Should you believe the classic “feed a cold, starve a fever” advice?
Turns out that ancient phrase is half right.
The thinking started in the 1500s, explains Sharon Bergquist, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Emory University. “There was a belief that a person had a cold because their body temperature was low, and feeding could increase their temperature and help fight the illness,” she says. “A fever meant the body temperature was high, and starving a person would slow down metabolism, bring down body temperature, and could stop stoking the fires.”
Turns out feeding a cold is good practice. But so is feeding a fever, says Dr. Bergquist. “Your body needs nutrients to help the immune system mount a strong response.”
What should you feed your cold or fever?
As you can imagine, no doctor is going to say doughnuts and bacon. Here’s what to swallow, according to Dr. Bergquist:
Feed your body to prevent a cold or fever next time
There’s no magic food that prevents colds, but “if a person has certain habits, the immune system in general is stronger,” says Dr. Bergquist. That means you would get sick less frequently and you’d get over the cold or fever sooner.
“Seventy percent of the immune system is in the gut,” she points out. “So gut bacterial balance is a key part of your immunity.” While it’s not clear exactly which bacterial strains will give you the best balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, diversity seems to be important. So you want to feed your gut not just the probiotics everyone talks about; you want prebiotics that feed those probiotics. “All prebiotics are fiber, but not all fiber is a prebiotic,” she says. Aim for a diversity of fibers from foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds.”
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Familiar advice, yes. But are you doing it? You don’t have to live on walnut-studded kale salad (although that’s not a bad choice). Check out this Mediterranean Roasted Red Pepper Chicken with Lemony Garlic Hummus, or discover how to eat a day’s worth of healthy greens in 14 minutes (it’s actually amazing, trust us).
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