Fasting has become an increasingly popular lifestyle choice for health, religious, or spiritual reasons. During fasting periods, people abstain from food and beverages for set periods of time. However, questions often arise around whether certain items consumed during a fast may inadvertently break the fast. One common question is whether cough drops can be consumed without breaking a fast. Here is a comprehensive look at whether cough drops can be safely used during fasting periods.
The Purpose of Fasting
Fasting is the voluntary abstinence from all or some foods and drinks for a set period of time. Fasting has been practiced for thousands of years for religious, spiritual, health, or political reasons. Here are some of the key purposes behind fasting:
- Religious fasting – Many religions incorporate some form of fasting, including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Religious fasts are performed to get closer to God, show devotion, atone for sins, develop self-discipline, control desires, and purify the body and soul.
- Spiritual fasting – Fasting is often used as a way to “detox” the body and mind to connect with inner spiritual truths. It is thought to clarity thinking, deepen meditation, and lead to enlightenment.
- Health and weight loss – Fasting gives the digestive system a rest, triggers fat burning hormones, reduces inflammation, and may boost longevity. It is a simple way to reduce calorie intake for weight loss.
- Cleansing and detoxing – Fasting is used to eliminate toxins, stimulate the liver, improve circulation, clear the colon, and rest the digestive tract. Juice, water, and tea fasts are utilized for cleansing.
- Mental health – Fasting is thought to increase production of BDNF, a protein that stimulates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons. This may improve mood, cognition, and mental clarity.
During fasting periods, only certain beverages and non-caloric foods are permitted, depending on the purpose and type of fast. Anything that adds calories breaks the fast, as the body shifts from using fat stores to burning food energy. Most fasts allow for plain water, black coffee, non-caloric beverages and supplements that do not provide nutrition.
Do Cough Drops Break a Fast?
Whether cough drops can be consumed during a fast depends on the specific ingredients in the cough drop. Here are some general guidelines:
- Cough drops with calories – Most cough drops contain sugar or other calorie-containing ingredients like honey or corn syrup. Consuming these would break a fast, as they provide energy and nutrients. If you need cough relief, look for sugar-free options.
- Sugar-free cough drops – Sugar-free or low/no calorie cough drops do not contain anything that would break a fast. These are made with sugar substitutes like xylitol, sorbitol, or aspartame and have less than 5 calories per drop.
- Menthol cough drops – Strong menthol cough drops simply provide a cooling sensation and do not contain sugar or calories. These are fine to consume during a fast.
- Medicated cough drops – Cough drops with active drug ingredients may technically break a fast, though the calorie content is low. This includes cough drops with phenol, benzocaine, or dextromethorphan.
- Flavoring and dyes – Artificial flavors and dyes do not supply nutrition, so these inert ingredients found in some cough drops should not disrupt fasting.
The main consideration is the calorie content. Anything under 5 calories is unlikely to trigger insulin production or disrupt ketosis for health-related fasts. However, those fasting for religious reasons may want to avoid anything but water. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.
Tips for Using Cough Drops While Fasting
Here are some tips to keep your fast intact if you need to use cough drops:
- Read labels carefully – Check the nutrition label and ingredients list to ensure your cough drops have 0-5 calories and no sugar.
- Limit portions – Only use the minimum amount of cough drops needed for symptom relief.
- Prioritize menthol – Menthol cough drops are less likely to have questionable ingredients.
- Avoid spray formulas – Spray cough drops are more likely to have hidden sugars or unlisted calories.
- Steer clear of colors/flavors – Stick to plain menthol flavors whenever possible.
- Consider alternatives – Sugar-free throat lozenges, tea, lemon water, herbal cough syrup, or rest may be preferable.
- Ask a professional – Consult your doctor, dietitian, nutritionist, or religious advisor with any questions.
Paying attention to labels, limiting intake, and choosing simple menthol or medication-only drops can allow you to safely relieve coughing without consuming extra calories. If you are fasting for therapeutic ketosis, a tiny amount of cough drop ingredients likely won’t make a big difference. But if you are fasting for religious or spiritual reasons, avoid anything but water to adhere to principles.
Most standard cough drops contain sugar and will technically break a fast. However, sugar-free and low calorie options exist that provide cough relief without disrupting fasting. Your best bet is to find cough drops that are sweetened with sugar substitutes and list 0-5 calories on the label. Limiting intake to the smallest amount needed for symptom relief can also minimize potential effects.
Alternatives like hot tea with lemon, herbal cough syrup, throat lozenges, or hard candy can also soothe coughs during a fast. When fasting for spiritual, religious or health reasons, it is best to minimize intake of anything but water, broth, or supplements that provide no calories or nutrition. If you do opt for cough drops while fasting, inspect labels carefully and stick to very low calorie options, in limited quantities when necessary.
Questions and Answers
Does the flavoring in cough drops break a fast?
The artificial flavoring used in most cough drops does not contain any calories or nutrients, so it should not break a fast. Flavorings like menthol, eucalyptus, cherry, honey lemon, etc. are all manufactured in a lab and do not provide any energy. As long as the cough drop does not contain real sugar, honey, or other caloric ingredients, the flavors themselves won’t disrupt your fasted state.
Can menthol cough drops be consumed while fasting?
Yes, strong menthol cough drops can be safely consumed even during a strict fast as they do not contain any calories, sugars, or artificial sweeteners. The menthol provides a cooling sensation that can relieve coughing and throat irritation without adding any nutrition. Other inactive ingredients like lubricants and emulsifiers found in very small quantities in menthol drops are also unlikely to break a fast.
What about medicated cough drops – will the active ingredients break my fast?
Medicated cough drops contain active drug ingredients like phenol, benzocaine, or dextromethorphan. While these are not technically nutrients, their absorption into the body could be considered breaking a strict fast. However, most fasting protocols still permit black coffee or diet soda, which also involve taking in trace chemicals. The miniscule drug content and calories make medicated cough drops a gray area. Limiting intake to 1-2 over several hours minimizes any potential effects.
Can I have cough drops when doing intermittent fasting?
During intermittent fasting windows of 16-20 hours, non-caloric cough drops are generally fine, though they may trigger cravings. Some people prefer to stick to only water during IF periods. During full 24+ hour fasts, cough drops are more likely to stimulate hunger hormones. Limit use to the bare minimum needed for symptom relief, choosing sugar-free menthol options.
What about cough drop sprays – are those allowed when fasting?
Many liquid cough drop sprays contain hidden sugars like sorbitol, along with artificial flavors and dyes. Read labels closely to ensure spray cough drops contain no calories or sweeteners. Plain menthol sprays are the best bet. Or avoid cough sprays altogether and use sugar-free lozenges instead during a fast.
Can I have throat lozenges while fasting or will that break my fast?
Sugar-free throat lozenges are generally considered safe for use during a fast, as they provide soothing relief without any calories. Most are sweetened with sucralose or aspartame. Limit intake to 1-2 lozenges per day. Avoid any with honey, dextrose, fructose or other sugars. Only menthol lozenges are fully free of sweeteners – these are ideal when fasting strictly.
The Bottom Line
To avoid breaking your fast unintentionally, read ingredient labels closely and stick to cough remedies that contain no calories, sugars, or sweeteners. Your safest options are sugar-free or menthol cough drops, limiting intake to the smallest amount needed for symptom relief. While tiny traces of cough drop ingredients likely won’t break your fasted state, avoid unnecessary intake of any flavors, spices, chemicals, or unlisted ingredients when fasting strictly. With careful label reading and moderation, cough drops can be used judiciously during a fast without sabotaging your goals.