Your immune system is the first line of defense against bacterial, fungal, and viral infections like COVID-19. Building and maintaining a strong immune system depends on a whole host of factors, and one of the easiest ones to manipulate in a positive way is the nutrition you put into your body.
Eating refined sugars when you are not already sick actually suppresses your immune system for a few hours after consumption, making you more likely to catch that cold or virus. For that reason, below is a list – and the science to back it up – of some of my favorite ultra-low carbohydrate immunity-boosting foods that happen to fit right into the #lowcarb and #keto lifestyles!
Ginger – a 2013 study on fresh ginger (as opposed to dried) showed that it triggered anti-viral activity against HRSV, another human respiratory tract virus. As HRSV is transmitted in exactly the same way as COVID-19, getting more ginger into your diet right now is a great way to boost your immune system. Whether it’s simply steeping slices of fresh ginger in hot water to make ginger tea or adding minced ginger to a stir-fry, this is a great time to consume more ginger. Sources: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23123794, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5795431/)
Lemons & limes – the Vitamin C in citrus fruits is known for being a health superhero, and according to a 2017 study, “Vitamin C appears to be able to both prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections by enhancing various immune cell functions.” It is MORE than “just” an antioxidant – it’s a lifesaver. People with vitamin C deficiency show increased susceptibility to infections of all types, particularly respiratory infections. While all citrus certainly contains plenty of Vitamin C, lemons and limes have the lowest sugar content and may even enhance autophagy if you’re an intermittent faster like myself! Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5707683/
Spinach – Didn’t you notice Popeye never got sick? Spinach, best when uncooked, is super food for immunity for a multitude of reasons. It’s another free-radical-scavenging antioxidant, also loaded with Vitamin C, curbs hunger by triggering production of satiety hormones, and modulates the expression of genes involved in our inflammatory responses. It provides the building blocks for new white-blood cell creation AND is a source of hydration via eating! (https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2016/fo/c6fo00051g/unauth#!divAbstract)
Garlic – high concentration of sulfur-containing compounds make it an infection-fighting superfood, plus it gives food tons of flavor! This is a great time to infuse more into your cooking, especially since you’re not going out anyway… In in vitro lab studies, garlic has shown activity fighting multiple strains of the flu, viral pneumonia, rotavirus, and rhinoviruses among others (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4103721/) and has long been used as a treatment around the world for many kinds of illnesses. https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2016/fo/c6fo00051g/unauth#!divAbstract
Broccoli – so common, so MAGIC! Broccoli contains the most sulforaphane of all of its mildly stinky cruciferous cousins (think cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, etc). Sulforaphane is a sulfur-rich compound with HUGE antiviral properties, and raw and sprouted forms of broccoli have been shown to contain 10x the amount of cooked broccoli. Consuming foods rich in this compound, particularly broccoli sprouts (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4731143/) has been shown to reduce markers of viral loads and inhibit viral cell replication, possibly preventing physical illness while still building immunity in the event you are exposed to a virus. In other words, eating broccoli enhances your immune system and antiviral defense system BEFORE you get sick and also contributes to a faster return to wellness if you DO find yourself down for the count!
The best way to consume, again, is raw or very lightly cooked (steamed for 1 – 3 minutes) to get the most out of your broccoli. And what a great time to drizzle on some fresh ginger-garlic-lemon dressing!
Yogurt & other fermented foods – the clincher here is in the probiotic properties of the foods. The presence of “good bacteria” still triggers the body’s general response to ANY bacteria, thereby flexing your immune system’s muscles, so to speak. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/05/190523142201.htm) That the food then goes on to nourish your gut, also known as the seat of the immune system, makes this a one-two-punch of immune boosting! It IS important to choose low-carbohydrate options here to get the most benefit. Think whole-milk or triple-cream yogurt, labneh, creme fraiche, plain Greek yogurt if you want to go the full-dairy route. Lacto-fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, and “gut shots” are also great options.
Turmeric – CURRY UP, NOW! Wow. You’ve probably already heard that “The Golden Spice” is an immunity superpower, but my own research to share WHY with you blew me away as to how potent it really is as an antiviral agent. There are studies about its prize-fighting PREVENTION AND TREATMENT activity against the flu (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814609010553), RSV, Dengue, Zika, HIV, HPV, HSV, and more (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6509173/) . This means antiviral activity against pretty much ANY form of transmission out there, be it aerosol (breathing infected air droplets) or by mosquito bite – and this information is taken apart from all of its antibacterial & anti-fungal goodness, too!
My favorite quick way to consume turmeric is by making Golden Milk and/or Golden Milk Chia Pudding. You can find my personal Golden Milk Spice Blend and fresh ginger-including Golden Milk Smoothie here:
MBK Golden Milk Powder Blend
1 ½ Tablespoons ground turmeric
1t ground ginger
3/4t ground cinnamon
3/4 t ground cardamom
¼ t nutmeg
Pinch ground black pepper (less than ⅛ teaspoon)
MBK Keto Paleo Golden Milk Smoothies
2 teaspoons golden powder
2 c almond milk
1 13.5oz/400ml can coco milk
1 large avo (7-8oz unpeeled) – (5 – 6oz/150 – 175g flesh) – ~3/4c mashed
½ tsp vanilla extract
Pinch himalayan salt
20 drops monk fruit sweetener, stevia, or 1 T yacon OR maple syrup (2.5g carbs per serving for each T maple syrup)
½ c egg white protein
2 Tbsp grated ginger
SO – those are my seven favorite low carbohydrate, Keto-friendly foods to boost your immune system! We are going to get through this, and we might as well do so deliciously.