Top nutritionist Duncan Rock dishes out some no-nonsense diet advice for singers that includes a surprising verdict on dairy.
Singers are often bombarded with advice about what they should and shouldn’t eat. Some say dairy is the ultimate voice killer, while others swear that honey keeps the pipes in good working order. But is there any scientific evidence to back up these dietary ‘rules’?
To find out what’s fact and what’s urban myth, we turned to opera singer and nutritionist Duncan Rock.
He shared his views on nutrition for singers on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast. Here’s a taste of what he had to say.
Should dairy be off-limits?
Singers are often told to steer clear of dairy because it supposedly causes excess mucus in the nose and back of the throat. But if you love milk and cheese, Duncan has good news.
“There’s no proposed mechanism for how dairy could create mucus,” he says. “It’s just a notion that people have.”
“When you drink milk, which is an emulsion, you can get this very transient feeling of sticky, heaviness. But that will go away with time and a glass of water.
“I caution people about blanket dairy avoidance because research into this phenomenon has shown that the same feeling of heaviness and stickiness is experienced with non-dairy emulsion liquids.
“One direct study that tested the feeling between cow’s milk and soy milk showed that the people who felt they experienced this heaviness did so with both drinks. So it’s not the dairy itself; it’s the fact that it’s an emulsion.”
The verdict on sugar
So if dairy’s not problematic, what about sugar? While sugars naturally occurring in fruits like blueberries and apples are fine, Duncan warns against overdoing ‘extrinsic’ sugars – the stuff added to processed foods and fizzy drinks – as these can be pro-inflammatory.
“Sugar’s not poison, but we all consume too much,” Duncan says. “As a general rule, the less, the better. If people can keep to under 25 to 30 grams of extrinsic sugars per day, that would be optimal.”
Then we come to something that doesn’t get talked about much but probably should: amino acids.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins (protein is one of the three main macronutrients we consume, along with carbohydrates and fats). There are nine essential amino acids that we need for optimal health.
But don’t rush to your health store to buy a jar of supplements; you can get the amino acids you need by consuming a balanced diet. Steak, chicken, eggs, beans, turkey, fish, mushrooms and legumes are good sources, along with quinoa, oats and rice.
Don’t get obsessive about your diet
One final piece of advice from Duncan: don’t get too hung up on what you read about nutrition on social media. Look for evidence from reliable sources, and if you need help with a specific issue, talk to an expert.
“Singers have enough to worry about,” Duncan says. “They have a relatively high-stress job with lots of travel, unusual hours, lack of sleep, colds, flu and now Coronavirus. Do we not have enough reasons to be neurotic and stressed out?
“If you can free yourself of the shackles of some of these unhelpful myths like milk is bad for your voice, you’ll have a little bit less to worry about.”