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‘Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever’ – Yes or No?

Posted by Mehreen Fatima, M.D. on Nov 7, 2018 8:21:00 AM

Eat carrots – they will improve your vision. Don’t shave if you can help it – it makes the hair grow back thicker. Wait 30 minutes after eating to swim or you’re in more danger of drowning. Old wives’ tales like these, which aren’t always accurate, are responsible for more bad practices from patients than you’d realize. And while a lot of people know some of these well-meaning but misguided pieces of advice shouldn’t be adhered to, there is one myth that persists in the collective conscious – “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” Maybe it persists because it’s half true – let’s talk about which half you should follow and what the right practice is for the bad advice in this old adage.

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Feed a Cold, Feed a Fever

You read that right. You are supposed to feed a cold – provided you’re “feeding” it the right food items – but you shouldn’t starve a fever. You should treat your body the same way when you’re suffering a fever as when you’ve got a cold – which means taking care of it. If you’re sick, unless your doctor gives you very specific instructions to fast, you should never starve your body, regardless of what illness you’re currently fighting. 

The Importance of Nourishment

Fighting off illness of any type can take a toll on your body. You expend energy and nutrients to get well, and those nutrients need to be replenished. As your metabolism ramps up to take care of your body, you’ll burn calories faster. Illness in general will likely make you feel weaker, so making sure that you’re eating enough of the right kinds of foods will help give you the strength (and calories) to keep up with all the work your body is doing to try and get you well again.

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Fluids and Soup Rule

First and foremost, you need fluids. You are at a much higher risk of dehydration during illness because your body loses fluids. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to drink four gallons of water per day – but make sure you’re drinking enough to stay hydrated. Water, clear juice (with no sugar added, if possible) and sugar-free sports drinks are good for hydration. Try to avoid caffeine in soda and tea if you can help it, as caffeine can lead to dehydration. Lots of patients like to drink warm tea to soothe a sore throat, but the same feeling of relief can be achieved with warm lemon water.  If you feel up to eating, the chicken soup advice is actually good to follow. It contains, vegetables, clear broth for hydration, good calories and sodium – all of which are important for your body as it heals. If you have any questions about what you should be eating or drinking, talk with your doctor. 


Dr. Mehreen Fatima is a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Sienna Plantation Clinic in Missouri City. Her clinical interests include preventive healthcare, chronic disease management and women’s health.


Topics: feed a cold starve a fever, old wives tales

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