"Feed a cold, starve a fever" is advice you might have heard from your grandma, but the proverb has actually been around longer than she has-a lot longer. According to a recent study, the idea of eating when you have a cold and depriving yourself when you have a fever can be traced back to 1574, when a dictionary published by lexicographer John Withals suggested that “fasting is a great remedy of fever.”
Back then, it was thought that a colds were caused by a drop in body temperature. So, the idea was that by eating, you'd increase your body temperature, and the cold would disappear. On the other hand, it was thought that fasting during a fever would bring body temperature down.
Today, we know neither of those things is true. A cold is a type of infection caused by norovirus, and elevated body temperature usually occurs when your body's working hard to fight off a bacterial or viral infection (sometimes, the cold virus!).
Despite all that, the old adage does have some merit: you should feed a cold-and feed a fever.
So what should you eat during a fever or cold?
Since your fever is a sign your body is trying to fight off a virus, you’ll want to react to colds and fevers in the same way, says emergency medicine specialist Dr Makini Chisolm-Straker: by feeding it lots of water.
You see, when you have a cold or an illness that's causing a fever, you may feel so crappy that you're less motivated to eat and drink. And while most healthy people can handle not eating much solid food for a few days, you've got to keep drinking, says Dr. Chisolm-Straker. Staying hydrated is important even when you're healthy, but it's even more so when you have a fever. "Your body is working harder than it usually has to,” Dr Chisolm-Straker explains, which can ultimately dehydrate you. Plus, if you have an infection that's causing diarrhoea or vomiting along with your fever, you're at risk of making yourself even sicker if you don't sip water here and there.
Steer clear of sports drinks, soft drink, and coffee, Dr Chisolm-Straker says. "Drink Pedialyte, rehydration solutions, or water. Hydrate throughout the day, have ice blocks, whatever you can do to get it into your system.”
While water is the very best thing you can consume when you're sick, it might not help you get well faster. Ultimately, Dr Chisolm-Straker says rest and time are the only things that can cure colds and fevers. “The best I can do is give you a note for work saying you can take time to sleep, and tell you to take paracetemol or ibuprofen to make you feel better,” she says. “They won’t cure you, but they’ll make you feel less like crap.”