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
 

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