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Feed a cold and starve a flu: The Truth About Feeding a Cold and Starving a Fever

The Truth About Feeding a Cold and Starving a Fever


Nick Dragon

“Feed a cold, starve a fever” is an adage that’s been around for centuries. The idea most likely originated during the Middle Ages when people believed there were two kinds of illnesses. The illnesses caused by low temperatures, such as a cold, needed to be fueled, so eating was recommended. Illnesses caused by high temperatures, such as a fever, needed to be cooled down, so refraining from eating was thought to deprive the furnace of energy.

Nowadays, most doctors and years of research into the cold and flu say there’s only one tried-and-true treatment for colds and flu — plenty of rest and fluids. That’s because colds and flu are caused by viruses, for which there is no cure. But you can support your immune system as it struggles to prevail through proper nutrition and, even more importantly, proper hydration­.

If anything, the adage should be, “feed a cold, feed a fever,” because bodies fighting illness need energy, so eating healthy food helps. Eating food when you have a cold can also help the body generate heat, although other methods of keeping warm, like wearing an extra layer of clothes or wrapping yourself in a blanket, do the trick as well.

There are many reasons you shouldn’t try to starve a fever. Fever is part of the immune system’s attempt to combat the virus. Fever raises body temperature, which increases metabolism and burns more calories. That’s one reason why taking in calories becomes important.

What’s far more crucial in combating both colds and the flu is staying hydrated. Fever dehydrates the body, in part through increased sweating from the elevated temperature. Vomiting and diarrhea, two common symptoms of the flu, also quickly dehydrate the body. Dehydration makes the mucus in the nose, throat, and lungs dry up, which can lead to clogged sinuses and respiratory tubes. When mucus hardens it becomes more difficult to cough, which is the body’s way of trying to expel mucus and the germs it contains.

Replacing fluids is critical to helping the body battle the virus. Water works just fine, as do fruit juices and electrolyte beverages. If you feel nauseated, try taking small sips of liquids, as gulps might cause you to throw up. You can be sure you’re getting enough fluids by looking at the color of your urine, which should be pale yellow, almost colorless.

Of course, when you’re sick, you may not feel much like drinking and even less like eating. Loss of appetite is common, and might be part of the body’s attempt to focus its energy on pounding the pathogens. Don’t force yourself to eat, but make sure to take in plenty of fluids. However, you should avoid coffee, caffeinated sodas, and alcohol, because caffeine and alcohol both contribute to dehydration.

Once you’ve contracted a cold or the flu, it should run its course in five to 10 days. And while nothing can cure a cold or the flu, some remedies can ease your symptoms and keep you from feeling so miserable.

Wash your hands

For starters, frequent hand washing is one of the best things you can do to avoid catching whatever bugs might be going around. The key to making it count is using lots of soapy water and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. If you’re in a public restroom, use a paper towel instead of your bare hand when you touch the door handle. At home, you should regularly disinfect doorknobs with Lysol spray or disinfectant wipes. And don’t forget about your germy computer keyboard and mobile phone. It’s a good idea to regularly run a disinfectant wipe over those keys and your phone.

Sip warm liquids

Taking in warm liquids such as chicken soup, hot tea (with lemon or honey), or warm apple juice can be soothing and the warm vapor rising from the bowl or cup can ease congestion by increasing mucus flow. Chicken soup is everyone’s favorite, but it’s not a miracle cure. It does provide needed calories and salt, as well as some nutritional benefits. Chicken soup is also generally easy on the stomach.

Soothe a sore throat

Gargling with salt water helps get rid of the thick mucus that can collect at the back of the throat, especially after you’ve been lying down. It can also help ease stuffy ears. Use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt dissolved in an eight-ounce glass of warm water. Please note that children younger than 6 years old will be unlikely to be able to gargle properly.

You can also try ice chips, sore throat sprays, lozenges, or hard candy. Don’t give lozenges or hard candy to children younger than 3 to 4 years old because they can choke on them.

Combat a stuffy nose

Over-the-counter saline nasal drops and sprays can help relieve stuffiness and congestion. In infants, experts recommend putting several saline drops into one nostril, then gently suctioning that nostril with a bulb syringe. Saline nasal sprays may be used in older children.

Another option to ease stuffiness is nasal irrigation with a neti pot, where you pour salt water into one nostril and let it run out the other, clearing out your nasal passages. You can buy pre-made saline solution or make it by mixing salt and lukewarm sterile or distilled water. Neti pots are available in health food stores and drugstores.

Add moisture to the air

Breathing moist air helps ease nasal congestion and sore throat pain. One good strategy is to indulge in a steamy shower several times a day — or just turn on the shower and sit in the bathroom for a few minutes, inhaling the steam. Another way to ease congestion is to use a steam vaporizer or a humidifier. Be sure to change the water daily and clean the unit often in order to be sure it’s free of mold and mildew.

Another quick way to open clogged airways is to make a “tent.” Bring a pot of water to a boil and remove it from the heat. Drape a towel over your head, close your eyes, and lean over the water under the “tent,” breathing deeply through your nose for 30 seconds. You may also want to add a drop or two of peppermint or eucalyptus oil to the water for extra phlegm-busting power. Repeat this as often as necessary to ease congestion.

Relieve Pain

For adults and children older than 5, over-the-counter decongestants, antihistamines, and pain relievers might relieve some symptoms. As far as pain relievers go, children six months or younger should only be given acetaminophen. For children older than six months, either acetaminophen or ibuprofen are appropriate. Adults can take acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin. Please note that none of these over-the-counter medications will prevent a cold or shorten its duration, and most have some side-effects.

Another great way to relieve headache or sinus pain is to place a warm cloth over your forehead and nose.


Your body needs time to heal, so listen to it. If your body’s urging you to spend all day in bed, then do so. Don’t press on with daily chores in the face of severe cold or flu symptoms. And don’t skimp on nighttime sleep. Good sleep cycles help the immune system work well, so it’s important to get a full eight hours of sleep each night.

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LDS Hospital,

LiVe Well,


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Starve a Cold, Feed a Fever? Learn the Facts

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

  • Antioxidants
  • Bioflavonoids
  • Glutathione
  • Phytochemicals
  • Protein
  • Chicken Soup
  • More

If you’re not quite sure how this saying goes, you can relax: Starving is never the correct answer.

When you eat a good-for-you, well-balanced diet, many other things fall in place that keep your body working well. Foods that are rich in nutrients help fight infections and may help prevent illness. They’re delicious, too! Get to know the best sources.

These can help keep your immune system strong. Antioxidants — which include beta carotene and vitamins C and E — are essential nutrients and can help keep your immune system strong. They help protect your body on the inside. One way they do that is to target “free radicals,” which are molecules that can harm things including cell membranes. By taking away their destructive power, antioxidants may help you stay healthy or bounce back faster if you do get sick.

The best way to include them in your diet is to eat more fruits and vegetables. If you cook them, use as little liquid as possible to keep the nutrients in the food.

Most health organizations recommend eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily. That will give you plenty of antioxidants. For example, one quarter of a cantaloupe gives you nearly half the beta carotene you need in a day. Plus, it’s a rich source of vitamin C. And spinach gives you beta carotene, vitamin C, folic acid, and magnesium.

Foods rich in beta carotene and other carotenoids include: Apricots, asparagus, beef liver, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, guava, kale, mangoes, mustard and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash (yellow and winter), sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon.

Foods rich in vitamin C include: broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwi, orange juice, papaya, red, green or yellow pepper, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes.

Foods rich in vitamin E include: almonds, corn oil, cod-liver oil, hazelnuts, lobster, peanut butter, safflower oil, salmon steak, and sunflower seeds.

Foods high in bioflavonoids may also help you stay healthy. Research shows that these key nutrients help to boost immune system activation. These natural substances accompany vitamin C in plants and act as an antioxidant.

Food sources: You can find bioflavonoids in the pulp and white core that runs through the center of citrus fruits, green peppers, lemons, limes, oranges, cherries, and grapes. Quercetin is a highly concentrated bioflavonoid found in broccoli, citrus fruits, and red and yellow onions.

Glutathione is another nutrient that helps the immune system work well so it can fight infections.

Food sources: You can get it from broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, spinach, and other cruciferous vegetables.

Foods high in phytochemicals are also important for wellness. Phytochemicals are in all plants, so a diet that includes a variety of grains, fruits, and vegetables will give you these healthy substances.

Food sources: Apples, apricots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, garlic, legumes, onions, red peppers, soybeans, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

You need protein to build and repair body tissue and fight viral and bacterial infections. It’s rare for anyone in the U.S. to be low on protein, and too much can be bad for your kidneys. Make sure you choose lean sources, such as beans and soy, lean beef, and skinless chicken or turkey.

Chicken soup appears to help fight colds in at least two research studies. It helps clear nasal congestion as well as thin mucus so you can better cough it up. Also, research shows it may have a mild anti-inflammatory effect that can help ease cold symptoms.

Drinking hot tea is another great old home remedy. Hot tea helps to thin mucus and ensure proper hydration of the body. Green and black teas are filled with flavonoids, which are potent antioxidants.

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Diet for colds – What should be the diet for colds and flu?

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  • – Influenza – Cold diet

    What should you eat and drink?

    A sick person should not only observe bed rest and take medications, he should also eat right. What should you eat with flu and colds to get back on your feet as soon as possible? And how effective is such a diet?

    According to naturopathic doctors who advocate the use of non-drug methods in the treatment, nutrition during a cold can significantly affect a person’s recovery: if you eat the right food, the disease will recede sooner, if you eat the wrong food, the condition of the body can worsen even more.

    How to compensate for fluid loss during colds and flu?

    Let’s start with what you should drink to support a weakened body. Usually, harmful bacteria and viruses accumulate in the throat and nasal cavity. In a sick person, the mucous membranes are inflamed and dry, and therefore even this first protective barrier of the body does not function as expected. If you increase the humidity of the mucous membranes, they can again trap bacteria and block their harmful effects.

    The best solution is a drink made from filtered water and a few orange slices. It contains useful vitamin C, plus the general tone and mood of the sick person will definitely rise.

    With a sore throat, it is better to drink slightly warm water with honey and lemon juice. Such a drink is not only good for immunity, but also allows you to get rid of some of the viral cells and soothe the throat mucosa. Honey for colds is a very effective remedy, especially if used correctly.

    Nutrition for health: what to eat with the flu

    Now let’s talk about nutrition during the flu and colds. A weakened body at this time requires especially careful care, so it is temporarily worth abandoning “heavy” meat and fish dishes. The same applies to everything sweet and fried. Never eat fast food when you are sick! On the other hand, a wise organism often itself signals its needs by the loss of appetite. Therefore, if you don’t want to eat, don’t force yourself.

    Light meals, however, during a cold are usually accepted by the body with a bang. Chicken soup is one of the most popular and, at the same time, really the most effective dishes for a sick person. Numerous scientific studies have proven its beneficial effect on stuffy nose and swollen throat: it reduces the number of neutrophils – a form of white blood cells – that cause the characteristic signs of inflammation in the nasopharynx.

    Therefore, the more a person with a cold eats chicken soup, the healthier and more cheerful he will feel. We will make a reservation right away, it is worth eating often and a little bit. You should not take our words literally and eat liters of soup at a time.

    Do not forget about another popular product, which is a plant immunostimulant – garlic. It contains a substance (allicin), which effectively fights bacteria, viruses and fungi attacking the body. If the taste of garlic is not to the liking of a cold, you can cut the slices into small pieces to swallow them without chewing. In addition, place a plate of chopped garlic in the room where the sick person is located – this will disinfect the air and prevent pathogenic bacteria and viruses from re-entering the nasopharynx when breathing.

    Even people who are not fans of spices are advised to remember spices and spicy Indian herbs during a cold. Some of them (coriander, cinnamon, ginger) greatly alleviate the patient’s condition, as they stimulate sweating, and in addition, most spices have a narrowing effect on blood vessels, alleviating the condition of a stuffy nose and swollen throat.

    Which of the foods is more harmful to recovery?

    As already mentioned, sweets in the diet of a patient with flu and colds should be absent. The reason for this is the effect of sugar on leukocytes – blood cells that perform the functions of destroying pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Under the influence of sweets eaten, these cells become inert, stop fighting the disease and let the healing process take its course. The result of this will be the loss of precious time, during which the harmful pathogens of influenza and colds will get stronger and multiply.

    As for the supposedly primordially Russian remedy for the prevention of the disease – 50 grams of vodka – it should be noted that any alcohol affects the increase in the excretion of fluid from the body. This situation only harms the sick, because a dehydrated body recovers longer.

    Your task during an illness is to provide the best possible cold with water, and alcohol in this case is not at all a help. The same goes for coffee and fruit juices. Drink berry or herbal fruit drinks without adding sugar – they will fill the body with the necessary fluid and will not affect the activity of leukocytes.

    More unconventional recipes

    When a cold is just making itself felt, try using black elderberry extract as an assistant in the fight against it. This truly miraculous remedy can be purchased at a pharmacy and consumed during an illness, adding to tea along with lemon and honey.

    The effectiveness of black elderberry extract has been scientifically proven in Israel: a group of subjects with flu who included this berry in their diet began to recover on the second day after the first serious symptoms! The second group, using only traditional medicinal methods of treatment, felt the beginning of recovery only on the fifth day.