These are just some of the food and drinks that are commonly believed to aggravate coughs.
“Don’t eat oranges.”
“Don’t eat grapes.”
“In fact, don’t eat any citrus fruits.”
“Can’t eat sugary foods.”
“Don’t take dairy.”
“Don’t take cold foods.”
Since G1 developed his cough a couple of days ago, I’ve been bombarded with loads of well-meaning advice about food and drinks that he should not be taking as they are believed to aggravate coughing. While I’m open to listening to advice, it gets a little ridiculous when it starts to severely limit what I can feed him. At a time when his body requires nutrients for healing, I question the wisdom of cutting out nutrient-rich foods. This is especially when most of the foods that are “off-limits” happen to be the ones that G1 actually enjoys eating.
To add to the problem, G1 appears to have had some problems with constipation lately. Twice I have wiped his anus and seen a spot of blood on the tissue. Since discovering his difficulties pooping, I started offering him a small rice bowl full of grapes a day and it tremendously improved his bowel movements. The fact that G1 loves eating grapes also makes the process a lot easier for everyone.
Naturally, when I was advised not to offer him grapes because of his cough, I was in a bit of a dilemma. Do I let him get constipated or do I aggravate his cough?
I finally decided to do a background check to understand the extent of the truth behind these beliefs and to research the scientific evidence, if there is any, to determine whether these are well-documented facts or simply old-wives tales. Based on my own understanding and what I’ve found, this is my conclusion:
First up, I have to question the warnings against citrus fruits and sugar because honey lemon seems to be a commonly offered drink to soothe aggravated throats. Just Google “honey lemon cough” and you will find a whole list of sites with honey lemon cough remedies.
Although I didn’t find any information on exactly how lemon helps coughs, MayoClinic makes reference to a study that found honey to be as effective a cough suppressant as dextromethorphan. So I guess the take home message is that honey is a great cough remedy for children unless your child is under 1 year old (in which case, honey should be avoided because of the risk of developing infant botulism).
I couldn’t find any evidence to support the fact that oranges are bad for coughs. As for the general beliefs – it seems that the jury is out on this one. Some sites recommended avoiding oranges when you have a cough and others actually recommend orange juice as a natural “cough remedy”:
“In the case of a severe cough, the patient should fast on orange juice and water till the severity is decreased. The process is to take the juice of an orange diluted in a cup of warm water, every two hours from morning till night.”
The closest I could find on oranges and coughing was a study on “the effect of fresh orange juice on bronchial hyperactivity in asthmatic subjects“. The study revealed that there was no significant difference on the ingestion or avoidance of fresh orange juice bronchial hyperactivity. In fact, Dr Greene cites a study on asthmatic children that found that oranges (or rather foods that are rich in vitamin C) helped to reduce chronic cough and nighttime cough in asthmatic children.
It appears that grapes is a commonly recommended “cough remedy”:
“Grapes are one of the most effective home remedies for the treatment of a cough. Grapes tone up the lungs and act as an expectorant, relieving a simple cold and cough in a couple of days. A cup of grape juice mixed with a teaspoon of honey is advised for cough relief.”
Perhaps I didn’t dig deep enough but I didn’t find anything that suggested that grapes aggravated coughing.
I think the underlying message here lies in the type of sugar. Most of the recommendations refer to the avoidance of refined and processed foods with sugar and other sweetened foods. The confusion that arises here is whether you should also be avoiding fruits that are too “sweet”. That being the case, some varieties of grapes would fall into this category.
Then again, I have also seen sites that suggest cough remedies involving the use of sugar. So should you avoid sugar when you have a cough? The jury’s still out on this one…
It has been said that dairy foods thicken the mucous which presumably makes the cough worse. Well, here’s what the Australian Society of Clinical Immunology has to say about that:
“Some people complain that when they have dairy products, their throat feels coated and mucus is thicker and harder to swallow. Recent research has shown that these feelings are due to the texture of the fluid, occur with similar liquids of the same “thickness” and are not due to increased production of mucus. When they do occur, symptoms are generally short-lived.”
“When patients complain of cough after having cold milk, it is usually due to breathing in cool air as they drink, and usually disappears if they warm the milk first.”
Cold Food and Drinks
There wasn’t any factual information concluding that cold food and drinks worsen a cough – not that I could find. However, there are a lot of recommendations that we should avoid cold food and drinks when coughing.
It seems that the only food and drinks that is advisable for you to stay away from when coughing are cold food and drinks. Although I couldn’t find any scientific backing for this piece of information, the general consensus is that cold food and drinks worsen a cough. As for the other beliefs, they were either debunked as myths or the information I found was inconsistent. That leads me to conclude that most of these food and drinks are okay for consumption even if one is suffering from a cough.