There’s an old saying that you should “feed a cold, starve a fever” when you’re sick — in other words, eat a lot when you have a cold and not much when you have a fever.
But just like the idea going outside with wet hair in winter will make you sick, or avoiding swimming right after you eat, it’s just a myth — and the terrible fever treatment advice especially could hinder your recovery from illness.
“When we have a fever a lot of energy goes into fighting the infection and the temperature,” explains Dr Magdalena Simonis from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
The body needs to be hydrated and nourished to help it fight the illness and recover.
“A lot of fluid is lost through sweating, and our stomach and digestive tract slows down due to the blood flow being redirected to the skin and other organs.
“What is required is ‘simple’ intake rather than starvation, that is, calories delivered in liquid form like soup or broth — rich in protein but easy to absorb,” Dr Simonis recommends, adding that isotonic/hydrating drinks are helpful, but avoid the ones with lots of added sugar — go for an electrolyte replacement product like Hydralyte.
As for “feeding a cold”, Dr Simonis is dubious about exactly what that means, but says it makes sense to eat normally and up your fluid intake when you’ve got a cold.
“With a cold we tend to lose a lot of liquid through our mucous membranes — the nasal drip from the nose, mouth breathing, and perspiring — leading to even more than the usual one-and-a-half to two litres of fluid a person loses daily.”
TL;DR? Stay hydrated and nourished whether you’ve got a cold or a fever, because whoever said you should starve yourself when you’re sick was very, very wrong.