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Food for SingersBy Jeannie Deva

I’m not a nutritionist, but from my many years of experience with numerous diets and thousands of singers a pattern has emerged of which foods are beneficial and which are detrimental to the voice.

Any foods or beverages which stimulate phlegm (mucous) or stiffen muscles, particularly in the vocal folds, would be the ones to avoid for singers. Usually, dairy (milk, cheese, ice cream, etc.), very spicy food, citrus, bananas and anything you are allergic to such as gluten, are mucous producing. Stimulants such as caffeine or iced drinks will cause muscle constriction.

Your body needs energy so that it can perform for you. Help it to digest and metabolize well by keeping your food intake simple. I personally find juicy fruit and raw salads with a little light dressing to be easily digested by most people.

Add to that a small serving of pasta with tomato or garlic sauce (no cheese or cream sauces). If your body's blood type does better with protein, then replace the pasta with chicken, fish or tofu with vegetables. I strongly advise against going hungry the day of a recording or performance. Hunger will stress-out your body which needs nutritional energy and hydration to deliver good vocal performance.

I'd love to hear from you which foods and beverages you have found have either helped or hindered your singing.


  1. Indi on June 30, 2014 at 6:36 PM said:
    I agree with no dairy. I usually have greens, raw or steamed, fish and a large mug of throat coat tea.
  2. Joanne on June 30, 2014 at 6:42 PM said:
    I eat very plain foods....having a chronic stomach issue, plain foods do double duty for several days leading up to a performance. White-meat chicken (no skin) seasoned lightly, rice, matzoh, natural applesauce, hard-boiled eggs...all things that have virtually no color! Lol!
  3. Judith Ross on June 30, 2014 at 6:50 PM said:
    This is so interesting and true. Many years ago, long before I knew I was allergic to all dairy products, (the casein), my vocal teacher always told me not to have any dairy products prior to my lesson. Recently, I retired from conducting a Community choir, and I told my singers the above. Some laughed and thought I was nuts, but many followed my demands and realized how much better they could sing without these food. As far as eating prior to singing, I always felt it was better to have a very light meal and have a lot of water, preferably hot "tea" made with fresh ginger, lemon and menuka honey. Great for sore throats as well. I am still singing at the age of almost 80, and I hope to continue singing until the very end. Enjoying your blog!
  4. Lois on June 30, 2014 at 6:54 PM said:
    Two things help: water and organic coconut oil (which is solid at room temperature). It does take a little getting used to though. Swallowing a spoonful coats my mouth and throat. I sing more easily and my mouth doesn't get dry, even for well over an hour. By contrast, anything sugary is the absolute worst.
  5. Sandy Andina on June 30, 2014 at 7:28 PM said:
    There are several fallacies here. One, dairy doesn’t always affect everyone the same way. My voice teacher can swig an icy milkshake and sound fine. Two, there is NO such thing as a “gluten allergy”--that’s junk science. Celiac sufferers--1% of the population--must avoid gluten; but those people who claim they have gluten “allergies” or even sensitivities and feel better when avoiding gluten are really probably allergic to wheat or corn--two grains that happen to contain gluten but have other compounds that are the actual allergens. The relief can even be a placebo effect: if someone believes they’ll feel better, they often actually do. Three, “allergy” is a term tossed around too lightly by the artistic community (which due to usually financial reasons distrusts the medical profession and advocates lifestyle cures--or even herbs & supplements, which are themselves chemicals--as the answer to everything). An allergy is a specific immune-system-mediated response to a specific substance; what are sometimes claimed “allergies” are usually intolerances or even deeply held aversions. And I also find that anything more than a light snack within a couple of hours of singing affects my abdominal muscles and thus can impair vocal support (and anything that has digestive-tract effects such as a need to “go” can also make one uneasy and cause tension). Even that piece of chicken or fish and veggies (I can’t have sugar or starch) can weigh on my gut and impair my singing--but that’s just me. Finally, caffeine doesn’t cause “constriction” in everybody--what it CAN cause is dehydration. Anything that is relaxing and comforting without impairing my awareness and control is better than stuff that makes me uneasy. The takeaway? YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY!
  6. Jeannie Deva on June 30, 2014 at 9:17 PM said:
    Hello Indi, Joanne, Judith and Lois! Thanks to each of you for contributing your comments. To add to Sandy's input, as you may notice, I said "usually" regarding dairy. Everyone's different, and that's great your teacher can have an icy milkshake. However, in my teaching of many many thousands of singers, I've found most will have mucous issues that impair their singing if they've eaten dairy within about 30 min or so prior to singing and have noticed the difference when they abstain from it. Caffeine dehydrates, as you said, which can cause the vocal muscles to lose elasticity and thus flexibility. It usually shows itself about 1 hour after drinking as it takes about that amount of time for the body to react and lose fluid (peeing). There's more to this, but this is a blog, not one of my books in which I go much more into all this in better detail. Thanks again for all the discussion on this subject!
  7. Carol Manson on July 10, 2014 at 8:38 PM said:
    A fellow singer turned me on to a great trick for a sore or bothersome throat - take big bites of an apple prior to singing- the pectin in the apple helps with phlegm and dryness.
  8. Marilyn Middleton Mellor on July 15, 2014 at 12:51 PM said:
    Strange as it may seem I have found potatoes in any form will cause an awful lot of phlegm to develop. I have remarked on this to several of my students and they have come to realize they have the same problem. In the younger days of my career I could eat anything before a gig but as I've grown older I leave out dairy and grains which also seem to give me phlegm problems. Each person is different. Love your blog. I've used your warm ups since you first brought them out and I still use them as do all my students. They are still the best.
  9. Sandy Ludwig on July 22, 2014 at 8:51 AM said:
    As a vocalist and vocal instructor for over 30 years, I agree with no dairy, sugar or wheat before a performance. However, if I find my throat is dry, I use Entertainer's Secret which can be purchased on line. Regardless of allergy or sensitivity, the above mentioned are known to form mucous and phlegm and are even mentioned as such in the Bible! The rest is personal preference. For sore throat, etc. a remedy I've used for years is: warm water (a cup) with 1 T honey and 2 T apple cider vinegar and chug it down! Regarding any type of throat lozenge, I was told by an ENT to avoid any type of mentholated lozenge, as thy make the chords brittle; he suggested jolly ranchers! Albeit, they contain sugar, but if a throat is dry, you may need a little mucous. I have never been more dry than in the Rocky mountains! My Jolly Rancher did the trick! (I've heard Las Vegas is as bad!) May you all find great success in your vocal endeavors and keep forever singing!
  10. Kylie on July 28, 2014 at 9:51 PM said:
    Hi Jeannie I'd like to make a point that dairy does not produce mucous. Nutritionists and dieticians will back me up here. It is, however, a very viscous liquid which leaves a "film" over the throat (like that you would see when a glass of milk is emptied). I sound pendantic, but it's a really important distinction to make.
  11. Jeannie Deva on July 29, 2014 at 1:42 PM said:
    Kylie, It depends upon which studies you read. Some say it does and some say it doesn't and none are done just for the voice, only the body in general. My information comes in part from "Keep Your Voice Healthy" by Friedrich Brodnitz, M.D. Otolaryngologist who cared for the stellar careers of such great singers as Leontyne Price NY Metropolitan Opera Soprano (winner of 13 Grammy Awards), and I quote "The mucous membranes prefer a diet in which starches and dairy products are limited to a minimum. This is especially important in those cases in which an overproduction of phlegm interferes with free nasal breathing and clarity of the voice."
  12. Clarice Sipanul on August 6, 2014 at 7:22 PM said:
    So far I experienced, spicy foods produce more mucous. I don't care the other foods, my problem is I really love spicy foods...huhu... Thank you for sharing all your experiences. Love your blog Jeannie.
  13. Studio Staff on May 11, 2016 at 1:08 PM said:
    Dear Clarise, Who doesn't like spicy food at least occasionally. If you moderate your intake of it and balance with lots of other good nutrition you should be able to make it work. There's certainly a lot of confusion in the world of nutrition and diet. The key is to differentiate between advice that is for general health or specific to singers or voice professionals and then you need to monitor your own body and how it utilizes or reacts to different things.
  14. Ms P Pieretti on September 24, 2016 at 3:59 PM said:
    I have used some of your suggestions in my March performances: eg the cider vinegar drink with honey was good (still use that quite regularly to top-up a half empty cup of peppermint or grated ginger root tea, that has gone cold). I tried the entertainer's secret, also the coconut oil with honey topping for dry throat. Both are good, tho I personally prefer the coconut oil. Only one point here, I found; is to use either and NOT both: otherwise phlegm will develop. And a real life-saver among the suggestions was taking bites from an apple. I remember being down to my last apple, during March recordings: but then discovered that even just a NIBBLE did the trick [gets rid of phlegm].
  15. Gina on September 6, 2018 at 7:24 AM said:
    Got to be warm water and honey and lemon for me. I have a reflux problem anyway but usually eat something plain like a chicken roll but has to be 2 hours before I sing!
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