Immune health is always important, especially during cold and flu season. Immunity can be impacted by many factors, some that are within your control, and some that aren’t.
One of the ways you can support immune health is through your diet. Eating a variety of healthy foods and making sure to get enough vitamins and minerals can have a positive impact on your immune system.
In this article, we will go over the most effective ways to support immune health, list the immunity-boosting keto foods that can be helpful to incorporate into your daily regimen, and share some delicious low-carb recipes that can help enhance your body’s ability to fight off diseases and infections.
Effective ways to boost immune health
Here are five actions you can take to give your immune system a leg up on fighting illnesses.
Eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods
This is always good to do, but even more important during cold and flu season. Vitamins and minerals from fresh foods is the best way to naturally boost your body’s defense system.
Exercising regularly is important for optimal health. This doesn’t mean you have to go to the gym every day for an hour. Simple and convenient workouts that have positive health benefits include taking a 20-minute walk outside or doing 15-20 minutes of yoga or pilates at home. YouTube has thousands of free workout videos for all levels, or simply blast your favorite songs and start dancing. Find ways to incorporate more activity in your daily life, like parking farther away at the grocery store or walking up a flight or two of stairs instead of taking the elevator.
This can be challenging, especially when you are stressing about things that are outside of your control. Focus on ways to calm your mind, like meditating, practicing yoga, listening to calming music, or reading a book -- anything that can take your mind off of what is causing stress can be helpful.
Get adequate sleep
For most adults, getting 7-9 hours of sleep a night is critical to health [*]. Lack of sleep can lead to a weaker immune system, weight gain, and more stress and anxiety. Sufficient sleep can improve your focus and memory, improve your mood, and support heart health [*].
Practice good hygiene
Good hygiene means washing your hands with soap frequently, especially before you eat and after using the restroom. If you can't, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cough and sneeze into your elbow or a tissue. Avoid touching your face - germs enter your body through your nose, mouth, and eyes [*] For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site.
Vitamins and minerals that support immune health
Getting sufficient vitamins and minerals in your diet is critical to health and wellness. Here are the ones best known for supporting a strong immune system.
Vitamin C [*]
Vitamin C is most commonly known for boosting your immune system. It can help strengthen immune health by enhancing the production of white blood cells, which are important for fighting infections.
It’s important to eat foods rich in vitamin C because a deficiency could make you more vulnerable to getting sick. Our bodies don’t produce vitamin C so we must get it through foods or supplements. Most of us can get enough vitamin C by eating a healthy diet.
Low-carb foods that are a good source of vitamin C include strawberries, spinach, kale, broccoli, and bell peppers. Citrus fruits are a good source but most of them contain too many carbs for a keto diet. Squeezing fresh lemon juice into hot water or tea is a keto-friendly option.
Vitamin B6 [*]
Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that is important for supporting biochemical reactions in the immune system. It is linked to benefits including reduced inflammation, supporting eye health, reduced risk of heart disease, enhancing hemoglobin production, and minimizing symptoms of depression. Vitamin B6-rich foods include chicken, salmon, and tuna.
Vitamin E [*]
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that plays an important role in helping your body fight off infections. It can also help lessen free radical damage and slow the aging process. This fat-soluble vitamin can be found naturally in many foods, such as nuts, seeds, broccoli, and spinach.
Zinc is a mineral that is needed by your immune system in order to work properly. This nutrient can help strengthen your immune system and heal wounds by fighting off invading viruses and bacteria. Some studies show that zinc supplements may shorten colds and minimize cold symptoms [*]. A zinc deficiency may make you more susceptible to pneumonia and other infections. Oysters are the best source of zinc, but other zinc sources include beef, chicken, nuts, and dairy.
12 immune-boosting keto foods
1. Bone Broth
Sipping a mug of hot bone broth every day can give your immune system a boost. That’s because it contains 19 essential amino acids that nourish and restore everything from your bones and joints to your skin and hair. It also benefits your digestive system, which is linked to immune health.
Bone broth contains arginine, an amino acid that supports immune health and liver function, and glycine, which can enhance sleep quality. It also contains a substance called chondroitin sulfate, which has anti-inflammatory and immune-regulating properties.
Regular bone broth consumption supports your body’s natural detoxification functions by supporting the digestive system’s ability to remove bodily waste and toxins [*].
This superfood should have a starring role in every low-carb diet. Avocados are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E — all antioxidants that enhance immune health. They also contain carotenoids (beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin), which also act as antioxidants [*]. Eating antioxidants is important because they help prevent disease and can improve your body’s ability to protect itself from illnesses and infections [*]. Avocados also contain vitamin K, folate, potassium, plus vitamins B5 and B6.
3. Olive oil
Olive oil is a great source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties [*][*]. The three primary types are: refined, virgin, and extra virgin. Whenever possible, consume extra virgin olive oil because it is the least processed and refined type. EVOO has more phenolic compounds compared to the other two, which can help fight cancer and other diseases [*][*].
Almonds are great for snacking or adding to recipes. Just an ounce can provide 14 grams of heart-healthy fats, 3.5 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein [*] Almonds are also a good source of vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, copper, vitamin B2, and phosphorus. They’re beneficial for immune health because of their high level of antioxidants. Antioxidants can help protect cells from damage and aging, which can lead to diseases and infections [*].
This green leafy vegetable is a great source of vitamin C and vitamin E. It’s also rich in antioxidants and beta carotene, which may support the body’s ability to fight infections. Enjoy it raw in salads or lightly sauté in olive oil with minced garlic and a pinch of kosher salt.
6. Red bell peppers
Delicious raw or cooked, red bell peppers are a great source of vitamin C. A medium-sized bell pepper contains 169% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin C. This vegetable is also a good source of potassium, folate, and vitamins B6, K1, E, and A [*]. Vitamin C isn’t the only immune booster in red bell peppers; antioxidants, including capsanthin, violaxanthin, and lutein, also provide immune health benefits [*].
This superfood vegetable is rich in vitamins K and C, plus fiber, folate, and potassium [*]. It’s one of the best things you can eat for immune health due to its high vitamin C content and antioxidant properties [*]. Just half a cup of cooked broccoli provides 84% of the RDI [*]. Enjoy it raw with a low-carb or keto dip or sauté it with some avocado oil and minced garlic.
Garlic and garlic supplements have been shown to help prevent the flu and common cold, or reduce the duration and severity of the symptoms. One study found that a daily garlic supplement reduced the number of colds by 63% and the duration of cold symptoms was reduced by 70% [*]. Scientists credit garlic’s immune-boosting properties to allicin, a sulfur-containing compound that is formed when garlic is minced or crushed. Other compounds that may have positive impacts on immune health are diallyl disulfide and s-allyl cysteine [*].
This bright yellow spice is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and is used in treating autoimmune diseases like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. It contains compounds called curcuminoids, which are known for their medicinal properties [*]. Carcumin is the most important of these medicinal compounds and is the primary source of turmeric’s antioxidant properties.
10. Green tea
Green tea contains a powerful antioxidant called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is linked to enhanced immune health. It's also a good source of L-theanine, an amino acid which can support the production of compounds that can fight off bacteria and viruses [*][*].
Drinking green tea daily can also improve cognitive function, support weight loss, and reduce inflammation [*].
11. Lemons and limes
These citrus fruits are a great source of vitamin C. Squeeze a few drops into hot water or hot tea for a refreshing immune boost each day.
Ginger is known for its medicinal properties, commonly used to help fight the flu and cold, to minimize nausea, and to treat digestive issues. The main source of the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties is due to a bioactive compound called gingerol [*].
Ginger can be found in fresh, powdered, and dried forms. Slice some fresh ginger and add it to a hot cup of green tea with a few drops of fresh lemon juice for the ultimate immune-boosting beverage!
How a keto diet may impact immune health
Eating a keto diet may have positive effects on your immune system. A November 2019 Yale University study published in Science Immunology found that mice fed a ketogenic diet were better able to fight off the flu virus compared to mice fed a high-carbohydrate diet. Researchers found that consumption of the keto diet activated a subset of T cells in the lungs, which increased mucus production from airway cells that “trapped” the virus.
In addition, the keto diet is known for having anti-inflammatory impacts. Inflammation has a negative impact on immune health and can make you more susceptible to diseases and infections [*].
Keto recipes that can boost your immune system
The keto diet is full of nutrient-dense foods, which can support immune health. Below are a few of our favorite low-carb recipes. We’ve highlighted the immune-boosting ingredients in each recipe.
- Oxtail Bone Broth Stew: Bone broth, garlic, ginger, turmeric, bell peppers, lime
- Chunky Avocado Salsa: Avocados, avocado oil, tomatoes, lime, garlic, apple cider vinegar
- Broccoli and Cheese Casserole: Broccoli, garlic
- Chili with Bone Broth: Bone broth, avocados
- Lemon Herb Salmon: Salmon, lemon, garlic
Eat well to stay well
Building a strong immune system happens over time and involves eating a variety of healthy foods. In other words, eating a ton of kale for months won’t help, nor will eating everything listed above for just one week.
Think about your diet as a way of investing in yourself. You deserve premium fuel made with clean natural ingredients to feel and perform at your best.