Is There Any Truth To The 'Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever' Saying? Here's What We Know

When you're sick, all the age-old sayings come out; and the phrase "feed a cold, starve a fever" has been around for years. When English lexicographer John Withals first added the words "fasting is a great remedy of fever" into a dictionary back in 1574, he probably didn't think they would live on this long.

Family physician Dr. Simon Hodes can understand how "feed a cold, starve a fever" came to be (via Cleveland Clinic). The idea seems to have originated from the notion that eating food generates body warmth which can be good for a cold but starving brings the temperature down during a fever. 

But, is there any truth to this claim? Experts have long since learned enough about our bodies to know the answer. You should be feeding (and hydrating) both a cold and fever if you want to give your body what it needs.

Why it's a good idea to feed both a cold and a fever

When you get a fever, both calorie use and metabolism increase in your body, so it's important to fuel it with the nutrients it needs, according to the clinical instructor of internal medicine at NYU Langone Health, Dr. Albert Ahn (via Health). "When you have a fever, it is essentially increasing your body's temperature to fight an infection and in turn also increasing your metabolism and your body's use of calories. Hence, you would likely benefit from more caloric intake during a fever," he explained. 

In fact, if you don't continue to eat it could cause problems, according to one expert. "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," shared Dr. Mark A. Moyad — Jenkins/Pokempner director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor — with Everyday Health. "The body requires large amounts of energy to create and assemble the large number of immune cells necessary to fight the enemy. Good nutrition and calories provide this energy."

Experts note, however, that there is no need to over-feed or force yourself to eat during a common cold or fever. "If you feel like it, you should try to eat like you normally would with a fever or a cold. There's no reason to intentionally stop eating," added Dr. Simon Hodes to Cleveland Clinic. 

What you should be eating and drinking when you're sick

You can also turn to another age-old saying that actually holds true — eat chicken noodle soup when you're feeling sick. Chicken noodle soup, when made properly, can provide all the essential nutrients you need to make you feel better — fluids, electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, calories, and proteins. Plus, it's easy to consume and probably won't make you feel nauseous. 

As for other things you should be eating, seek out foods rich in vitamin C (like fruits and vegetables). You can also include foods like leafy greens, sufficient protein, and whole grains.

There are also some things you should starve your body of. Beverages that contain caffeine, sugar, and alcohol are some of the worst drinks to consume if you have a common cold or fever. "High-sugar foods can affect the immune system and actually have a pro-inflammatory effect, which is the opposite of what you want," explained Dr. Albert Ahn to Health. Caffeine and alcohol can also contribute to dehydration. "Water, herbal teas, and electrolyte solutions can help prevent dehydration," shared registered dietitian nutritionist, Bill Bradley (via Forbes). If you don't feel like chugging water all day, try coconut water or sports drinks for adequate hydration.

Keep in mind, however, that loss of appetite is one of the realities of being sick. In fact, in some cases, food might even make you feel nauseous. This is when hydration comes in. In fact, experts agree that drinking plenty of fluids is more important than food when you're trying to fight off an infection.

So, "feed a cold, starve a fever" might have a catchy ring to it, but the truth is that it's important to lean into your body and listen for what it needs. Get plenty of rest and nourish it with the right foods and drinks.