It is imperative that we singers take excellent care of our voices, especially career singers.
The food we eat has an impact on overall health, but also affects our voices; in fact, diet is a major cause of vocal problems.
The main three negative impacts diet has on the voice are:
- Acid reflux
- Excess mucus
- Allergic reaction
The foods you eat may cause an allergic response or acid reflux without you being aware of it, and so the best thing to do is learn which foods to avoid when you have to sing. Non-singers may not notice changes in the voice, but singers are more conscious of vocal changes and we also need to take care of our voices more than the average person not using his or her voice in a professional capacity.
There are some foods you should avoid altogether as a singer, but especially before actually singing; the main reason being their potential to cause acid reflux or allergic reaction. Acid reflux affects many singers, with its effects ranging from slight hoarseness and irritation to vocal loss.
It doesn’t always produce a burning sensation at the back of the throat; silent reflux is a condition without this symptom and yet singers who have silent reflux will still experience the same negative effects as those with acid reflux.
Not all allergic reactions cause nasal drip or sneezing. When I get hay fever, as I do every Spring without fail – my nasal cavities, sinuses and throat become very dry and this reduction in mucus noticeably (to me) affects my vocal range. Even the mildest of reactions can cause extra or less mucus, and/or swelling in the vocal folds or nasal cavities.
If you’re experiencing an allergic response causing your vocal folds to thicken, you may notice you feel hoarse or are a little ‘pitchy’, i.e. singing flat or just all over the place in terms of pitch.
Excess mucus leads to excess throat clearing which causes your vocal folds to bang together in an uncontrolled fashion. This results in them swelling, which then causes a loss in range of sung notes. When swollen, they are not as malleable as we need them to be when shifting to accommodate different pitches and consistent tone while singing long notes or complicated riffs.
If you have inadvertently eaten dairy products before singing and notice this extra mucus buildup, I suggest increased water intake and lots of gentle sirening to loosen it up. Also, try not to repeatedly cough or clear the throat. Take a deep breath in through the nose and then utter a single throat clearing sound (hopefully eliminating some phlegm into a tissue!).
Let’s look at some of the main food and beverages that can cause allergic reactions or irritation.
Dairy is one the most noticeable enemies of the singing voice. Milk and cheese cause excess mucus around the vocal folds, which will make you want to clear your throat more often. It will also dirty up the sound of your notes.
Nuts are a common cause of allergic reactions and so it is best to avoid them when singing. Even if you don’t have a severe allergy to legumes (peanuts and tree nuts), you can still experience swelling in the vocal folds when eating them. They are a common ingredient in snacks too, so be aware when eating anything processed, what is included in the list of ingredients.
Gluten is a collective name for the proteins in wheat and grains that give them an elastic-like texture. It is in many foods: bread, cereal, pasta, pizza dough, sauces, among others. Lots of people have a gluten intolerance and because it is in so many foods we consume, it is best to avoid anything with gluten in it altogether.
Some people are allergic to crustaceans (crab, lobster, shrimp etc) and/or molluscs (oysters and scallops etc).
Eggs are a common allergy-producing food, especially in children, and are part of the ingredients of many foods.
Spicy foods can be an acid reflux trigger for some people.
Fried foods are a common cause of acid reflux and heartburn, due to their high fat content.
Chocolate is a common acid reflux trigger, due to the dairy content.
While healthy and nutritious, tomatoes are highly acidic, increasing stomach acid which can trigger reflux, especially when combined with gluten-rich foods.
Caffeine, fizzy drinks and alcohol can trigger acid reflux. While some people drink soda water to calm their stomachs, it can result in burping and reflux.
Some of you may have clear allergies to the foodstuffs I mentioned above and others may not feel you experience any reaction to them. Still, I recommend avoiding the main culprits during times of performance to minimise any potential reduction in your vocal quality.
Emma L.M. Sweeney, Voice Coach World
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