What Foods Help Reduce Mucus in the Lungs?

Bowl of veggies and rice on table with vegetables laid out.

Consuming foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, and key nutrients, such as protein and fiber, allow our bodies to perform the essential tasks we depend on each day. One such task is breathing. 

But did you know that certain foods can actually make breathing more difficult [1]?

Oxygen and Food

Oxygen plays an important role in how our bodies break down foods into fuel. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the final waste product of this process. And since different nutrients require different amounts of oxygen to create energy, the types of foods we eat will affect the amount of CO2 we produce and how hard our breathing becomes [2].

But it’s not just how much oxygen we need to digest nutrients that cause breathing issues. Certain foods that cause inflammation, bloating, or gas can also put pressure on your diaphragm, making it more difficult to breathe [3]. Other types of foods can even cause us to produce excess mucus in our lungs, which may worsen breathing problems for individuals living with a chronic lung condition.

What Foods Can Increase Mucus?

It might not surprise you to learn that most processed foods contain artificial sweeteners, sodium, and thickening agents—all of which can increase mucus production [4].

Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt, or ice cream can do the same. But there are a few other culprits that you’ll want to be aware of when it comes to choosing what to eat or drink at your next meal.

A barista pouring froth into latte cup to make a design.Coffee/Tea

Many of us enjoy a morning cup of joe, or an afternoon tea, but because these two beverages cause dehydration [5], our bodies react to this change by producing thick mucus.

Chocolate

Another popular food choice is chocolate, and though it might taste sweet at first, chocolate can also cause us to produce excess mucus: “Chocolate can weaken your upper and lower esophageal sphincters. These sphincters act as gatekeepers, keeping food and fluids headed in the right direction… [6]”

Carbonated Beverages

Some people don’t like the taste of plain water. So, they try to mix it up a bit and choose carbonated flavored water. But carbonation causes bloating, and as we mentioned earlier, that can lead to inflammation and make breathing much harder than it needs to be [7].

Experts also recommend that you avoid carbonated beverages with caffeine, as certain ingredients contained in these products may interact with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) medicine [8].

3 Mucus Eliminating Foods

In a previous article, we discussed the benefits of staying hydrated. Hydration is important for everyone, but especially for someone living with a chronic lung condition like COPD or bronchiectasis

Fluids, especially water that doesn’t contain any caffeinated ingredients, can help loosen our mucus, making it easier to move and cough up. But remember, we also get H20 from the foods we eat. So, when it comes to meal planning, certain foods can help us reduce mucus production and keep our bodies well hydrated.

Below, we’ve listed 3 foods that may help reduce mucus build-up.

Salmon

This popular fish is packed with Omega 3 fatty acids, which may help reduce inflammation and boost your body’s immunity [9]. Other types of fatty fish that offer similar benefits include tuna, sardines, and lake trout.

Young female in grocery store picking up a bundle of fresh celery.Celery

If you’re looking for vegetables that won’t cause bloating [10] and may offer anti-inflammatory properties to help support healthy digestion [11], celery is a great choice. It can be eaten raw or as a replacement ingredient for recipes that may call for cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower.

Broth-based soups

Just as you would try and fight a cold with chicken broth, you may choose to avoid creamy soup options like New England Clam Chowder or creamy tomato basil for more broth-based alternatives. Fluids, especially when warm, can help loosen mucus and keep things moving to avoid buildup or congestion [12].

Just be conscious of the amount of sodium you’re consuming, as most pre-packaged broth products contain high amounts of sodium, which can actually cause dehydration and won’t provide any of the essential vitamins your body needs [13].

Talk to Your Clinician about Mucus Reducing Foods

Before starting any new diet or exercise program, be sure to consult with your healthcare team! This is true for everyone—whether or not you’re living with a chronic lung condition like COPD, bronchiectasis, or asthma.

The right nutrition plan paired with an effective airway clearance therapy may be the best solution to help you breathe easier and feel your best.

For more helpful resources on lung health, stay connected to our blog

If you’d like to discuss your symptoms with a Respiratory Therapist, contact our Patient Care Advocates at 1.855.528.5690 or schedule a time to chat.

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Resources

[1] American Lung Association. “Nutrition and COPD.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/living-with-copd/nutrition

[2] American Lung Association. “Asthma and Nutrition: How Food Affects Your Lungs.” Retrieved from https://www.lung.org/blog/asthma-and-nutrition

[3] Medical News Today. “Abdominal Bloating and Shortness of Breath.” Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327057

[4] Livestrong.com. “Struggling With Phlegm? Here Are 6 Foods That Can Help—and 7 That Make It Worse.” Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/107908-antimucus-diet/

[5] Medical News Today. Mucus: Where does it come from and how is it formed? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/where-does-mucus-come-from

[6] Livestrong.com. “Struggling With Phlegm? Here Are 6 Foods That Can Help—and 7 That Make It Worse.” Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/107908-antimucus-diet/

[7] Livestrong.com. “The Surprising Way Carbonated Beverages Can Impact Your Lung Health.” Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/550595-effects-of-carbonated-drinks-on-lungs/

[8] Cleveland Clinic. “Nutritional Guidelines for People with COPD.” Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9451-nutritional-guidelines-for-people-with-copd

[9] Livestrong.com. “5 Foods That Reduce Mucus, and 3 That Can Make It Worse.” Retrieved from https://www.livestrong.com/article/398029-foods-that-reduce-mucus/

[10] Medical News Today. “Which foods make you bloated?” Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322559

[11] Medical News Today: “Health benefits and risks of celery.” Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270678

[12] Cleveland Clinic. “6 Sore Throat Remedies That Actually Work.” Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/sore-throat-remedies-that-actually-work/

[13] Harvard School of Public Health. “Salt and Sodium.” Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/salt-and-sodium/

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