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Should You Avoid Dairy When You Have a Cold?

23 min read -

If you have a cold, you’re probably tired, moody, and achy. You can’t get comfortable, and you feel as though you’ve tried everything. Everyone has their folk remedies and their little tricks they claim will help you feel better faster.

Some of these tips have some merit to them. Chicken broth, for example, is a gentle way to ingest nutrients and keep your tummy full when it may be too upset to eat solid food. Echinacea has been shown to very, very slightly boost recovery time from the flu, although studies show that the effect isn’t significant enough to boost the herb as a real treatment.

One of the most popular tips is to avoid dairy when you have a cold. This tip gets relayed in slightly different ways, but its essence is the same. People who relay this tip claim that dairy can negatively impact mucus production, making a runny or stuffy nose feel worse. Many studies have been conducted surrounding this tip. The findings leave much to be desired. 

Why is There So Much Conflicting Information About This?

A formal study was conducted to determine if cow’s milk contributed to symptoms of mucus production or asthma symptoms. Participants were divided in half. Half received cow’s milk, and the other half received soy milk. Everyone drank their milk.

All participants reported the exact same symptoms. They all believed they were drinking cow’s milk, and they all blamed the cow’s milk for making their symptoms worse. The people drinking the soy milk didn’t know any better, and claimed that dairy was exacerbating their symptoms.

The study found no correlation between dairy milk or soy milk and the production of mucus, secretions, or bronchial side effects. People simply believed that the dairy was to blame for the way they felt, and they imagined it into reality. 

In another study, researchers went deep into the heart of the matter. They deliberately gave a large group of people the common cold. Once they were infected, half were given milk to drink. Researchers weighed their mucus. Everyone generally produced the same volume. There was no difference between the mucus produced by milk drinkers and non-milk drinkers.

Again, people who believed the myth that dairy would worsen their mucus production reported that the effect was taking place, and they felt worse, even though the researchers proved that it wasn’t true. 

The reason for conflicting information about dairy and colds is simply the placebo effect. When people are told something will make them feel better or worse, they sometimes will it into existence. They believe it, and it changes their perception of what’s going on. 

What is the Placebo Effect?

The placebo effect doesn’t necessarily mean that people are lying if they tell you that avoiding dairy when they have a cold makes them feel better. The placebo effect is something like a psychological hack. When you believe something is working, and your perception of things like pain or illness can change.

This puts the dairy debate in an awkward position. It can be a bad idea to destroy the placebo effect for someone who finds relief from it if they’re seeing a positive change. 

Dairy and the common cold is different. People believe that dairy will make them feel worse, so they avoid it. What if your friend with the common cold is seriously craving the classic comfort combination of a grilled cheese and a cup of soup? Should they deprive themselves of a simple meal that will make a yucky day feel a little better just because they’re afraid to enjoy it? We’re going to err on the side of listen-to-your-body and if it’s saying “grilled cheese and soup,” go for it. 

Is There Any Seed of Truth?

If you already have a lot of mucus in your throat, some things you eat or drink can coat that mucus, adding to its volume and making it feel thicker. These foods won’t actually contribute to the production of mucus. They’ll simply make you more aware of the mucus already present. Blowing your nose and thoroughly clearing your throat before and after you eat can reduce or eliminate this effect. 

Milk might make the mucus you already have feel thicker. So can butter, creamy soup, thick fruit juices or fruit pulp, anything with sugar or corn syrup in it, honey, and pureed foods. If that feeling makes you uncomfortable, avoid eating anything thick, sugary, or sticky.

You should also avoid alcohol when you’re sick. Alcohol dehydrates you, thickening mucus. It also reduces your body’s response to the urge to cough or sneeze, preventing it from eliminating mucus. So maybe try to lay off the White Russians while recovering from a cold.

The Case for Avoiding Dairy

If dairy doesn’t contribute to mucus production, why should you avoid it? Well, a few reasons, but none of them have much to do with a cold...

Some people avoid dairy because they’re lactose intolerant or allergic to milk. Those are perfectly valid reasons. It isn’t worth eating a bowl of ice cream if you find yourself uncomfortably bloated or in pain for hours afterwards. It’s better to find a dairy-free ice cream alternative that you can enjoy. 

Vegans avoid dairy because they believe that consuming products derived from animals is unethical and we definitely understand where they’re coming from. We’re big fans of Mother Nature over here, and we don’t use any ingredients derived from animals to make our plant-based ice cream.

Some people avoid dairy for health reasons. Dairy can provide you with valuable protein and other nutrients, but it usually comes with a significant amount of unhealthy fats. Healthy fats can be obtained from foods like avocados, and protein can come from many sources. Snow Monkey packs over 20 grams of plant based protein into every pint - no unhealthy fats required.

What Should You Eat When You’re Sick?

When you’re sick, you should eat foods that are light and packed with nutrients. You also want to make sure you’re getting enough protein to keep your muscles strong while you’re in a more sedentary state. Remember that you don’t have to suffer just because you’re sick. There are plenty of light and healthy things you can enjoy. 

Start off the day with a fruit and greens smoothie. Enjoy a big cup of broth with some seed crackers for lunch. Have a bowl of matcha green tea Snow Monkey for dinner. That’s right -- have a healthy dessert for dinner. You’re sick, and you deserve a little pick-me-up. Protein and antioxidants are important when your body is healing, and Snow Monkey delivers plenty of both.

Snack on whole wheat toast with fruit spread if you’re craving something a little more substantial. Find ways to incorporate healthy carbs into your diet if you feel like your tummy will tolerate them.

The Takeaway

Dairy isn’t going to make you produce more mucus when you’re sick, but you can still avoid it in favor of healthier alternatives. Any swap you make to improve your quality of life and the way you feel is a good swap. Just make sure you understand why you’re actually doing it. 


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