Maxims typically date back many years, but “feed a cold, starve a fever” may beat them all. This saying has been traced to a 1574 dictionary by John Withals, which noted that “fasting is a great remedy of fever.” The belief is that eating food may help the body generate warmth during a “cold” and that avoiding food may help it cool down when overheated.
But recent medical science says the old saw is wrong. It should be “feed a cold, feed a fever.”
Staying well hydrated during any illness is critical to help your body heal. Eating to provide the proper number and type of calories is also important:
Let’s take colds first. When your body fights an illness it needs energy, so eating healthy food is helpful. Eating can also help the body generate heat — although wearing an extra layer of clothes or slipping into bed can keep you warm, too.
The reasons to eat for fever are more interesting. Fever is part of the immune system’s attempt to beat the bugs. It raises body temperature, which increases metabolism and results in more calories burned; for each degree of temperature rise, the energy demand increases further. So taking in calories becomes important.
Hydration and proper nutrition are also important in helping prevent as well as heal physical injuries. Pediatrician Jacqueline Winkelmann, M.D. writes on her terrific blog, Doctor Jacq, that what your student athlete eats matters a great deal, starting with how much:
CALORIES matter: while it is true our kids will be less active while injured, and we might think they need less calories to avoid weight gain, their metabolic rate increases when injured, and the body uses a significant amount of calories to build new tissue and repair muscles, bones and tendons. For that reason, it is importantto eat an adequate amount of calories[…]
Make sure there is enough protein on the plate:
PROTEIN rebuilds: protein is important not only in rebuilding muscle after a workout, but it’s a key factor in repairing bones, ligaments and tendons. It also plays a role in decreasing inflammation. Make sure your young athlete eats 20-25 grams of protein 4-6 times each day, with every meal and snack, especially before and after physical therapy or rehab exercises. Eat good quality proteins from lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, edamame, beans, and low fat dairy.
Add in inflammation-reducing omega-3 fatty acids “found in salmon, tuna, flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts,” and reduce omega-6 rich foods “found in corn, canola, soy, and sunflower oils” that can promote inflammation and delay healing. Foods high in zinc (“meat, fish, shellfish, seeds, nuts, and whole grains“) aid in wound healing and tissue repair. Doctor Jacq explains how key vitamins and minerals help an injured body heal:
VITAMIN D and Calcium heal bones: vitamin D plays a key role in repairing bones after a fracture. It has also been shown to be very important in regulating our immune system and preventing infections… Calcium is important for bone and teeth strength, as well as muscle contractions and the nervous system.
VITAMIN C: vitamin C is an important nutrient for repairing connective tissue, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and blood vessels. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Consume vitamin C throughout the day to help with healing.
VITAMIN A: vitamin A promotes the production of white blood cells, which help fight off infections caused by viruses and bacteria. Giving your body extra vitamin A may help prevent post-injury infections.
So tell your child fighting a cold or fever, or your student athlete/”weekend-warrior” battling back from an injury, to drink plenty and eat well. Good food (not junk) is as good as medicine; it is what a body needs to stay healthy and recover from illness and injury.
Read more from Doctor Jacq’s blog here.