Tonsillitis: What to Eat and What to Avoid

Swollen tonsils can make swallowing difficult.
Image Credit: stefanamer/iStock/GettyImages

Tonsillitis means that your tonsils — the two oval lumps of tissue at the back of your throat — are inflamed. Swollen tonsils can cause a sore throat and painful swallowing, making eating difficult. So, what to eat when you have tonsillitis? Some foods are easier to consume, and certain ones may even soothe.

"At the beginning, stay away from foods that are crunchy or otherwise hard to swallow," says Michael Grosso, MD, medical director at Northwell Health's Huntington Hospital in Huntington, New York, and assistant professor of pediatrics at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra.

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Read more:Is Cold or Hot Better for a Sore Throat?

Choose Soft, Soothing Foods

Instead, choose foods that are bland (aka not spicy or acidic) and easy to swallow to keep you nourished without further inflaming your throat, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM). When it hurts to swallow, switching to soft foods is your best bet. Applesauce, eggs and oatmeal are all good choices, Dr. Grosso says.

You can also try mashing or pureeing foods such as sweet potatoes or making a smoothie with fresh fruits like bananas, says the American Cancer Society (ACS), which offers advice for people who have swallowing problems. Puddings made with dairy or non-dairy substitutes are also easy to eat and provide nutrients.

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Sucking on frozen fruit bars or ice pops can help numb the pesky pain in your throat and reduce inflammation, according to the NLM.

Drinking plenty of fluids, including water, will prevent dehydration and keep your throat from drying out, according to the Mayo Clinic. Fluids can be cold or warm, but not hot, as you don't want to aggravate your throat by burning it. Tried-and-true warm liquids such as soup, clear broth or tea with honey can be soothing and give you much-needed nourishment, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

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Foods to Avoid

Don't pass the chips! Foods that promote inflammation or are tough to swallow may worsen tonsillitis symptoms. Avoid these foods when your tonsils are on the mend:

  • Crunchy and hard foods.​ Try to stay away from foods like potato chips, pretzels or popcorn, which can all be painful to swallow, according to the ACS.
  • Acidic foods and liquids.​ High-acid fruits and fruit juices like tomatoes, oranges, grapefruits, limes and lemons are among the beverages and foods that can further irritate your mouth and throat, according to the ACS.
  • High-fat milk or dairy products.​ Dairy products that are high in fat may increase mucus production, which can make swallowing more difficult, according to the NLM.

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Dr. Grasso adds that cool beverages should not be carbonated or acidic, which can be less than soothing. Hold off on that soda/seltzer or grapefruit juice until your soreness passes.

Other Tips

If your symptoms improve, you'll want to return to a well-balanced diet as soon as possible, Dr. Grosso says. Slowly introduce foods back into your diet and observe how they affect your symptoms. It may be awhile before you want to eat a big crunchy salad or dig into crispy pizza.

Besides drinking a lot of liquids and eating foods that are easy to swallow, you can also try these tips from the AAFP to help your throat feel better at home:

  • Gargle with warm salt water. Dissolve a 1/4 teaspoon salt in 8 ounces of warm water. Swoosh as far back in your throat as you can.
  • Suck on throat lozenges.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers (but remember that children should not take aspirin, as it may cause Reye's syndrome).
  • Use a humidifier to keep mucous membranes moist.
  • Rest your voice as much as possible.

Keep in mind that the reason for your tonsillitis is something you may need to get checked out. Your doctor can help you determine the cause and prescribe other treatments if you need them. For instance, tonsillitis may be the result of a bacterial infection, like strep throat, or a viral infection, like mono (mononucleosis), according to the NLM. So, along with food choices, medications or other treatments may be in order.

In the meantime, it's important to stay hydrated and eat regularly.

Read more:Staying Hydrated Shouldn't Be Confusing — Here's How to Finally Get It Right

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Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker.
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