We've all heard that certain foods aren't so great for singing. Dairy, caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol. So what's the real story here? Should you never have dairy or spicy food?
So don't worry. There's no "always" or "never" in this conversation, especially because each person is different in how your body responds to foods and beverages. But it is important to know what foods irritate your voice, by way of stomaching acid rising to your throat through your esophagus, and causing reflux (also called GERD or heartburn), or phlegm.
Acid reflux comes up from your stomach when your digestion is over-active, or if you lie down soon after eating. (It's best not to eat within a couple of hours of going to bed for the night.) For some it happens easily, triggered by foods like onions, alcohol, soda, coffee, etc. Others have "steel stomachs" that don't irritate easily. Heartburn is the feeling of some burning in your throat caused by stomach acid. When you do get reflux, you may not know it, however. "Silent reflux" means you don't feel it, but there's still stomach acid coming up your esophagus. When it does, some will drip down to your vocal folds and that's what causes irritation and swelling.
Is it okay to eat dairy? For most people, eating dairy products like milk, yogurt, ice cream or cottage cheese will create mucus, and should be avoided within a couple of hours before singing. For most, hard cheeses don't do that. Mucus coats your throat and makes it harder to sing.
What about chocolate? Some teachers say chocolate is a no-no. Well newsflash, I have a couple of squares of dark chocolate every day and I'm fine. There's such a small amount of caffeine in chocolate that it shouldn't be a problem. It can, however, create mucus, so if you eat chocolate closer to when you sing it might be problematic. Also, milk chocolate isn't as good for you as dark chocolate. Here's a chocolate tip, which I learned from a friend who owns a chocolate farm: The best chocolate is made with cocoa butter, and doesn't need have any dairy in it. Look for dark chocolate with a high degree of cocoa, 70% or more.
Spicy and deep fried foods can irritate your stomach and trigger acid reflux. If you eat these foods regularly you may be keeping your stomach in a constant state of excess acid.
Soda and alcohol can have the same effect, so just be mindful and watch your own body's response to beverages.
Eat a well balanced diet and avoid junk food. Your voice is in your body, your body is your instrument, so take good care of it.
Common sense: Learn what foods your body reacts poorly to and avoid those. I avoid wheat products, onion and lots of garlic. I can have a half glass of wine before singing...and I also drink lots of room temperature water throughout the day. Again, everyone's different.
Okay got it! So, what's good for me?
- Yup, eat your vegetables. A diet that's rich in green vegetables, root vegetables, fruits and so on is healthier than a diet full of deep fried foods, fatty foods, processed foods.
- Honey is considered medicinal and a little bit can be good for you.
- Organic apple cider vinegar (such as by Braggs) is said to boost your immune system. Some people stir a tablespoon into water; for me, I find that it also causes me more reflux so I avoid it except in salad dressing.
- Fresh foods are important to keep in your diet.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day, though avoid ice water as it will cause your throat to contract
- Herbal tea
- lean protein
Links: If you have a tendency for acid reflux, consider a low-FOBMAP diet. FOBMAP foods are those that contain carbs that are apt to trigger bloating, acid reflux and stomach pain. I've given you a link to one website I found that I really like, and there is lots of information out there about it.
Before you change your diet check with your doctor. This is not medical advice, this is voice teacher advice! Be sensible. You don't have to live in a state of self-denial—that makes people binge and get cranky. It always come back to balance.