Should you really starve a fever?

What You Should Eat When You're Sick: The Invalid's Menu
If you're under the weather, you might want to try tea -- and a teddy bear.
If you're under the weather, you might want to try tea -- and a teddy bear.

When you've got a fever, you may not feel much like eating. That's because the cytokines, those chemical messengers released by the immune system that trick the hypothalamus into resetting the body's thermostat, also monkey around with your appetite, which the hypothalamus controls. Additionally, some viral infections that cause fevers also attack the stomach and make you want to vomit, which isn't too appetizing.

Even so, most experts agree that your body needs good nutrition when you're sick, so that the immune system can do its job. Having enough calories to run the infection-fighting mechanism is particularly important, which is why dieters should feel free to take a break from low-calorie regimens during the flu season, which lasts from October through January.

So what should you actually eat and drink when you have a fever? Begin with liquids, since your body can become dehydrated, especially if you've been vomiting or had diarrhea. Start small, with a couple of ounces of water or lemon-lime soda (let it go flat first, so that the bubbles don't bother your stomach). Repeat that every 15 to 30 minutes for a few hours, and then start taking larger quantities of water, tea, fruit juice and juice-based drinks, carbonated soft drinks and broth. After that, give solid food a try. You may want to start mild, with something like buttered white toast, but just about any food that doesn't cause nausea is OK.

Once you've graduated to more substantial fare, try foods such as lean meats, fish, poultry, eggs, legumes and nuts and seeds, which are rich in protein and nutrients such as vitamins B6 and B12, selenium and zinc, all of which will help boost your immune system. Other good choices are citrus fruits such as grapefruits, oranges, lemon and lime, which contain anti-inflammatory compounds called bioflavenoids, and watermelon, whose pulp contains a powerful antioxidant, glutathione, that helps curb cell damage.

One food you definitely should consider adding to your flu diet is chicken soup. In a study published in 2000, University of Nebraska Medical Center physician Dr. Stephen Rennard reported that his wife's grandmother's favorite recipe had anti-inflammatory properties that helped stop the movement of neutrophils, the white blood cells that stimulate the release of mucus. That, in turn, can reduce the coughing, sneezing and stuffed-up feeling that accompanies upper respiratory-tract viral infections. It's good for colds, too.

Want to know the truth behind more old wives' tales about your health? We've got links to more articles you'll like on the next page.

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