
Foods that Cause Phlegm
In addition to eating foods that reduce mucus production, avoiding foods that cause phlegm is also helpful. Dairy products including milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter top the list. Many "junk foods" such as candy, soda and sweet desserts should also be avoided. Simple carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and cereal are also foods that cause phlegm.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Cystic Fibrosis
- Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-Allergy Agents in Medicinal Chemistry: 'Oleocanthal, a Natural Anti-Inflammatory Compound in Extra Virgin Olive Oil"
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Bronchitis
- International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Clinical Issues of Mucus Accumulation in COPD
- Lung Institute: 21 Foods that Trigger Mucus Production (and 21 Foods that Reduce It)