Virtually everyone has experienced a sore throat at least once in their lifetime.
A sore throat is painful and inconvenient, and it can lead you to change your diet to alleviate some of the pain.
What foods are best to eat when you have a sore throat, and which should you avoid?
We’ll cover that and some home remedies to aid in your recovery from a sore throat.
What is a sore throat?
Pharyngitis is the medical term for a sore throat, which is when your throat becomes irritated and painful. You’ll know you have a sore throat when it becomes painful to swallow.
Having a sore throat is very common and can happen at any age. A sore throat can sometimes be the first sign of getting sick, such as catching a common cold.
Some symptoms that accompany a sore throat include:
- Pain or a “scratchy” sensation in your throat
- Pain that worsens when you swallow and/or talk
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sore, swollen glands in your neck or jaw
- Swollen, red tonsils
- White patches or pus on your tonsils (a sign of increased white blood cells from an infection)
- A hoarse or muffled voice; you might also “lose your voice” if you have laryngitis
What causes a sore throat?
Many different things can cause a sore throat. Some of the more common causes of a sore throat include:
Viruses like the common cold or the flu virus are common culprits behind a sore throat. These viruses cause inflammation in your throat (pharynx) along with increased mucus production, increased white blood cells to fight the infection, and sometimes spiking a fever to kill the virus.
There are over 200 strains of the cold virus (rhinovirus), which is why it’s possible to get so many colds throughout your lifetime. A sore throat is often the first symptom that lets you know you’re coming down with a cold.
At some point, you might wonder if it’s the flu or a common cold causing your sore throat. Influenza (“the flu”) typically causes more intense symptoms than the common cold. When in doubt, you can ask your healthcare provider for an influenza test, especially during flu season.
Viruses and bacteria can both cause infections that lead to a sore throat. One of the more common types of bacterial infections that cause a sore throat is Streptococcus pyogenes, or “group A strep.” This type of bacterial infection causes strep throat, a very painful condition that causes pain and inflammation of your throat.
Having a sore throat from strep throat is rarer than getting a cold, and the pain is usually more severe.
If you’re wondering if you have strep throat, you can have your throat swabbed to determine if you have strep throat or if a different kind of infection causes your sore throat.
Seasonal allergies can cause a sore throat. Allergy symptoms often include itchy and watery eyes, coughing, sneezing, congestion, and skin issues.
Tonsillitis is when your tonsils (areas of skin in the back of your throat) become swollen and inflamed. It is usually caused by a virus but can also be caused by bacteria.
A dry mouth can lead to a dry throat, leading to throat pain. You might experience a sore, dry throat by sleeping with your mouth open, or when you’re congested and aren’t able to breathe through your nose as well.
When to see a doctor
Sore throats are usually a sign of a minor health issue and typically resolve within 3-10 days. If you experience symptoms longer than that, or if the pain is becoming more severe, you should seek guidance from your healthcare provider.
It’s important not to let throat pain linger too long. If you have a bacterial infection (such as strep throat), the bacteria can travel to other parts of your body and cause more serious infections.
9 best foods to eat with a sore throat
If you’re suffering from a sore throat, you probably gravitate towards certain foods and avoid others. Here are some better things to eat and drink while you’re suffering from a sore throat.
It’s best to stay hydrated while you fight whatever infection is causing your sore throat. Drinking fruit juice can be soothing, and it’s a way to provide some vitamins and calories if you’re not eating much solid food.
Try to stay away from acidic juice such as orange juice when your throat is sore. The citric acid in orange juice can irritate your already sore throat and make it more inflamed. Instead, try drinking apple juice, pomegranate juice, grape juice, or other types of non-citrus juices.
Remember that juice has a high sugar content, even if it’s 100% juice. Try to be mindful of your portion sizes, especially if you have diabetes or are limiting your sugar content for other reasons. You can also dilute fruit juice with water to stay hydrated without taking in as much sugar as pure juice.
Cold, frozen foods like popsicles, milkshakes, and ice cream can help soothe a sore throat. Cold and frozen foods can help reduce the inflammation in your throat and relieve pain.
Like fruit juice, be mindful of the sugar content of frozen treats like ice cream and popsicles while you’re trying to soothe your painful throat.
For a healthier frozen option to soothe your sore throat, try eating frozen fruit thawed just enough to be able to chew. You can also make healthier homemade popsicles out of frozen pureed fruit frozen in popsicle molds or ice cube trays.
While cold foods can be soothing for a sore throat, warm soup is often a staple of a sore throat diet or diet for tonsillitis.
Broth-based soup like chicken noodle soup can provide much-needed nutrition when your appetite is low from your illness. Be careful not to eat soup that is too hot since that can burn and irritate your already sore throat.
Avoid cream-based soup if your sore throat is caused by acid reflux since high-fat foods can worsen reflux.
Yogurt can be a great way to get calories and nutrients while you have a sore throat. It is also smooth and easy to swallow, making it easier on an irritated and sore throat.
You’ll likely feel hungry when your throat hurts, but you might be cautious about eating your normal go-to foods. Greek yogurt is higher in protein, making it a good choice to meet your nutrient needs while you deal with your sore throat.
Oatmeal is a great choice to eat when your throat is sore. It is soft and easy to swallow while also a great fiber source.
Getting enough fiber is important if you’re not eating as much while you’re sick since reduced food and fiber intake can lead to constipation.
Homemade fruit and vegetable smoothies are one of the best things you can eat with a sore throat.
Smoothies provide important nutrients like vitamin C and other antioxidants to help your immune system while also being a good source of protein and other nutrients.
To make your own healthy smoothie, try using ingredients like plain Greek yogurt, a ripe banana, and frozen fruit like berries. You can also add a handful of greens like spinach to get more nutrients without altering the taste.
If you normally use orange juice to blend your smoothies, try milk or a non-dairy milk alternative instead to avoid the extra acidity if you’re irritated by it.
You probably won’t feel like eating protein that takes work to chew and can be hard to swallow, such as meat. Eggs are a good choice for a soft, easy-to-swallow protein when you have a sore throat.
Mashed potatoes are a carbohydrate source that provides your body with much-needed energy to help you fight off your illness or infection. Like oatmeal and eggs, mashed potatoes are soft and easy to eat when your throat is sore.
While it’s not very nutritious, gelatin is a popular food for a sore throat because it’s cold and easy to swallow. Gelatin can also coat your throat and reduce your pain.
3 foods to avoid with a sore throat
You might want to avoid spicy foods when you have a sore throat since these can burn and irritate your already painful throat lining.
Hot peppers, hot sauce, and spices like chili powder, nutmeg, and curry powder are examples of spices that you might want to steer clear of until your throat is less painful.
Hard foods like dry cereal, chips, and crunchy crackers can scratch your throat and worsen the pain.
Acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits might irritate your throat. However, many foods considered acidic are also nutritious, so you can always play it by ear and see how you feel when including them in your sore throat diet.
Home remedies for a sore throat
Green tea solution
Gargling a green tea solution (strongly brewed green tea) is a great natural home remedy for a sore throat.
A study found that patients who were intubated for surgery (had a breathing tube put down their throat) and gargled with a green tea solution after having the tube removed had less throat pain 12- and 24- hours after extubation (having the tube removed) compared to the control group (1).
Marshmallow root forms a protective coating on your throat, helping to reduce pain and prevent further throat irritation (2). You can make tea from marshmallow root or buy it in dropper form to treat your sore throat.
Gargling with salt water
Gargling with salt water helps shrink inflamed throat cells, which eases pain. Saltwater can also clear out excess mucus in your throat while killing bacteria.
Simply mix ½-¾ teaspoon of salt with a cup of warm water and gargle it in the back of your throat for 10-15 seconds, repeating as often as you need to clear out extra mucus.
What is the fastest way to cure a sore throat?
The best way to cure a sore throat is to rest and allow your body to fight any infection or illness you’ve come down with that is causing your sore throat.
Staying hydrated, eating a healthy/soft diet, and using home remedies are good ways to reduce the pain from a sore throat. You can also look to over-the-counter remedies and pain relievers if home remedies aren’t enough to treat your sore throat.
Some good foods to include in your meals while you have a sore throat are those that are soft, cold, and don’t irritate your throat. You should try to avoid hard/crunchy foods, spicy foods, and any other food that worsens your throat pain.
Along with modifying your diet, you can use home- and over-the-counter remedies to ease the pain of your sore throat as you heal and recover.