The belief you should feed a cold and starve a fever goes all the way back to at least the 1570s, when it was thought that fasting was the best remedy for a fever and eating would help you get rid of a cold. The method behind this madness was that people with colds needed to be kept warm and eating would warm the body, while those with fevers needed to be cooled down, which could be accomplished by nixing food. Let’s talk about this saying and whether or not you should follow the advice.
Feed a Cold
This part of the old maxim nails it. You are absolutely supposed to feed a cold. When you’re sick, your body uses lots of energy to fight off the cold, and that energy needs to be replenished. Eating will help you maintain the calories necessary to keep fighting the good fight against a cold. This is not to say you need to force food down your sore throat – eat when you’re hungry. That’s your body’s way of telling you it needs you to give it something.
Don’t Starve that Fever – Feed it
As it turns out, the old wives tale was only half right. As we discussed, you are supposed to feed a cold. But if you have a fever, don’t neglect to feed that either. Regardless of whether it’s a cold or fever, your body treats them similarly: fighting hard to rid your body of what ails you and, in turn, shooting your metabolism up to a 10. If you want your body to have the strength and energy to keep fighting, it’s imperative you eat, but as I said before only when hungry.
Feeding Your Body to Get Well
There’s no miracle cure for a cold or flu. Typically, you need rest, healthy food when you can handle it and most importantly, hydration. Getting enough fluids is going to be the best thing you can do to combat that illness. Try sports drinks – and they all have low-sugar versions – to replenish energy and combat fluid loss from sweat or vomiting. If you’re nauseous, try something with ginger in it – remembering that ginger ale probably won’t keep you hydrated because of the sugar in it. Clear juices can work too, but nothing comes close to water for its hydration benefits. Avoid drinks that have caffeine, and avoid alcohol at all costs – both caffeine and alcohol promote dehydration, which is exactly the opposite of what you’ll be looking to do. If you’ve worked up a little appetite, there’s a little something to the theory that chicken soup can help. It’s not a magic wand that will automatically make you feel better, but chicken soup does have both calories and salt, which you’ll need, in addition to being easy on the stomach.
Dr. Yasodara Udayamurthy is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center. Her clinical interests include cardiology, diabetes, geriatrics and preventive care.