Should You Really Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever?

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When we feel under the weather, we’re often reminded of the old adage that we should ‘feed a cold’ and ‘starve a fever’. The idea here is that eating less will help us to fight an infection because we won’t be wasting energy on digestion. That and we tend not to feel like eating when we have a fever anyway. Eating a cold meanwhile will provide us with fuel and we’ll be able to handle the digestion without it wiping us out.

But is this old saying based in any truth? Should you really starve a fever? Or have we been getting it wrong all these years?

The Truth About Eating When You’re Ill

As it happens, this is one of those sayings that turns out not to be based in fact. While opinions may vary, the general rule tends to be that you should always eat when you’re feeling unwell.

We all know how important it is to stay hydrated whenever you’re poorly and it’s worth remembering that you actually get a lot of your hydration from what you eat. More than most of us realize in fact.

Meanwhile, you can also get a lot of energy and nutrients from your food that would help your body to combat illnesses.

What to Eat When You’re Ill

If you have a fever, then you should still try to consume plenty of fruits and vegetables that will provide you with a good supply of antioxidants. Antioxidants help your body to combat free radicals – molecules that are destructive to our cells. This then helps to strengthen the immune system and increases the chance of you recovering from flu bugs more quickly. Vitamin C is a particularly good antioxidant and can be found in broccoli, cantaloupe, kale, orange juice, peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and other foods.

Meanwhile, consuming foods high in bioflavonoids can help to reinforce the positive impacts of vitamin C. Zinc is also thought to help stimulate the immune system, while proteins are very useful for building tissues and fighting both bacterial and viral infections. A lack of protein can lead you feeling weak and tired which will only exacerbate existing symptoms. Chicken soup meanwhile has been shown to be genuinely helpful in treating colds and flus and not just folklore. This is because it can help to clear sinuses and remove mucus and at the same time offer a mild anti-inflammatory effect.

Eating ‘complex carbs’ will provide your body with a steady and consistent supply of energy which will also help provide your immune system with the energy it needs to perform optimally.

The only reason you might consider ‘starving’ your fever then, is if you have completely lost your appetite. For that reason, you should stick to mostly plain foods that are easy to digest and not too rich in flavor. Eat in small, regular portions and make sure to thoroughly chew your food!

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Dr. Matthew L. Neddermeyer

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Dr. Matthew L. Neddermeyer

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