The Truth Behind Feeding a Cold and Starving a Fever
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A guide to help you get through this upcoming cold and flu season, and why this old wives’ tale should not be part of it. 

Written by Liana Greenshields, Student in the Dietetics Specialization program at the University of Alberta and reviewed by our Health Stand Nutrition Dietitian Team. 

is feed a cold, starve a fever true? - Sick Nutrition

As we near the cold and flu season, you may find yourself looking for relief from your symptoms or wondering what to eat when sick. But is altering your diet something that can help with this? In this post, we’ll look into the popular “feed a cold and starve a fever” saying, why it is not recommended, and a few easy recipe ideas to help you feel at your best as you get through your cold. 

What does “Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever” mean? 

Feeding a cold and starving a fever is an old wives’ tale that has been around for centuries as a way to mend your cold or flu. It was used in the Middle Ages when it was thought that there were only two types of illnesses: 

  1. Illnesses caused by high temperatures (a fever) which needed to be “cooled down”, so eating was not recommended.
  2. Illness caused by cold temperatures (a cold) which needed to be fuelled to battle the illness, so eating was recommended. 

But does it work? 

Lucky for us, this old saying is not true. With all the research we have available to us today, nutrient availability has not been shown to influence the immune system’s response to sickness. The simpler answer is that starving is never the answer. 

Is there a diet or food that can speed up a cold or the flu? 

The short answer is no. Unfortunately, the only way to “cure” a cold is by letting it run its course. When you are ill, you should focus on eating foods that give you energy and make you feel well. Not only that, but it is very important to get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids to allow your body to fight off the illness. Staying hydrated helps to avoid dehydration, and resting will ensure you don’t push your body too hard. 

Fun fact: Although it may seem like medications speed up a cold, it is not true. Over-the-counter medications can help relieve symptoms, but they cannot cure or speed up the duration of a cold or flu.  

What about vitamin C? Doesn’t it help with a cold? 

Over 60 years of clinical studies have been reviewed to research this theory, and it has been concluded that taking vitamin C supplements after the onset of a cold does not shorten the illness. However, studies have shown that colds can be shortened somewhat in certain demographics by taking vitamin C supplements daily, but not enough to warrant calling them a “cure.” This is because the intestines’ ability to absorb vitamin C decreases to 50% when consuming amounts greater than 1000 mg (the amount of vitamin C in about 15 medium-sized oranges). So, unfortunately, drinking a glass of orange juice a day won’t speed up a cold, nor will it prevent it.  

Then what does vitamin C do?  

Vitamin C helps the body maintain bones, blood vessels, and muscles, and also helps the body absorb iron and form collagen. It also acts as an antioxidant to neutralize harmful free radicals in the body. So needless to say, it is an essential vitamin to the body to keep you healthy, but not necessarily in preventing a cold or flu. 

What to eat when sick

What to eat when you feel sick

When you are feeling under the weather, eat what your body craves. Whether it’s chicken noodle soup, plain toast, cereal, or whatever else comes to mind, it is important to give your body what it wants. These foods won’t cure your cold as we have discovered, but eating your comfort foods can help satisfy you during your sickness. It can be harder to eat when you’re sick and have no appetite, so it is important not to push yourself too hard and take it day by day.

What to eat when you’re sick and have no appetite:

  • Plain toast (with butter or nut butter if you want to add a fat)
  • Cereal or oatmeal
  • Plain pasta or rice
  • Chicken noodle soup
  • Crackers
  • Unsweetened applesauce cups
  • Canned unsweetened pears or peaches
  • Bananas
  • Smoothies
  • Watermelon slush (toss cubes of fresh watermelon in the freezer and blend with water or juice)

These foods are bland and can be easy to eat without overwhelming your body with too much flavour or spices. But remember, listen to your body and give it what it craves! Whether you have a cold or a fever, your body always needs fuel.

Recipe ideas to comfort you while you’re sick

If you have enough energy to get in the kitchen or are lucky enough to have a family member or friend cooking something for you try these ideas:

  • Asian Chicken Noodle Vegetable Soup Recipe: This veggie-packed meal will help you get the energy to make you feel at your best, while also avoiding dehydration. Make the entire recipe and you’ll have leftovers for the whole week!
  • Green Smoothie Recipe: If you’re wanting to get some veggies in, this easy smoothie will do just that (with protein too!)
  • Mashed Potatoes: This easy side dish requires very little energy to make. Eat it along with a chicken breast and your choice of raw or cooked veggies to make it a full meal.

If all you want to do is sit on the couch:

  • Easy Peanut Butter, Cocoa & Banana Oatmeal: This easy and healthy 5-ingredient recipe comes together in no time, allowing you to get right back in bed to enjoy your delicious oatmeal.
  • Make a quick wrap: There’s nothing easier than this! Throw some pre-cooked chicken, lettuce, vegetables, and sauces of choice into a tortilla and wrap it up. You’ve got yourself a meal in 5 minutes!
  • Prepared meals: If you don’t feel like making your own meal or soup, grocery stores have plenty of options. Try a canned black bean or lentil soup, canned beans in tomatoes sauce or a carton of pureed butternut squash or roasted red pepper soup..

No one enjoys the cold and flu season, especially if you are unlucky and end up with a nasty sickness. Lucky for you as we explored the topic in this post, the old saying to “feed a cold and starve a fever” is not true. Starving to “extinguish” a fever could lead to more problems than solving the original one. So next time you have a bad bug that has rendered you miserable on the couch, always remember to fuel your body with whatever it craves and take it day by day without pushing yourself too hard

Looking for more information and help with your diet when you want to eat for optimal health?

For more information or personal help on anything nutrition-related, contact our Registered Dietitians to get your questions answered! Also, don’t forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter to never miss out on recipes, tips, and more.

Check out these related blog posts by our expert Dietitians :

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

As seen in


Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This