True or False: “Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever”

The saying “feed a cold, starve a fever” dates back to a dictionary published by John Withals in 1574 because of a note that indicated “fasting is a great remedy of fever.” The belief that has carried through the years is that the body needs food to generate warmth for healing from a cold – while avoiding food helps to cool the body when a fever is present.

False: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

Even though this medical folklore has been carried through the years, should we still be abiding by these recommendations? We live in a modern world filled with vast information about health and wellness. Science has examined this tradition and found that it is an old wives’ tale.

In the 1500s and 1600s, doctors thought that a fever meant that the metabolism was working in overdrive. So, the idea was the withholding food would help the body to cool since the digestive system doesn’t need to work to break down the food. The theory was that the fever would burn off faster if the food was minimized. Now that we know more about health and wellness, this idea has been debunked.

Truth: Feed a Cold, Feed a Fever

The truth is that reducing calorie intake when a fever is present could make it harder to overcome the illness. When your immune system is working hard to fight a viral or bacterial infection, it requires energy to do the internal activity that is happening to combat the pathogenic invader. Eating healthy food is beneficial to promote healing. But that doesn’t mean you should overeat – the best solution is to maintain a balanced diet of healthy ingredients.

When a fever is present, the symptom is the result of the immune system’s attempt to overcome the illness — the body temperature increases, which boosts the metabolism and uses more calories. As a result, the energy demand goes up while fever is present, which is why it is necessary to take in a sufficient number of calories.

During a fever, it is even more important to ensure that the person is drinking enough fluids. The fever can lead to dehydration since the elevated temperature increases the production of sweat. These fluids need to be replaced, so the body has all of the resources needed to fight the infection.

What to Eat to Overcome Illness?

One problem with sickness is that you don’t feel like eating or drinking very much. Loss of appetite is one symptom that often shows up with common illnesses. For example, sometimes a fever decreases a person’s appetite as part of the natural defense system. This temporary slowing in appetite can help the immune system focus the available energy on fighting the pathogens. Pay attention to your hunger cues, and know that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every person.

While it’s important to be intuitive about your body cues, also be aware that you need to stay ahead of fluid and food needs. Be careful to avoid overeating, which can intensify symptoms such as vomiting and nausea.

The liquids are most important, especially when the fever is present along with other symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea. If you don’t have much of an appetite, then look for ways that you can drink your calories to combat dehydration and malnourishment. Here are a few recommendations that can be helpful to support recovery:

  • Hot Herbal Tea: Which is comforting and also provides ingredients that can boost immune function. Additionally, the steam can be soothing to open the sinuses. Try peppermint for a head cold to help with congestion. Ginger and echinacea can be helpful for overall immune support. Chamomile can be relaxing, helping to improve the quality of sleep when you aren’t feeling well.
  • Electrolyte Drinks: Sports drinks and other beverages can be beneficial to overcome dehydration. These drinks replace the electrolytes that are lost through excess sweating, vomiting, or diarrhea. A natural option is to drink coconut water, which provides a variety of minerals without the added sugar and food dyes.
  • Chicken Soup: There isn’t a magic ingredient in chicken soup that will make you better overnight. But it is a great combination of healing foods: vegetables that are high in antioxidants, hot liquids to open the sinuses, spices for an immune boost, and minerals in the bone broth.
  • Juice: Nothing beats a cool glass of orange juice when you are feeling under the weather! Not only does it soothe the throat, but the vitamin C content can be helpful for immune function. Other types of juice can be beneficial for recovery as well, including fresh fruit and vegetable juices.
  • Probiotics: Some people find it helpful to avoid dairy for the management of mucous production. But it might be helpful to have a bit of kefir or yogurt for the probiotic benefits. These “good” bacteria are gut-friendly, which can have a positive impact on the immune system.
  • Spicy Foods: Dishes with hot peppers and other spicy ingredients can be beneficial to clear the sinuses. Just make sure you have tissues on hand during the meal!

When choosing your beverages, be careful to avoid caffeine because it can contribute to dehydration.

Appetite Loss in Children: Should I Be Worried?

As a parent, it is normal to be concerned if your child loses their appetite while sick. But there is no need to worry if the child has a reduced appetite for a few days while sick – this is normal behavior. Offer the child different types of food and rest assured to know that their appetite will return when they are feeling better.

When It is Time to Go to an Urgent Care Nearby?

For a minor or moderate illness, the symptoms can often be treated at home without professional medical care. But there are a few signs you should pay attention to, so you know when it is time to schedule an appointment with a doctor:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Fever lasts more than a few days
  • Difficulty keeping fluids or food down
  • Vomiting lasts for more than 2 days for adults, 24 hours for children, or 12 hours for infants
  • Difficulty swallowing because of pain
  • Congestion that lasts more than 10 days
  • Severe cramping or abdominal pain
  • Confusion or delirium
  • Rectal bleeding
  • High fever and a stiff neck
  • Symptoms of dehydration (dry mouth, excessive thirst, dark-colored urine)

Is it time for you to talk to a doctor? If you need medical care, then our team of board-certified medical professionals is here to assist. At iCare ER and Urgent Care, we provide both urgent care services for common illness, as well as emergency treatments for severe symptoms and trauma. Our offices are conveniently located in Frisco, Fort Worth, and Argyle. Visit us 24/7, or call to schedule an appointment in our urgent care: (214) 407-8668.

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