Skip to main content

Should We Eat When We Are Sick?

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She writes and makes documentaries and videos.

‘Feed a cold, starve a fever.’

The saying goes back to the late 16th century. Is it beneficial for our body to eat when we are sick? The answer is yes and no. Here is the explanation.

Many studies have been carried out on this topic. One general thumb rule that emerged from those studies is that viral infections get a better immune response from our body when we keep our body well-fed. However, bacterial infections are better managed by our bodies when we are fasting. In both cases, keeping one’s body well-hydrated is a non-negotiable factor.

The age-old wisdom from which the above saying emerged is that when you eat, your body heats up and your body’s chill symptoms decline. On the other hand, when you fast, your body cools down and the body temperature is reduced.

What happens when we eat during a cold, caused by a viral infection? The food provides fuel to the immune cells to act against the cold. More energy is naturally needed by the immune cells to fight off disease. Eating also causes an interferon-gamma reaction in the cells, a kind of signalling that triggers an immune response.

During a bacterial infection, fasting works in another way to help the body recover. Another kind of signalling is what happens. It is the Interleukin-4 immune reaction that is activated against the bacteria. On fasting, the body also responds better to the toxins released by the bacteria.

Chicken Soup for Cold

The tricky part of this debate is that one should know what causes the fever, a viral or bacterial infection. What doctors suggest today is to have warm liquids such as grandma’s old chicken soup when you have a cold. This will help thin the mucous and chicken soup is proven to have anti-inflammatory action on our body.

Scroll to Continue

Fever Food

Starving the fever has no appeal among the modern scientific community. recommends having normal food with plenty of vegetables and fruits and warm water when you have a fever. The only caution to be taken according to them are not to overeat and to be careful while consuming dairy products which may cause mucous formation in some people. Citrus fruits that have plenty of vitamin C and folic acids are also highly recommended. Once we recover from the flu, the prescribed diet is to have lots of colourful fruits, and vegetables just because they give our body the phytochemicals that improve the healing. Caffeine and alcohol dehydrate the body and so better to avoid them. Good sleep also works like magic.

Food For All Sicknesses

Apart from citrus and chicken soup, experts suggest eating beans, eggs, nuts, mango, tomatoes, yoghurts, and red pepper when one is sick. Beans are a good source of protein eggs provide Vitamin D & E, and nuts supply our body with Vitamin E, zinc, and protein. Mango has Vitamin A & C in plenty in it. Red Pepper and tomatoes are also good sources of Vitamin C and yoghurt delivers the body, Vitamin D, and the gut especially, many beneficial bacteria.

From what the science of modern healing says, the most important thing about coping with any sickness is to have warm and wholesome liquid meals.


Whether, And What To Feed A Cold, Lisa Bramen, Smithsonian Magazine. What Should I Eat When I Have The Flu? Here Is What To Eat To Fight Off Colds and Flu, Fact Or Fiction? Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever, Mark Fischetti, Scientific American.

Feed A Cold, Starve A Fever? Claudia Hammond,

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Deepa

Related Articles