WWith cold and flu season in full swing, chances are you or someone you know has the misfortune of a stuffy nose. And while a serious illness warrants a visit to your doctor’s office, a stuffy nose from the common cold or even the flu can benefit from nutrient-dense home remedies.
In fact, there are many foods for a stuffy nose that can provide relief. Here we’ll look at what nutrients have been found to help relieve sinus congestion, as well as some great food (and drink) sources to help you recover quickly.
Nourishing ingredients to soothe a stuffy nose
When you have a stuffy nose, what usually happens is that the air-filled sacs around your eyes and nose (also known as the sinuses) become inflamed. This often also leads to a build-up of mucus within the sinuses which can lead to pain and pressure in the forehead, cheeks and nose that seemingly no amount of tissue can relieve.
While stuffy noses often go away on their own in a few days, certain nutrients may help speed up the process (though always defer to your healthcare provider). Here are some basics to focus on:
- Vitamin C: It’s no secret that vitamin C is a powerful immune booster that can be a great addition to our routine when you’re not feeling your best. “Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and helps reduce inflammation in the body, including nasal congestion,” says Amy Davis, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at FRESH Communications.
- Zinc: Zinc is another micronutrient known for its antioxidant properties and has long been linked to relief from the common cold (and sinus congestion). However, the research behind this claim was success or failure with some studies finding that zinc does not provide much benefit for cold symptoms, while others find that the metal shortens their duration.
- Bromelain: As an enzyme that can both aid digestion and tenderize meats in cooking, bromelain has entered the conversation for health professionals and culinary professionals alike. However, Bromelain has also been proven to “help reduce pain and swelling in the body and can also help break up excess mucus in the nasal cavity,” says Davis.
- Herbal compounds: As a subset of micronutrients along with vitamins and minerals, plant compounds are key factors in maintaining immune health. This is due to their antioxidant properties that help reduce inflammation in the body and fight free radicals, the oxidizing molecules that are often responsible for a range of ailments, from chronic illnesses to acute illnesses such as sinus pressure and stuffy noses.
- Salicylic acid: “Salicylic acid is also anti-inflammatory and can help break down proteins in the mucus to support clear sinuses,” says Davis. And while many of us have salicylic acid products in our bathroom cabinets to help treat and prevent acne, it’s also found naturally in many foods.
- Cysteine: Cysteine is an amino acid that acts as a building block for protein as well as another powerful antioxidant in the body. However, research also shows that it can benefit a stuffy nose as a mucolytic agent2or something that helps break up mucus in the body.
- Water: And finally you have water, which is always encouraged during times of illness, especially when you are congested. “Staying hydrated with plenty of water and hot tea can help thin the mucus and prevent further pressure on the sinuses,” explains Davis.
9 Best Foods for a Stuffy Nose
With these nutrients in mind, here’s a list of some of the best foods (and drinks) to reach for when you’re dealing with a stuffy nose.
As one of the best natural sources of bromelain and vitamin C, pineapple (and pineapple juice!) can be a great addition when your sinus congestion just won’t stop. Frozen, fresh, and canned pineapple will all provide these benefits, but be sure to watch out for added sugar in frozen and canned, as processed cane sugar can worsen inflammation.
While some Tiktokers suggest stuffing garlic cloves into your nose to relieve congestion (we are not kidding), just eat it. This is because garlic is a powerful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral agent, helping to target the root cause of your stuffy nose.
3. Chicken soup
Few things are as comforting as a warm bowl of chicken soup when you’re feeling under the weather. But beyond nostalgia, chicken soup is full of water and the amino acid cysteine, and it also releases steam—all of which can relieve stuffy nose symptoms. A study found that chicken soup helps clear nasal mucus3 faster than hot water.
In addition to being a delicious natural sweetener, honey is a popular natural remedy thousands of years thanks to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Plus, it contains salicylic acid which is good when you’re in the fog of nasal congestion. A 2021 review even found honey to be one effective treatment for upper respiratory infections4which often result in a stuffy nose.
A variety of seafood options can also be helpful in combating sinus problems. That’s because choices like oysters and blue crab are some of the best dietary sources of zinc, while sardines, anchovies, salmon, mackerel, trout and tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
“Ginger steeped in warm water can help clear sinuses and soothe a sore throat,” Davis explains. This is due to the plant compounds it contains that help reduce inflammation. Additionally, ginger is high in antihistamines, which can be very beneficial if your stuffy nose is related to allergies. A small 2020 randomized control trial found ginger extract to be as effective as Claritin in relief of nasal symptoms5although more research is needed to prove this claim.
Inhaling the steam of any tea will begin to break up the mucus responsible for your stuffy nose. But some varieties may be more beneficial than others thanks to their nutrient content. Green tea and peppermint tea can be especially helpful, as they are rich in plant compounds that reduce inflammation. In addition, peppermint oil is specifically associated with relief from sinus symptoms.
While all citrus fruits are fantastic sources of immune-supporting vitamin C, grapefruit is rich in salicylic acid, helping to target the stuffy nose for faster and more effective relief. And there’s no better time to reach for citrus fruits than cold and flu season, as these juicy fruits are in season well into winter.
9. Chili peppers
Finally, you have hot chili peppers to round out our list of foods and drinks for a stuffy nose. If you’ve ever eaten a dish made with really hot peppers before, you probably don’t need to explain why these vegetables are great for clearing your sinuses. But research backs this up with a study showing that capsaicin (the active compound in chili peppers) provides quick and effective relief from nasal symptoms6.
Well+Good articles refer to scientific, credible, recent, robust studies to support the information we share. You can trust us on your wellness journey.
Sawane, Kento et al. “Dietary omega-3 fatty acid reduces allergic rhinitis through eosinophil production of the antiallergic lipid mediator 15-hydroxyeicosapentanoic acid in mice”. Nutrients vol. 11,12 2868. 22 November 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11122868
Sadowska, Anna M., et al. “The role of N-acetylcysteine in the management of COPD.” International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, vol. 1, no. 4, 2006, pp. 425–434. Published online 2006 Dec doi: 10.2147/copd.2006.1.4.425. PMID: 18044098; PMCID: PMC2707813.
Saketkhoo, Kiumars, Adolph Januszkiewicz, and Marvin A. Sackner. “Effects of Drinking Hot Water, Cold Water, and Chicken Soup on Nasal Mucus Velocity and Nasal Airflow Resistance.” Bosom, vol. 74, no. 4, October 1978, pp. 408-410. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S0012-3692(15)37387-6.
Abuelgasim, Hibatullah et al. “Efficacy of honey for symptomatic relief in upper respiratory tract infections: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine vol. 26.2 (2021): 57-64. doi:10.1136/bmjebm-2020-111336
Yamprasert, Rodsarin et al. “Ginger extract versus loratadine in the treatment of allergic rhinitis: a randomized controlled trial.” BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies vol. 20.1 119. 20 Apr. 2020, doi:10.1186/s12906-020-2875-z
Couroux, Peter R., Basma Ismail, Diane Houtman, Tabassum Khadari, and Anne Marie Marie Salapatek. “Capsaicin nasal spray showed significant and rapid relief of all nasal symptoms in subjects with non-allergic rhinitis.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, vol. 143, no. 2, Supplement, AB63, February 2019, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaci.2018.12.193.