What to eat when you have a cough?

You will find it very helpful if you know what to eat when you have a cough. A cough can interrupt your routine and annoy you to frustration. It is very difficult to control onset of cough when you have a throat infection, inflammation or irritation. Knowing what to eat when you have a cough can help suppress cough to some extent.

You may find yourself in the middle of a formal meeting or dinner and cannot resist the need to cough or clear phlegm from your throat. Simple things can become complicated when you have a cough. If you know what to eat when you have a cough, you can prevent few disasters.

What is cough?

Before trying to know what to eat when you have a cough, it will be nice to know what cough is.

A cough is simply your body’s reflex to clear or expel an irritant or foreign material from your respiratory tract. The irritant can be dust, smoke, virus, bacteria, excess mucus etc.

Why do we cough?

When you inhale dust or smoke, bacteria or virus, you feel irritated in throat or chest. This can also led to infection or inflammation of throat and respiratory tract.

Such irritation in throat in itself can trigger a cough. You may start coughing as soon as you inhale dust, smoke, acid etc. This is mainly because of irritation in throat cause. This is dry cough.

To protect you from the irritants and to expel them, your body begins to produce extra mucus in your respiratory tracts to trap the bacteria or virus. Then your body triggers cough to expel this excess mucus. This is chesty cough.

When you have a chesty cough, you may produce mucus with cough. With dry cough, you may produce little or no mucus.

Cough can also be caused by strep throat or sinusitis or other conditions like GERD or acid reflux and more serious underlying conditions such as tuberculosis and bronchitis etc. Sometimes cough can be triggered as a side-effect of some medications.

What to do when you have a cough?

No matter what is causing your cough, you need to do something that makes you feel better soon. But what can you do when you have a cough?

There are many things you can do when you have a cough. You can start using one of the home cough remedies, or buy an OTC cough medicine and use it. If cough is persistent, you need to see a doctor.

Whatever you do to treat your cough, knowing what to eat when you have a cough is very important. Eating the right food can help ease your cough symptoms if not heal your condition completely.

What to eat when you have a cough?

Eating a proper diet is really helpful when you have a cough, cold or sore throat etc. But, what to eat when you have a cough? What is proper diet when you have a cough?  You need to eat more of foods that can alleviate infection, inflammation or pain in throat. You also need to make sure that your diet provides you with essential nutrients like proteins, vitamins, minerals and hydration.

Here are some examples of what to eat when you have a cough.

Nutritious food

When you have a cough, you need to eat nutritious food rich in vitamins, minerals and proteins etc. The food you eat should also be providing you with essential hydration.

Why to eat nutritious food when you have a cough?

When you have a cough, cold or fever, your body needs more energy and immunity to fight cough, cold, fever or any other underlying infection. You also need to keep yourself well hydrated at all times.

Your body needs vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre and fluids when you have a cough. So when you have a cough, you need to eat nutritious food and drink lots of water.

With a cough giving you irritation and pain in the throat, you may not feel like eating much but it is important to over come the resistance to eat well. Sometimes cough may cause unwanted weight loss. Eating nutritious food when you have a cough, cold or fever minimises such weight loss.

Lots of fluids especially water

Any illness can make you really dehydrated. You need to drink lots of water when you have a cough, cold or fever. Drinking plenty of water when you have a cough, cold or fever is very helpful. If you keep yourself well hydrated when you are sick, you naturally feel better quickly.

Why to drink plenty of water when you have a cough?

Drinking more fluids like water when you have a cough, dry throat, sore throat, throat pain, keeps your throat moist and thins your mucus. This will relive cough and other symptoms.

Moreover, illness such as cough, cold or fever tend to dehydrate you or make you feel very warm. If you drink plenty of water when you have a cough, cold or fever, you get well hydrated and feel better.

When you have a dry cough, you end up with irritation in throat. Drinking lots of water when you have dry cough makes you feel well lubricated in your throat and heals throat pain or irritation.

When you have a chesty cough, you may end up with thick and sticky mucus. If you drink plenty of water when you have a chesty cough, your mucus becomes thin and easy. When your mucus becomes thin and no longer sticky, you can easily expel the excess mucus. Expelling excess mucus will heal your chesty cough.

Headache and body pains are common when you have a cough, cold or fever. Drinking plenty of fluids makes you well hydrated and helps heal headaches and body pains.

Experts say an adult needs to drink 6-8 glasses of water everyday. If you want some flavour in your water, you can go for herbal tea, broth etc. which are mostly clear liquids. You need to avoid caffeine and alcohol based drinks as they make you more dehydrated.


Lozenges are one of the best remedies for quick relief from cough and sore throat. When you have a cough or sore throat, make sure you always have some lozenges with you. Lozenges help you suppress your cough instantly and are very helpful when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation where you cannot suppress cough.

Why do you need to chew lozenges when you have a cough?

When you have a sore throat or cough, chewing or sucking on a lozenge or hard candy can give you quick relief from cough, sore throat and throat pain.

When you have a lozenge in your mouth, you provide more saliva that can lubricate your throat. Throat lubrication provides you relief from sore throat.

If the lozenge is medicated with anaesthetic etc. it helps relive throat pain too. So you need to consume medicated lozenges when you have cough, sore throat and throat pain. Some lozenges are medicated with anti-septic or anti-irritant substances too.

It is however, not a good idea to offer lozenges or candies to small children due to the risk of choking.

Soft foods

When you have a cough or sore throat, throat pain and irritation can make it difficult for you to swallow some types of foods. For example, crisps or toast may be difficult to swallow.

You need to eat more soft foods like mashed vegetables or soups until your throat pain and irritation come down.

Why to eat soft foods when you have a cough?

When you have a cough with throat pain and irritation, you will find it lot easier to swallow soft foods. Hot soups with pepper powder also provide you quick relief from sore throat and throat pain.

Sometimes if you have a cold or cough with an infection, the food pipe gets narrowed and may make it difficult to swallow your food. This is dysphagia. In such cases too, you may find it easier to consume soft foods or liquid foods.

When you find it difficult to swallow food, you also need to avoid eating mouth full. If you try swallowing a mouth full of food and fail to swallow all of it, excess food my enter into wind pipe or lungs and cause aspiration.

If such food gets infected, it may lead to aspiration pneumonia too. So try eating small quantities of food when you have throat irritation, cough, cold or dysphagia.

Liquid antacid

Sometimes excess mucus from the nose drips into throat causing sore throat. Such mucus is often acidic and can cause irritation in throat. Consuming a spoonful of liquid antacid can help relive such symptoms of sore throat.

Why to drink liquid antacid when you have cough and sore throat?

Post nasal drip can have acidic mucus from nose dripping into your throat and cause cough and sore throat. When you consume liquid antacid, it forms a coating on the inner linings of the throat and neutralises the acidity from the mucus. This helps to relieve the throat irritation.

Once you drink a spoonful of liquid antacid, you need to avoid eating or drinking anything for few minutes. This is to allow the antacid coating to form inside your throat and neutralise the acidity from the post nasal drip mucus. If you consume any food or drink immediately after consuming liquid antacid, it may wash the antacid away from the throat. You need to avoid this.


Honey is a popular natural remedy for cough. Honey is also a natural anti-bacterial substance so it may help you with any underlying bacterial infection causing your cough. Honey also boosts your immunity to infections.

You can buy honey from any grocery store or pharmacy or online. You can eat honey direct or mix it in your drinks. Honey tastes great on toast too.

Honey forms a nice coating on irritated mucus membranes and relives sore throat irritation. As honey forms a soothing coating over mucus membrane in respiratory tract, it is a demulcent. Any demulcent tea can help you relieve sore throat and cough.

Honey may not be safe to offer to children under certain age. Honey may lead to infant botulism in small children. If you plan to offer honey to children, please check with doctor before hand.


Tulasi is a holy plant that many hindus worship at home and in temples. Many people consider tulasi as the best cough medicine for adults.

You can eat tulasi leaves on their own or juice tulasi leaves and drink too. Tulasi tablets are also available to buy. Sometimes tulasi tea is commercially available in some special natural medical stores. You can drink hot tulasi tea twice a day for quick relief from cough and cold.

Many experts say if you consume tulasi regularly it improves your immunity and promotes longevity.

Honey and lemon tea

You can make a tasty and aromatic tea with honey and lemon. Drinking honey and lemon tea relieves throat pain, sore throat and helps you sleep better at night.

Why to drink honey and lemon tea when you have a cough?

Honey is a natural remedy for cough. Lemon is rich in vitamin C and boosts immunity. Drinking hot water keeps you well hydrated and helps relieve cough symptoms. When you make a lemon honey tea by mixing all these three ingredients, you have a wonderful home cough remedy.

Lemon and honey tea provides you immediate relief from cough, throat irritation. To make honey and lemon tea, add one spoon of honey and one spoon of lemon juice to a cup of warm water and mix.

You need to drink this twice a day. Once in the morning before breakfast and once again in the evening before bed. This helps you get through your day easily and sleep well at night too.

Frequent small meals

When you have a cough, throat pain or sore throat, it helps to eat small meals rather than large meals. You just need to make sure you get your daily nutritional needs by eating more nutritious meals a day but smaller in size.

Why eat frequent small meals when you have a cough?

Cough may adversely impact your appetite and digestion. As you may not be feeling as hungry, you will not be comfortable eating large meals.

Eating heavy meals when you have a cough can also trigger GERD and make you cough after eating. Instead, if you eat smaller meals more frequently, your appetite and digestion may improve.

However, you need to make sure you do not eat short of your daily nutritional requirement. If you do not eat as much nutrition as you need you risk losing weight and low immunity.

Chicken soup

Consuming hot chicken soup with lots of pepper powder has been proved by many as a great remedy for cough and sore throat.

When you have a cough and sore throat, you may get dehydrated and develop an irritation or pain in the throat. They say consumption of hot chicken soup has an anti-inflammatory effect and helps clear congestion in respiratory tracts. Chicken soup also helps to expel excess mucus and keeps you well hydrated.

You can make soup at home or buy a ready soup from a shop. Three cups of soup a day can help you get better quickly. You may add pepper powder to the soup as black pepper works great to relieve cough, cold symptoms.

Chicken gives you cysteine, an amino acid that acts as antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and breaks mucus apart. Chicken soup inhibits the action of neutrophils, white blood cells that cause coughing and stuffy nose. This is why chicken soup is great to relieve cough, cold and sore throat symptoms.

Chicken or vegetable broth

Consuming chicken or vegetable broth gets you good hydration and nutrition as well. Keeping yourself well hydrated and eating nutritious food goes a long way in quick recovery from cough, cold and sore throat. Chicken broth or vegetable broth is a great source of vitamins, minerals, protein which are very essential for you when you have cough or sore throat.

If you enjoy cooking, you can make your own chicken or vegetable broth from scratch at home. You can make a chicken or vegetable broth and consume twice a day for quick relief from cough, cold and sore throat. For a quick fix, you can buy chicken or vegetable broth from a shop.

Clear vegetable or meat broths with no oily “film” floating on top are ideal and vitamin-packed, which can help replenish you with nutrients.

Vitamin and mineral supplements

Some experts say consuming vitamin and mineral supplements gives you some relief from cold, cough, sore throat etc. However there is not much evidence of this in reality.

  • Vitamin C wold help boost your immunity and help relieve cough and cold symptoms.
  • There is some evidence that echinacea helps relieve cough and cold symptoms too.
  • Zinc lozenges is another quick remedy for cold and cough that some people try.

You may need to check with your doctor for any side effects and health hazards before you take any such vitamin and mineral supplements.


Pineapple gives you quick relief from congestion by loosening the mucus and healing inflammation.

Pineapples are rich in bromelain. Bromelain is a mixture of enzymes that helps suppress cough. As bromelain is good at healing swelling or inflammation, eating pineapple helps clear your throat and suppress cough. So eat pineapple regularly to supply your body with bromelain to prevent or heal respiratory problems and cough.

However, please note that eating potato and soy products can counteract the healing effects of bromelain. So you may want to avoid potato and soy when you try to heal your cough or throat irritation by eating pineapple.

Liquorice or marshmallow root tea or candy

Liquorice root is a popular home cough remedy. Liquorice helps you relax, helps expel mucus by thinning it and relieves congestion in respiratory tracts. You can drink liquorice tea or suck on a liquorice hard candy.

You can also try demulcent tea made with slippery elm, liquorice root or marshmallow root.


Garlic is popular for its antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal functions and so is considered very good for your health.

Many researches have proved that garlic boosts your immunity to cough, cold and sore throat. If you consume garlic regularly, you are less likely to catch a cold, cough etc. Even if you get cough, cold or sore throat, regular consumption of garlic means you will get better lot sooner. If you consume garlic regularly, the severity of cough or cold you get would be very mild.

You can add garlic to all your recipes. If you add garlic to chicken soup or broth, they can be more effective in treating cough, cold or sore throat. Some people eat a clove of garlic every day to boost immunity and improve overall health. But this may not be very tasty and can leave a bad breath.

Garlic clove can cause choking so you need to be careful if you want to eat a whole garlic clove.


Ginger has many therapeutic effects. Ginger  is popular for its anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory,  antioxidant, anti-cancer properties.

You can use ginger in your recipes. Ginger tea is also very popular. Ginger honey tea is very refreshing and provides you quick relief from cough, cold and sore throat.


Fruits can really boost your immunity with all the vitamins, minerals, fibre they can get you. Many fruits have anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties too.

Berries contain anthocyanins which gives them anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and immunity boosting abilities. Anthocyanins, prevent virus and bacteria from attaching themselves to cells.

So you need to eat strawberries, cranberries and blackberries regularly and especially when you have a cough, cold or sore throat. Pomegranate is another great fruit with anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory effects. Flavonoid is a common anthocyanin present in many fruits.


Avocado is a great food to eat when have a cough. Even when you have a sore throat and cough, you can easily swallow avocado because it is very soft and bland. Avocado does not cause any further irritation or discomfort in your throat. Avocado is also rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre and mono unsaturated fats. Unlike many other fruits, avocado is low in carbs.

Avocados alleviate inflammation and help boost immunity as they contain Oleic acid. So avocado is great to eat when you have a cough.

Green Leafy Vegetables

Green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and romaine lettuce are rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals. When you have a cough, cold or sore throat, you need to eat adequate green leafy vegetables.

You can get vitamins A, C and K from green leafy vegetables. Some green leafy vegetables also have antibacterial properties.


Salmon is soft and easy to swallow yet rich in vitamins, minerals, protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 amino acids make salmon a great anti inflammatory food. Vitamin D in salmon helps boost immunity.

Summary | What to eat when you have a cough

As we have seen above, there are many foods you can eat to help relieve cough symptoms. Food you eat may not treat your cough itself but some foods can help you feel better. While some foods can cause inflammation, certain foods can also help reduce inflammation to help ease a sore throat. Eat more foods that reduce inflammation.

  • Fruits like cherries, strawberries, banana are great to eat when you have a cough.
  • Whole nuts such as almonds and walnuts provide you the strength to fight infection, inflammation and sore throat.
  • Fish like salmon, mackarel, sardines and tuna provide you essential vitamins to fight cough.
  • Millets, Oatmeal, Brown rice, Flax seed and Quinoa are better foods than processed foods.
  • Vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli and olives help when you have a cough. 
  • Fruits like watermelon, pears, pineapples, peaches have lots of water so they can help you keep yourself well hydrated when you have a cough.

It is one thing to know what to eat when you have a cough but you need to know what not to eat when coughing too.

You need to avoid eating any food that may aggravate a cough, cold or throat irritation. Citrus fruits may aggravate throat irritation. Spicy foods can trigger acid reflux or make GERD worse.

Other things you can do when you have a cough

In addition to eating foods that help relive cough, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from a cough. For example,

  • Washing your hands regularly every time you risk an infection is a great way to prevent spread of virus or bacteria.
  • You can inhale steam when your cough symptoms start. If you inhale steam medicated with something like eucalyptus oil or Vicks, it may prevent a serious cough.
  • You can gargle your throat with warm salt water to get quick relief from cough or congestion or sore throat.

When to see a doctor for cough treatment?

You can try what you can to treat your cough but if your cough is persistent, you need to see a doctor as soon as you can. If your GERD cough does not subside after any home cough remedies, you may want to see your doctors for a professional treatment for GERD cough.

Coughs that are caused by irritants such as dust or smoke generally tend to subside soon after you move out of the polluted area and begin to breathe clean air. A cough triggered by cold or virus can last a little longer. But if a more serious underlying condition such as bronchitis or tuberculosis is causing your cough, you definitely need to see a doctor immediately.

In general, if you have a cough that has been persistent for more than few days, you need to see a doctor for full examination, diagnosis and prescription medicines.

There are few cough related symptoms that require immediate medical attention. These are :

  • one side of throat being sore, 
  • swollen neck,
  • rash accompanied by cough or fever,
  • very noisy difficult breathing producing wheeze or whistle.

In summary, knowing what to eat when you have a cough will help you tremendously in getting through your illness.

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