Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever?

"Feed a cold, starve a fever." The proverb dates all the way back to 1574, when a dictionary writer named John Withals wrote, "fasting is a great remedy of fever." It's believed that this old saying stemmed from the belief that eating food warmed the body during a "cold" while avoiding food cooled it when it was overheated.

Thankfully, starving is no longer recommended for treating any sickness. In fact, trying to starve out your sickness can actually end up doing more harm than good. Depriving your body of the nutrients it needs to fight off infection can significantly delay your recovery.

So What Should You Do?

Short-term loss of appetite is a common symptom of a number of illnesses, including colds and the flu. Sometimes it can be accompanied by fatigue and nausea. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to eat something.

In addition to getting plenty of rest, the best thing to do when you have any illness is to drink a lot of fluids. If you're able to eat, try to get some calories in your body. Try eating smaller portions. If you've completely lost your appetite, don't try to force anything down.

Like all of us, babies tend to lose their appetites when they're sick. Although children don't have to eat much when they're ill, drinking fluids is a must to prevent dehydration. If your baby refuses to drink or has not urinated for several hours, contact your doctor.

A few things to keep in mind about eating and drinking when you are sick:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Focus on getting lots of fluids, even if you don't feel thirsty. Drinking liquids like water and juice not only helps you replace the fluids lost from a fever, it can also help loosen mucus and relieve congestion if you have a cold. In one of the most frequently cited studies on the matter, researchers found that drinking hot chicken soup helped temporarily clear nasal congestion. If you're not in the mood for a hot beverage, try sipping on some coconut water. Besides being flavorful, it contains the electrolytes you need to stay hydrated while you're sick.
  • Eat nutrient-dense foods. It's not about how much you eat, but rather what you eat. Numerous studies show that vitamin C, which is found in most citrus fruits, help reduce the length and severity of colds.

A Word From Verywell

In short, stay hydrated and eat when you feel like it whether you have cold symptoms, a fever, or another minor illness. Unless your healthcare provider tells you to eat or drink something specific or avoid certain things, these are good guidelines for whenever you are sick.

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Article Sources

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