“Feed a cold; starve a fever.”
This wellness mantra has been passed down through generations as a folk remedy for healing viral infections. According to popular folk wisdom, it is best to eat more while coping with a cold, but people should eat less while fighting a fever-inducing infection.
Although hundreds of mothers and grandmothers swear by this traditional remedy, there is no tangible evidence to suggest that it works. According to Duke University, the entire concept of feeding a cold and starving a fever has no basis in scientific fact. You may even cause yourself harm by following the guideline to feed a cold and starve a fever.
Duke University suggests that this medical myth arose because most people lose their appetite in response to fever, while people with the common cold– a condition that only rarely produces a fever– still maintain a healthy appetite. While it is unnecessary to force yourself to eat if you lose your appetite to illness, it is equally unnecessary to do without food if you still have a healthy appetite.
Whether or not you choose to feed a cold and starve a fever, it is important to ensure that you take in adequate levels of fluids, such as water, tea and juice. These fluids can help to replace water lost because of mucus and sweat. If you have a fever because of a stomach virus, it is even more important that you maintain adequate fluid intake to prevent dehydration from vomiting or diarrhea.
If you choose to eat normal quantities of food while managing illness, take it slowly to prevent undue stresses on your body. A sudden increase or decrease in calorie intake can worsen the stress associated with illness. While you “feed a cold,” load up on high-antioxidant foods including fresh fruits and vegetables. These can help to support a stable immune system while preventing stress-related cellular damage. Furthermore, if you decide to “starve a fever,” whether by conscious choice or lack of appetite, be sure to meet your minimum nutritional needs. A multivitamin or nutrition shake can help to prevent illness-related deficiencies.
As always, consult a qualified health care provider when you have questions about managing an infection. Seek treatment if your symptoms are severe or persist for more than a few days.