The Common Cold Remedy Myth Avoiding Food

Many people believe that avoiding food when suffering from the common cold will speed recovery time. The old adage, “feed a cold, starve a fever,” and the reverse, “feed a fever, starve a cold,” are among the world’s best-known old wives’ tales. They also belong in the category of cold remedies that don’t work, for the most part.

While Hippocrates receives widespread credit for the original saying, most professionals today advise that, with certain restrictions, it’s wiser to nurture your body with nutrients while in the throes of the common cold. In fact, not eating can certainly deplete the resources needed to fight an illness.

Starve a Cold, Feed a Cold

Hippocrates, hailed as the Father of Modern Medicine, possibly said it first: “If you feed a cold, you will have to starve a fever.” Through the ages, mangled versions of his recommendation developed, as is often the case with ancient quotes and folklore. To confuse the origination issue further, some resources provide a very different explanation. These state that a gentleman named John Withals provided a dictionary entry that also advised fasting for a fever.

The original intent of this message suggests that eating during a bout of the cold will lead to more serious symptoms, including fever. Fasting, in earlier days, was the answer to reducing fevers. Even today, some trends promote the fact that a body focused on digestion will suffer while trying to heal itself of germs.

Research, however, indicates that not eating can weaken the body’s immune system and leave it vulnerable to additional symptoms. Eating the right foods can help prevent the common cold and a host of other illnesses.

Beating the Common Cold with Food and Liquid

While you can’t diminish a cold’s progress with food, you can possibly ease the symptoms. Taking liquids, including water, is a great way to battle cold symptoms. Adding juices loaded with vitamin C may also help the body’s immune defenses rise to the occasion.

In the case of accompanying fever, it is even more important to provide fuel. As those temperatures increase, the metabolic rate also rises, which means the body is using extra calories to defend itself. Lighter meals, including vegetable-laden soups, can help replenish much-needed energy.

Avoiding Food Ingredients During a Cold

While avoiding food in general is not recommended, avoiding some types of food during a cold may not be a bad idea. Some ingredients may actually increase congestion and feelings of stuffiness, along with other common cold symptoms. Try to steer clear of the following if you have a cold:

  • Alcohol: This ingredient is a well-recognized dehydrator and will offset the benefit of additional liquids during an illness. Also, alcohol often interferes with the immune system’s response to virus-based infections.
  • Dairy: Milk-based products have the potential to make sinus and stuffy noses worse.
  • Fats: Fatty foods are generally more difficult to digest, may disrupt sleep and cause unneeded discomforts.
  • Sugar: Insulin spikes and drops can lead to disruption of sleep.

Chicken Soup and Other Foods as Cold Remedies

Good news continues to surface for foods that have the potential to be helpful cold remedies. Chicken soup, the old standby, now shows promise as more than just a soothing concoction for cold sufferers. For starters, simply sniffing the aroma from a steaming bowl can increase mucus production in the nose. That not only decreases a clogged nasal passage, but it also helps move cold viruses out of the system.

Here are some other foods that have the potential to ease common cold symptoms:

  • Fruits: Fruits and juices provide nutrients all year long but are also helpful during a cold. Oranges, which contain vitamin C, leads the race according to experts, although debate exists about vitamin C’s true effectiveness. Lemon and a honey combination in tea are also comforting. Fruits high in antioxidants, including blueberries, are also beneficial in restoring and boosting the immune system.
  • Garlic: Raw and supplement forms of garlic contain selenium and an ingredient called allicin, which fights viruses and bacteria in the body. It also increases productive coughing, which aids in eliminating the cold virus. Cooking reduces the impact.
  • Spices and Spicy Foods: These are great decongestion aids, as anyone who eats hot peppers can attest. Adding a touch of horseradish, hot mustard or cayenne pepper to food will help clear those stuffy noses.
  • Tomatoes: Tomatoes contain a very important ingredient known as lycopene. A bowl of hot tomato soup may help fight infection.

When you have a cold, you may not feel like eating or drinking, but it is important to replenish liquids lost while suffering from a cold. Every time you sneeze or cough, fluids are lost. Foods that are simple to digest and will help reduce dehydration include:

  • bananas
  • gelatin desserts
  • smoothies
  • sports drinks.

The bottom line is to get plenty of rest, drink fluids and avoid cold remedies that don’t work. You may not be able to speed up the recovery process, but eating the right foods can help your body replenish its natural resources.


Duda, Kristina, R.N. (2007). Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever? Retrieved November 10, 2007, from the About, Inc. Web site: (2007). Starve a Fever, Feed a Cold? Retrieved November 10, 2007, from the Web site:

Wark, Lisa Marie (2006). Super-Foods that Help You Weather the Winter Months. Retrieved November 10, 2007, from the James W. Forsythe, MD, HMD Web site: