Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
January 12, 2024 ·  4 min read

Struggling With Mucus? 5 Foods To Help and 4 That Make It Worse

Mucus is a sticky, gel-like substance that our bodies produce naturally. It plays a crucial role in protecting our respiratory system from harmful particles, such as dust, smoke or bacteria, by trapping them in the airways. However, when mucus builds up in the throat and chest, it can cause discomfort, coughing, and difficulty breathing. To help ease these symptoms, consuming certain foods can help to clear mucus from the throat and chest. On the other hand, other foods can contribute to mucus build-up and worsen matters. Let’s take a look at the top 5 foods that can help reduce mucus and those that can contribute to its build-up.

Foods That Can Help Reduce Mucus

Anyone who’s had mucus hang around longer than desired knows how annoying it can be. You feel like you can’t smell properly or breathe properly and, in general, are just uncomfortable. Thankfully, some foods can help keep mucus at bay – and a few to avoid that might work against those efforts.

1. Ginger

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Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory and antihistamine, which means it can help reduce inflammation and congestion in the airways. Ginger can also help to soothe a sore throat and ease the coughing that often accompanies mucus build-up. You can consume ginger as a tea, add it to soups and stews, or even include it in smoothies. (1)

2. Pineapple

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Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that is known to break down mucus and reduce inflammation in the respiratory system. This enzyme may also help support the immune system. Pineapple can be eaten whole or added to smoothies or salads.

3. Turmeric

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Turmeric is a spice often used in cooking, but it is also reputed to have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, can help reduce inflammation in the airways, making mucus thinner and easier to cough. You can add turmeric to your cooking or take it in supplement form. (2)

Read: Turmeric for arthritis, how well does it work?

4. Citrus Fruits

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Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruit, are high in vitamin C, which is essential for maintaining a healthy immune system. Vitamin C can also help to reduce inflammation in the respiratory system and loosen mucus, making it easier to cough out. (3)

5. Garlic

Fresh garlic isolated on white background
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Garlic is known for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to reduce inflammation in the respiratory system and break down mucus. Garlic can be added to cooking or taken in supplement form.

Read: How Long Does Garlic Last?

Foods That Can Contribute to Mucus Build-Up

As mentioned already, some foods contribute to mucus production and build-up. While you don’t need to avoid these all the time, if you struggle to clear mucus or with excess, you might want to avoid them for a time.

1. Dairy Products

Various dairy products
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Dairy products, such as milk and cheese, can contribute to mucus build-up in some people. This is because they contain a protein called casein, which can thicken mucus and make it harder to cough out. If you notice increased mucus production after consuming dairy, you may want to limit or avoid these foods.

2. Fried Foods

fast food products : onion rings, french fries and fried chicken on dark table, top view
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Fried foods are often high in fat and calories, contributing to inflammation in the body. This inflammation can lead to increased mucus production and congestion in the respiratory system. Limiting or avoiding fried foods is best if you are experiencing mucus build-up.

3. Processed Foods

PENANG, MALAYSIA - 8 MAR 2021: Various local and imported brand of flavoured chips and snacks on store shelf in Mercato grocery store. Mercato is the coolest fresh premium supermarket in Malaysia.
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Processed foods, such as candy, chips, and fast food, are often high in refined sugars and unhealthy fats, contributing to inflammation in the body. This inflammation can lead to increased mucus production and congestion in the respiratory system.

4. Alcohol

Different alcohol drinks on table in bar
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Alcohol can dehydrate the body, which can cause mucus to thicken and become more difficult to cough out. Alcohol can also contribute to inflammation in the respiratory system, making mucus build-up worse. It’s best to limit or avoid alcohol if you are experiencing mucus build-up.

The Bottom Line

While mucus build-up can be uncomfortable and annoying, consuming certain foods can help to reduce symptoms and clear the respiratory system. By including foods such as ginger, pineapple, turmeric, citrus fruits, and garlic in your diet, you can help to reduce inflammation and break down mucus. At the same time, by limiting or avoiding dairy products, fried foods, processed foods, and alcohol, you can help to reduce inflammation in the body, making it easier to clear mucus from the respiratory system.

Keep Reading: The Superfood That Is As Close To The Fountain Of Youth As You Can Get


  1. 6 Foods In Your Kitchen Shelf That Can Help Eliminate Excess Mucus With Ease.” NDTv. December 13, 2018.
  2. Curcumin Attenuates Asthmatic Airway Inflammation and Mucus Hypersecretion Involving a PPARγ-Dependent NF-κB Signaling Pathway In Vivo and In Vitro.” NCBI. Tao Zhu, et al. April 2019.
  3. Anti-Mucus Diet: Top 10 Foods That Cause Mucus (2023).” Respiratory Therapy Zone.  John Landry, BS, RRT. August 18, 2023.