Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever?

woman sitting in bed with a cup of soup
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"Feed a cold, starve a fever." Many people have heard of this saying, but few really know if there's any truth to it.

In short, the whole concept is a myth. It's one of those old wive's tales that is passed down from generation to generation without any science to back it up. "Feeding a cold" is not going to make you better any faster and starving yourself when you have a fever is not a good idea either.

Truly starving yourself is not a good idea ever. 

Where Did It Come From?

This saying probably came about because people who have a fever typically do not feel like eating much of anything, and those with a cold (which usually does not cause a fever) will still have an appetite. But this is not always true.

The best thing to do when you have a fever, a cold or any illness is to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. If you aren't hungry, then don't worry about eating. As long as you are drinking enough fluids, you should be fine without eating much for a few days. The exception to this is young infants. If your child is under a year old and is not eating (drinking formula or breastmilk), contact her health care provider. Because infants get most of their nutrition through formula or breastmilk, they can get dehydrated or seriously ill if they aren't eating.

A few things to keep in mind about eating and drinking when you are sick:

  • Drink more than you usually do. Focus on getting lots of fluids, even if you don't feel thirsty. You can get dehydrated more easily if you have a fever and if you are really congested with a cold, drinking more will help the mucus drain more easily.
  • Drink water or juice. Sports drinks are OK, and many people like the fact that they replace electrolytes. But, for the most part, people with fevers or colds don't run a risk of major electrolyte imbalance unless they are vomiting or have severe diarrhea.

In short, stay hydrated and eat when you feel like it whether you have cold symptoms, a fever, or another minor illness. Unless your healthcare provider tells you to eat or drink something specific or avoid certain things, these are good guidelines for whenever you are sick.


"Cold and Flu Guidelines: Myths and Facts." American Lung Association Diseases A to Z. 2007. American Lung Association.