Should you really feed a cold and starve a fever? | CNN (2023)

Should you really feed a cold and starve a fever? | CNN (1)

Recover from a cold faster with the right foods

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Staying hydrated is crucial, doctors advise

Don't starve an illness, but how much food you need varies


(Video) Should You Really 'Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever'?

“Feed a cold, starve a fever” is an age-old adage, though its origin – and its practicality – is unclear.

The saying may have stemmed from antiquated thoughts on body temperature: If someone had a cold, the belief went, his or her body became literally colder, according to old wives’ tales. Therefore, to “warm up” someone ill with a cold, food was given. Conversely, if someone was burning with fever, not eating was believed to “cool” the patient down.

Thankfully, starving is no longer recommended for treating any sickness. Proper nutrition – and even more important, proper hydration – is crucial in preventing and recovering from both fevers and colds. We know that staying hydrated is a key factor in fighting infections. However, the amount of food we need when we’re sick may be different for children and adults.

In children: Feed a cold, feed a fever

Dr. Jon S. Abramson, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Medical School, has found no medical evidence to support feeding a cold and starving a fever. He is particularly offended by the latter part of the phrase.

As Abramson explained, when we are sick, whether we have a fever or not, our metabolic rates skyrocket, and our bodies need more calories to support that high metabolic rate. The hotter a fever becomes, the more energy the body uses, and not replenishing this energy with sugar and electrolytes is extremely dangerous, especially for children, who have less reserved energy than adults.

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“Always feed both colds and fevers,” Abramson said. “Patients should eat chicken soup, juice, anything with calories. Most importantly, I want my patients to drink lots of liquids. Dehydration is our key concern when dealing with sicknesses, especially in children, and especially with fevers.”

Sickness dramatically elevates the amount of liquids our bodies require. Abramson sets guidelines of 36 degrees Celsius (96.8 degrees F) and 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees F): If a child has a temperature at or colder than 96, he recommends upping fluid intake by 20 percent. If the thermometer reads 104 or greater, fluids should be increased by 30 percent.

Photo Illustration/Thinkstock The (very few) upsides to childhood illnesses

Young children and babies must be closely monitored, he emphasized, because they can’t verbally express hunger or thirst like older patients. If a child hasn’t had anything to drink in a day, Abramson recommends seeing a doctor immediately. Any liquid is fine to drink, but drinking something with sugar and electrolytes, like Gatorade or soup broth, is better to replenish energy and lost sweat.

“Chicken soup is everyone’s favorite, but it’s not a miracle cure,” Abramson said. “What it has is calories and salt, which your body needs. There has also been evidence that hot vapors from the soup can help clear congested nasal passages. And it is generally easy to stomach.”

Nutrition is especially important because children don’t have the fat stores of adults, meaning they need to be fed much more regularly than adults do.

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Have a headache? Don't grab a hot dog for lunch. It will only trigger more pain in your head. Click through our gallery to see more of the best and worst foods for your ailments.

Should you really feed a cold and starve a fever? | CNN (5)

Bad news: In addition to triggering headaches, chocolate can also cause itching.

Broccoli may be good for you, but it can cause gas and bloating. On the bright side, if you're constipated, it can stimulate digestion.

Should you really feed a cold and starve a fever? | CNN (7)

This could put a damper on happy hour. Alcohol is known to aggravate diarrhea, cause dehydration and even make your nose run.

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While vitamin C is good for you, acidic juices from raw fruits, like orange juice, can actually irritate your sore throat.

Should you really feed a cold and starve a fever? | CNN (9)

Feeling nauseous? Don't grab a soda. It might actually make you feel worse.

Should you really feed a cold and starve a fever? | CNN (10)

If you're feeling itchy, milk may be to blame. Dairy products like milk can also worsen congestion and constipation.

Should you really feed a cold and starve a fever? | CNN (12)
(Video) Is There Any Truth to the Saying "Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever"?

Spicy foods can make nausea worse, get your nose running and aggravate a cold or sinus infection.

In adults: Feed, but don’t overfeed, colds and fevers

Fevers and colds are much less common in adults than in children, due to our stronger immune systems, built from years of exposure to infections. (Meanwhile, every day at preschool, children are introduced to new pathogens.) Though there are many causes of fevers in children, almost all cases of fevers in adults are caused by a type of flu, according to Abramson. As with kids, adults need to be conscious of staying hydrated. But as far as eating goes, adults may need less food than we think.

“Starving is never a good idea,” said Dr. Sharon Horesh Bergquist, an internist at Emory University. “However, we shouldn’t be fixated on ‘feeding a cold,’ either. You should never force-feed a cold but rather eat when you’re hungry.”

Getty Images How you know when you're too sick to work

What if you aren’t hungry? Don’t fret, Bergquist says. Losing an appetite is a common sickness behavior, and not eating until hunger pangs hit (even if they are infrequent) is not a bad thing for adults. When sickness symptoms include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, it doesn’t make sense to continually force our bodies to ingest unwanted food, she said.

“Most of us have so much energy on reserve that we don’t need to replenish it for a while,” Bergquist said. “Hydrating is much more important for fevers and colds. You should be consuming electrolytes, especially if you have a fever, but you can get those through liquids like sports drinks.”

When the body is inflamed with a viral or bacterial infection, she explained, appetite is often suppressed in order to conserve energy. When less energy is needed to digest food, more energy can be used to fight the infection.

That said, some calories are still needed to support your body in its weakened state – and choosing what to eat is important. Bergquist says to avoid high-fat foods, especially those with saturated fat, because they may skew the body’s balance of good and bad bacteria. A diet rich in high-fiber foods, vitamins (particularly A and C) and antioxidants is best for preventing and recovering from colds and flus.

Good news: Chicken soup fits the bill for feeding both sick children and adults.

“Chicken soup has all the dietary components we want,” Bergquist said. “The warm liquid breaks down mucus, which is the first line of defense [of the infection]. Spices in soups can open up sinuses, while salty broth provides electrolytes. And vegetables in soups have antioxidants.”

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    The type of infection – viral or bacterial – may dictate how much food you need. “With a virus, you are entirely dependent on your body to fight the infection,” Bergquist said. “Without nutrients, your body can be severely debilitated.”

    In contrast, a recent study on rats found that when they had a viral infection and didn’t eat, they all died. When the rats had a bacterial infection and didn’t eat, however, they all survived. These results have led Yale University immunobiology professor Ruslan Medzhitov to suggest that the phrase “feed a virus, starve a bacteria” may have validity.

    Still, much more research has to be done on humans before doctors recommend “starving” bacterial infections.

    The bottom line

    How should we rethink the phrase “feed a cold, starve a fever”? Abramson and Bergquist have some ideas.

    (Video) Starve a Fever, Feed a Cold? Really?

    “Feed a cold, feed a fever,” Abramson said.

    “Nurture your body, and never starve it,” Bergquist agreed. “When you’re sick, drink more than you think you need.”


    Should you starve a fever and feed a cold? ›

    “When you have a cold or a fever, your immune system is fighting off an infection, and eating less during the early stages of an infection can actually be dangerous,” he explains. “The body requires large amounts of energy to create and assemble the large number of immune cells necessary to fight the enemy.

    Is it better to eat or not eat with a fever? ›

    So, should you really starve a fever? Not according to the medical experts at Cedars-Sinai, who call it fiction. Cold or flu, your immune system needs energy and nutrients to do its job, so eating and getting enough fluids is essential.

    Is it true you should feed a cold? ›

    The reason people say “feed a cold” is because the body needs energy when it's fighting illness. This applies to both colds and flu, but for different reasons. For a cold, eating healthy food will provide the body the extra energy it needs to fight illness, but can also help the body generate heat.

    Does eating help recover from a cold? ›

    Resting, staying hydrated, and getting proper nutrition are some of the most important things you can do to feel better and recover faster when sick. Fortunately, many foods have benefits that go beyond providing your body with nutrients.

    How do you get rid of a cold in 24 hours? ›

    While the duration of your symptoms may vary, many people wonder how to cure a cold in 24 hours or even overnight. The best way to tame a cold fast is to stay home, rest, drink plenty of fluids, gargle with salt water, take an OTC medication, and humidify the air.

    Does your body burn more calories when you have a cold? ›

    Do you burn more calories when you're sick? The human body burns more calories when running a fever. If you're sick without a fever, such as with the common cold, you likely won't burn many extra calories, but you still may end up in a caloric deficit due to a suppressed appetite.

    What is the fastest way to get rid of a fever? ›

    Self-treatment suggestions for fever
    1. Take paracetamol or ibuprofen in appropriate doses to help bring your temperature down.
    2. Drink plenty of fluids, particularly water.
    3. Avoid alcohol, tea and coffee as these drinks can cause slight dehydration.
    4. Sponge exposed skin with tepid water. ...
    5. Avoid taking cold baths or showers.

    How do I know if my cold is getting better? ›

    Within 7–10 days , people will usually start to recover from a cold. Symptoms begin to ease up, and people will start feeling better. People may also find that they have more energy and are more able to carry out tasks as usual.
    These longer lasting symptoms may include:
    1. a runny nose.
    2. a stuffy nose.
    3. cough.
    18 Dec 2019

    Is empty stomach good for fever? ›

    Fasting during a fever may help speed up your recovery, scientists say. They believe that food can accelerate the spread of infections, the Daily Express reported.

    How do you get over a cold fast? ›

    Cold remedies that work
    1. Stay hydrated. Water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey helps loosen congestion and prevents dehydration. ...
    2. Rest. Your body needs rest to heal.
    3. Soothe a sore throat. ...
    4. Combat stuffiness. ...
    5. Relieve pain. ...
    6. Sip warm liquids. ...
    7. Try honey. ...
    8. Add moisture to the air.

    Why is having a cold good for you? ›

    The cold or flu allowed the body to cleanse itself and the immune system becomes stronger to fight future infections. This is important especially considering the rise in "super" bugs and antibiotic resistant bacteria.

    What foods shorten a cold? ›

    11 Best Foods to Fight a Cold or Flu
    • Chicken Noodle Soup: Grandma was right — nothing beats chicken soup for fending off sniffles. ...
    • Onions. ...
    • Shiitake Mushrooms. ...
    • Ginger. ...
    • Natural Yoghurt. ...
    • Cinnamon. ...
    • Green Tea. ...
    • Garlic.

    When is a cold no longer contagious? ›

    You can spread the common cold from a few days before your symptoms appear until all of the symptoms are gone. Most people will be contagious for up to 2 weeks. Symptoms are usually worse during the first 2 to 3 days, and this is when you're most likely to spread the virus.

    What foods make a cold go away? ›

    Kale, broccoli, cranberries, green tea, red onions, blueberries: What do these have in common? All have an antioxidant called quercetin that may help you fight the common cold.

    What are the 5 stages of cold? ›

    The stages of a cold include the incubation period, appearance of symptoms, remission, and recovery.

    Why does mucus get thicker at the end of a cold? ›

    Days 3 to 5: Cough and More Nasal Congestion

    You may notice that mucus from your runny nose has become thicker, with a yellow or green tinge. This usually is due to a spike in the number of white blood cells your immune system has dispatched to overcome the virus, according to the Mayo Clinic.

    Does vitamin C help with colds? ›

    Vitamin C does not prevent colds and only slightly reduces their length and severity. A 2013 review of scientific literature found that taking vitamin C regularly did not reduce the likelihood of getting a cold but was linked to small improvements in cold symptoms.

    Why do you lose weight when you have a cold? ›

    When you are sick, it is normal to lose a bit of weight as you'll generally consume fewer calories, and less fluid, than you would normally consume to maintain your weight. If you are ill for more than a few days, this can be a marked weight loss. Sick for a week, it might be as much as 4-5 pounds.

    Why do I feel hungrier when I have a cold? ›

    As Abramson explained, when we are sick, whether we have a fever or not, our metabolic rates skyrocket, and our bodies need more calories to support that high metabolic rate.

    Do you lose weight in fever? ›

    Fever is part of the immune system's attempt to beat the bugs. It raises body temperature, which increases metabolism and results in more calories burned; for each degree of temperature rise, the energy demand increases further.

    Does sweating mean fever is breaking? ›

    Fever is an important component of the body's natural healing process. When you have a fever, your body tries to cool down naturally by sweating. Does sweating mean the fever is breaking? Yes, in general, sweating is an indication that your body is slowly recovering.

    What is an unsafe fever? ›

    Call your health care provider if your temperature is 103 F (39.4 C) or higher. Seek immediate medical attention if any of these signs or symptoms accompanies a fever: Severe headache. Rash. Unusual sensitivity to bright light.

    How do you break a fever naturally? ›

    Stay cool
    1. Sit in a bath of lukewarm water, which will feel cool when you have a fever. ...
    2. Give yourself a sponge bath with lukewarm water.
    3. Wear light pajamas or clothing.
    4. Try to avoid using too many extra blankets when you have chills.
    5. Drink plenty of cool or room-temperature water.
    6. Eat popsicles.

    What is the last stage of a cold? ›

    Some people might also experience what's known as the post-infectious cough, which is a nagging cough that can last an average of 18 days after your cold subsides. If, however, all your other symptoms have ended, you can consider yourself free and clear.

    How many days does a cold normally last? ›

    Most people recover from a common cold in a week or 10 days. Symptoms might last longer in people who smoke. Generally, you don't need medical attention for a common cold. However, if symptoms don't improve or if they get worse, see your doctor.

    How long so colds usually last? ›

    The common cold is an infection of your nose and throat. It's easily passed to others, especially within homes, classrooms and workplaces. More than 200 different viruses can cause colds. There's no cure for a common cold, but it typically runs its course in a week to 10 days.

    Which fruit is best for fever? ›

    Citrus fruits and berries

    Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, contain high levels of flavonoids and vitamin C. These decrease inflammation and boost immunity, which may help to fight a fever.

    Can zinc shorten a cold? ›

    Recently an analysis of several studies showed that zinc lozenges or syrup reduced the length of a cold by one day, especially when taken within 24 hours of the first signs and symptoms of a cold.

    Why is my cold getting worse after 3 days? ›

    If symptoms get worse, rather than better, after 3-7 days, you may have acquired a bacterial infection. These symptoms can also be caused by a cold virus other than a rhinovirus. Usually there is no fever; in fact, fever and more severe symptoms may indicate that you have the flu rather than a cold.

    Is fresh air good when you're sick? ›

    Get Some Fresh Air

    In fact, getting fresh air is good for you when you're feeling under the weather. When you're cooped up inside, you're sharing the same air with those around you. So every time someone coughs or sneezes inside, those infected droplets are still in the air.

    Is there a way to stop a cold in its tracks? ›

    There is no cure for the common cold. However, people can take steps to ease the symptoms and shorten the duration of the illness. These include getting plenty of water and rest, eating a healthful diet, and taking OTC medicines and supplements. A cold will usually go away on its own.

    Can you sweat out a cold? ›

    You may have heard that it's beneficial to “sweat out a cold.” While exposure to heated air or exercise may help temporarily relieve symptoms, there's little evidence to suggest that they can help treat a cold.

    What does yellow snot mean? ›

    One of the first signs of a cold is green or yellow mucus. It's no reason for concern, and in fact, it means your body is working extra hard to fight off infection. White blood cells rush to battle infection, and when they've done their job, they get flushed out of the body along with the virus.

    What are signs of a strong immune system? ›

    If you are seldom sick and bounce back quickly from illness, you likely have a robust immune system. Wounds that are quick to scab up and heal fast are also indications that your immune system is functioning well.

    Is it better to be warm or cold when sick? ›

    Staying warm when you have a sniffle seems logical, and now US scientists have discovered that a warmer body temperature actually helps fight the common cold virus more quickly.

    Is it unhealthy to keep your house cold? ›

    Cold homes contribute to excess winter mortality and morbidity. Most of the health burden can be attributed to both respiratory and cardiovascular disease, especially for older people. In children, the excess winter health burden is mostly due to respiratory disease.

    Which fruits should be avoided during cold? ›

    Citrus fruits like oranges, limes, and grapefruits are some examples of fruits to avoid during cough and cold.

    Are bananas good for colds? ›

    Fresh fruit has important vitamins and minerals your body needs when you're sick. Apples, bananas and pomegranates are all good choices. Eat citrus if it sounds good but be careful if you are nauseous or have a sore throat; too much of these high-acidity fruits may make you feel worse.

    Does orange juice help with a cold? ›

    It's a myth!

    Because oranges are rich in vitamin C, we believe – falsely – that eating them can help cure a cold. Let us be clear: after the onset of cold symptoms, eating oranges or drinking orange juice is not an effective treatment.

    How long are you contagious with Omicron? ›

    We know that people tend to be most infectious early in the course of their infection. With Omicron, most transmission occurs during the one to two days before onset of symptoms, and in the two to three days afterwards.

    Is a 99 Fever contagious? ›

    It may seem harmless enough, but assume any fever is a symptom of a contagious condition. Viruses that cause fevers are contagious as long as the fever is above a 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit reading rectally.

    Are you contagious after 5 days? ›

    People are most contagious with COVID-19 during the first 5 days of their illness. Many people don't have any symptoms during the first 2 to 3 days of their illness. This is why COVID-19 outbreaks are so hard to contain. On average, people are contagious for 5 to 10 days.

    What should not eat during fever? ›

    Foods to avoid when you have the flu
    • 1 Caffeinated drinks and alcohol. Between elevated temperatures and increased sweating, dehydration is something to be cautious of when you have a fever. ...
    • 2 Greasy foods. ...
    • 3 Hard to digest grains. ...
    • 4 Sugary food or drinks.
    26 Jul 2019

    Does eating and drinking help a cold? ›

    Eating enough healthy foods is an important component of managing cold and flu symptoms. Although your appetite will probably be reduced if you have a cold or flu, your body actually needs more energy and nutrients to help it fight the infection.

    Should you force feed yourself when sick? ›

    Answer: Oftentimes when we get a cold or the flu, we lose our appetites, and that's very, very common. It's not important to force feed yourself in order to keep up with the cold. However, it is important to stay hydrated.

    Why are colds worse at night and morning? ›

    At night, there is less cortisol in your blood. As a result, your white blood cells readily detect and fight infections in your body at this time, provoking the symptoms of the infection to surface, such as fever, congestion, chills, or sweating. Therefore, you feel sicker during the night.

    How do you kick a cold fast? ›

    Cold remedies that work
    1. Stay hydrated. Water, juice, clear broth or warm lemon water with honey helps loosen congestion and prevents dehydration. ...
    2. Rest. Your body needs rest to heal.
    3. Soothe a sore throat. ...
    4. Combat stuffiness. ...
    5. Relieve pain. ...
    6. Sip warm liquids. ...
    7. Try honey. ...
    8. Add moisture to the air.

    How long are you contagious with cold? ›

    You can spread the common cold from a few days before your symptoms appear until all of the symptoms are gone. Most people will be contagious for up to 2 weeks. Symptoms are usually worse during the first 2 to 3 days, and this is when you're most likely to spread the virus.

    Does fever burn fat or muscle? ›

    Unfortunately, you can't even lose body fat while you are sick, as fat metabolism is impaired during infections. This causes the sick person to rely more heavily on muscle as an energy source than it normally would during times of physical stress (e.g., starvation or heavy training).


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