If you have a grandmother who likes to dispense pearls of wisdom in the form of sayings that have been passed down over the generations, you may have heard some interesting medical advice over the years. One popular saying is “feed a cold, starve a fever.”

What does it mean? And is there any truth to it?

The gist of this well-known saying is that if you have a cold, you should eat more to help your body feel better. If you have a fever, though, you should refrain from eating to recover more quickly.

No one knows for sure how this saying got started. However, it seems that it may date back as far as 1574, when John Withals wrote, “Fasting is a great remedie of feuer.” Basically, he was saying to starve a fever!

It’s possible that the saying may have come from the medical beliefs held way back when. Hundreds of years ago, doctors believed that there was a close connection between body temperature and illnesses.

For example, if your body temperature dropped, doctors thought you would get a cold. If your body temperature increased, they figured you would get a fever.

“Feed a cold, starve a fever” likely reflected the belief that eating would help your body generate heat and thus raise your body temperature to fight your cold. Likewise, a fever could be fought by withholding food, which they believed would lower body temperature.

Unfortunately, fighting colds and the flu isn’t quite so simple. Most doctors believe there is little, if any, scientific support for “feed a cold, starve a fever.”

Instead, most doctors will tell you to get plenty of rest and fluids for both. Colds and the flu seem to run their course in a week or so.

In the meantime, you can often treat specific symptoms with various over-the-counter medications. Besides, if you remember the last time you were sick, you also may remember that you weren’t very hungry anyway.

Colds and the flu tend to make most people have less of an appetite. The best advice is to eat if you feel like it, but be sure to drink plenty of fluids and keep your body nourished as best you can.

If you want a few tips on some nutrient-rich foods that doctors recommend to feed a cold — or a fever — consider these:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants, such as cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, spinach, broccoli, carrots and asparagus
  • Foods high in bioflavonoids, such as citrus fruits, green peppers, cherries and grapes
  • Glutathione-rich foods, such as watermelon, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower
  • Lean meats high in protein, such as skinless chicken, lean beef and turkey

 

11 Join the Discussion

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  1. We learned a lot from the video and reading the paragraph. We have been talking about the past and this reminded us of how we have changed our thinking. We know chicken noodle soup can help us get better. A couple of the things that don’t make us feel better are pizza, cheeseburgers, and other greasy things. It makes our tummy feel upset and the grease wants to make us throw up.

    • Thank you for sharing what you know about eating when you’re not feeling well, Jarvis Second Grade! It’s AWESOME that you talked together about what you saw and read by exploring today’s Wonder of the Day®! :-)

  2. Me and my sister loved the video! When the lady was saying all that kind of food, it made me hungry. Thanks for another great wonder!

    • We think it’s GREAT that you and your sister visited today’s Wonder together, Noah! We hope you both learned some new things! Thanks so much for leaving us a comment!

    • That makes us super happy to hear, Josalyn! Thank you for letting us know you liked the video for this Wonder of the Day®! :-)

    • Medicine can definitely help you feel better when you are sick, Natalie! Make sure you see a doctor so you know what kind of medicine (if any) your body needs, and how much! Also, make sure you let a grown-up give the medicine to you so everyone knows you are getting the right amount! We want all of our Wonder Friends to stay healthy and safe! :-)

  3. I’ve never heard that saying, but I want to test it the next time I’m sick to prove which one works the best, if my mom will let me. For tomorrow’s Wonder, I think your missing chocolate, my little brother thinks it is pie, and my mom thinks it is a fork!

    • We sure hope you’re feeling great, not getting sick, Gavin! :) Thanks for WONDERing with us, and sharing your family’s AWESOME guesses for the next Wonder! WOHOO! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What should you feed a cold?
  • Should you starve a fever?
  • What things should you do when you don’t feel well?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

So if you shouldn’t feed a cold or starve a fever, what should you do when you catch a cold or come down with the flu? Here are a few tips for what to do when you don’t feel well:

  • Avoid contact with others! If you’re really sick, stay home from work or school. Coming into contact with others while you’re sick will only spread germs around and maybe make others sick. Keep your germs to yourself until you feel better!
  • Wash your hands regularly! Washing your hands is a happy healthy habit that you should develop as soon as possible. Washing your hands often will help prevent the spread of germs to others.
  • Drink plenty of fluids! When you’re sick, you probably won’t feel very hungry. However, your body still needs nutrients to help keep it strong to fight the cold and flu germs. One way to keep your body fueled is to drink plenty of fluids. Water and juice are the best choices. If you don’t drink enough, you may become dehydrated, and your cold or the flu may last longer than necessary.
  • Get plenty of rest! When you’re sick, your body needs energy and rest to be able to get better. Not getting enough sleep can leave your body tired and unprepared to fight off nasty germs.

If you feel like eating, go ahead and eat. When people get sick, they often want “comfort foods.” These may be old family recipes that offer an emotional sense of well-being that can put you back on the road toward physical well-being.

Of course, you also can’t go wrong with a bowl of good ol’ chicken noodle soup, either. The liquid in chicken noodle soup will help keep you hydrated, and its steamy broth will also help to clear your airways to help you breathe better. We hope you feel better soon!

 

Still Wondering

Explore Science NetLinks’ Germs Can Make You Sick lesson to learn about how germs are spread, the diseases they can cause and how hand washing can help prevent the spread of germs.

 

Wonder Categories/Tags

Tags

cold  feed  fever  flu  nutrition  starve 

Wonder What’s Next?

Turkey? Check. Stuffing? Check. Mashed potatoes? Check. What are we missing? Find out in tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day.

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