Starve a Fever and Feed a Cold?

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You have heard the expression from your grandmother or mother, “Starve a fever, feed a cold.” Did you ever wonder where did this expression came from and more importantly has it been now medically proven true? Well, here is the story and what the latest research knows about the old proverb.

Apparently, the first citation found of this common folklore is in a dictionary written in 1574 which stated, “Fasting is a great remedie of feuer.” The adding of the cold part of an adage seems to date back to around 1852. It is believed the cold part of the proverb was added later based on the common folks understanding of the disease process and namely there were two types of illnesses.

One illness was caused by low temperature (colds and chills) and the other by high temperatures (fever). So if you wanted to ignite the fire to ward off the cold within one would want to eat to create heat; while if you had a fever you didn’t need anymore fire within so eating was not favorable.

Colds are the most common infectious disease in the United States with an average adult contracting three colds per year and children averaging eight colds per year. Colds are basically a viral nasal infection leading to symptoms of a tickle type of sore throat, congested or runny nose, persistent cough and sometimes: muscle aches, loss of appetite, and fatigue. Fever, on the other hand, is the body’s immune response to fight infection by raising the body’s temperature to kill the offend- ing virus and/or bacteria.

Because colds and most flues are caused by vi- ruses and fever is the result of the virus infection, antibiotics are not effective. An ounce of prevention, another proverb, or staying healthy is actually your best defense against cold and fever.

Overwhelming, the medical research indicates that starving a fever and feeding a cold is probably NOT the best medicine.

Recommendations of What and How to Eat with a Cold, Flu or Fever:

Drink plenty of fluids. Clear liquids are best like water, decaffeinated tea, iced fruit juice, iced Gatorade, fruit drinks, carbonated beverages, hot broths, and chicken soup. Liquids help to thin mucous secretions and hot liquids seem to open nasal passages.

Avoid dairy products. No milk, ice cream, pudding, or cream based soups. Dairy based foods tend to increase production of phlegm.

Eat what you can tolerate. Tolerate means any food that does not cause vomiting, diarrhea, allergic reaction and/or phlegm. Taste can become distorted-realize that due to stuffy nasal passages food will not always taste the same. Remember that it is important to eat and/or drink no matter the taste.

Get plenty of rest. If you have trouble sleeping avoid decaffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and colas and try decaffeinated beverages like herbal tea.

With vomiting: Do not eat or drink up to one hour after the last occurrence. Then try two ounces of water or flat lemon-lime soda; if it stays down re- peat every 15 minutes or so. After a few hours of stopped vomiting, start drinking clear liquids to replace losses. Gradually add back bland foods as tolerated. Many people start with a BRAT diet: banana, rice (steam or cereal), apple (sauce, juice), and toast.

If fever: and no vomiting make sure to drink plenty of fluids.

Ifdiarrhea: and it is persistent, call the doctor. Also try a BRAT diet (listed above) as these foods tend to be constipating.

Use disposable dishes, cups, and utensils. This can help decrease the spreading of the illness.

Increase food intake. as your symptoms lessen, gradually increase your food intake back to normal. Your appetite should increase as you start to feel better.



Information from: What to Eat When You Have a Cold or the Flu, Colorado State Extension Service; Comfort Foods to Eat When You Have a Cold or the Flu, Ask the Dietitian,; Is it “Feed A Cold, Starve a Fever?, Nutrition Education for JANUARY 2007. Produced by Meals On Wheels, Inc., of Tarrant County by Sherry Simon, R.D./L.D. For questions regarding nutrition education contact: Sherry Simon, R.D./ L.D., Director of Nutrition Services for Meals On Wheels, Inc. of Tarrant County at 817-336-0912 or email:  

Posted in Nutritional Education.