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The Facts Behind ‘Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever’

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The Facts Behind 'Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever'
WWe’ve all heard the old wives’ tales like chewing gum lives in our stomach for seven years or the dog’s hair will cure a hangover. Although these are myths, there is sometimes some truth in these types of superstitions, like the old saying “feed a cold, starve a fever.”

The saying comes from an entry in a dictionary written in 1574 by a man named John Withals Scientific American. It says: “Fasting is a great remedy for fever.” And while many healthcare professionals still debate whether to feed or starve fevers, Bindiya GandhiMD, a dual-certified integrative and family medicine physician, believes the latter.


Experts in this article

  • Bindiya Gandhi, MDdouble-certified functional and integrative general practitioner with a focus on holistic medicine

“Allowing the body to starve or not feed the infection allows the body to fight the infection and fully do its job,” she says.

How to beat fever

Fever is a temporary increase in body temperature above 38°C or higher. Typically a normal temperature is around 97°F (36.1°C) to 99°F (37.2°C). “When we have a cold or an infection, our metabolism increases, causing temperatures to rise as our bodies begin to fight off the infection,” says Dr. Gandhi.

Although she doesn’t suggest feeding a fever by consuming solid foods, Dr. Ghandi says you still want to stay hydrated. “Doctors encourage plenty of rest and fluids when you have a fever,” she says, adding that the reason hydration is a top priority is because we lose more fluids when we’re sick. “Replacing fluids is essential because it is easier to become dehydrated when our metabolism kicks in.”

In addition to rest and water, Dr. Ghandi recommends consuming bone broth. “Bone broth contains essential proteins, vitamins and minerals that can help the body heal and recover faster,” she says.

What to eat to feed a cold

If you have a cold, you’ll want to focus on eating foods that are “rich in vitamin C,” says Dr. Ghandi. “Oranges and peppers are useful. Zinc also speeds up recovery, just like eating pumpkin seeds.”

People who included zinc in their diet saw their cold symptoms disappear two days earlier This is evident from a study recently conducted at Western Sydney University in Penrith, New South Wales. Evaluating 5,446 participants with colds, they were given a zinc spray or a liquid formulation, or a placebo. Those who took zinc recovered faster. Zinc’s benefits come from its ability to regulate the function of immune cells. So make sure your medicine cabinet and pantry are stocked with sources of the trace mineral, which you can find in supplement form, as well as foods like legumes, dark chocolate and whole grains.