Do You Know Nutrition: Feed a cold, starve a fever?

Phylis Canion

I have the million dollar question for you. Do you feed a cold or starve a fever? I have had a cold recently and did find I felt better when I ate less. I look forward to your answer.

In all my research on the origin of this, most records link it back as far as 1574 when dictionary writer John Withals wrote "Fasting is a great remedy of fever."

It is important to note that there is an enormous difference between starving, fasting and eating to keep up your nutrient level during an illness.

First important note, starving is never good for the body. What is important is keeping your body functioning at an optimal level. Most often with colds and fever, you don't feel like eating. This reaction is the body's natural defense mechanism, as it helps the immune system focus its energy on fighting pathogens rather than digesting food, which demands a great deal of energy.

With that said, research conducted by Dutch scientists suggest that eating nutrient-rich foods boosts the type of immune response needed to fight off the common cold virus while eating moderately (not starving) promotes a different type of immune reaction necessary to overcome the bacterial infections that trigger most fevers.

The reason foods rich in nutrients are suggested is because they are easier to digest, therefore, helping fight infections, fevers, disease, flu and simple ailments like colds. Since a cold typically takes one to two weeks to run its course, starving would be considered counterproductive.

I recommend consuming foods rich in zinc and antioxidants like beta-carotene and vitamin C. Foods rich in zinc are eggs, lean meats, nuts, seafood, seeds, wheat germ and gluten-free whole grains. Brightly colored fruits, vegetables and dark leafy greens are high in antioxidants.

The most important factor to remember is that during a cold, flu or fever episode, you need to stay hydrated. Drink plenty of healthy fluids, and that should not include caffeine, alcohol or milk.

Thought for the week: "It is not what you do for your children but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings" - Ann Landers

Next free nutrition class is 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at Organic Emporium.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.