8 Keto Foods to Support Your Immune System
Did you know that over 80 percent of your immune system resides inside your digestive tract? Read on to discover eight low-carb foods that may give your immune system a late winter boost:
- Bone Broth
- Coconut Oil
- Wild Blueberries
Liver may not be the first option that comes to mind when you think of immune-supportive superfoods, but it easily claims that title once you realize what’s in it. Beef liver in particular contains a long list of essential vitamins and minerals, chief among them vitamins A and D, B vitamins, and copper. Beef liver not only supports energy levels, skin, heart and brain health, but it also supports immune function during this germ-y time of the year.
Vitamin A is especially critical for immune function, and our modern diets tend to lack it. Vitamin A can be found in both plant and animal foods, but there’s an important difference between the two: The vitamin A you find in carrots, sweet potatoes, and dark leafy green vegetables is a form called a carotenoid. You might know it as beta carotene. This form of vitamin A must go through a conversion process in the body to its active, usable form, known as retinol. When all is said and done, it takes A LOT of vitamin A-rich plant foods to get a good dose of active vitamin A.
By contrast, animal foods, and liver in particular, contain the active form of this essential vitamin. Your body finds this form easier to digest, absorb, and use. And you don’t need to consume as much for your immune system to reap the benefits. To put this in perspective, you’d have to eat 4.5 pounds of carrots to get the same, usable amount of vitamin A as you would in only 3 ounces of beef liver.
The body uses vitamin A primarily to build and maintain healthy mucus membranes, our first line of defense against pathogens. It also plays an important role in supporting the function of critical immune cells and their optimal function.
How do you incorporate nutrient-dense beef liver into your diet? There are many ways to enjoy it! You can consume it in dried, desiccated capsules, in a savory pate, sautéed with onions, in a primal ground meat blend, or even raw in small amounts.
- Read about Beef Liver Nutrition and Benefits.
- Order Grass Fed Beef Liver or Grass Fed Beef Primal Ground from Nose to Tail.
There’s a reason why Grandma’s chicken noodle soup was critical during times of sickness. Traditionally, soups were made with the bones, tendons, and joints of the animal cooked down in the broth, resulting in a more nutrient-dense, protein-rich soup that supports the immune system.
In modern times, we make bone broth by boiling or pressure-cooking the bones and tendons of beef, chicken, turkey, or fish in filtered water. This process helps break down and extract important nutrients and minerals that are otherwise inaccessible.
Bone broth is naturally low in carbs, high in protein and contains a good amount of the amino acid glycine and gelatin. You might know gelatin as a tasteless, odorless powder that, once heated and cooled, forms a jelly-like texture. But these special amino acids play a particularly important role in the digestive system.
Your digestive system is in close contact with the outside world. Everything that you swallow has the potential to carry harmful pathogens into the body. Because of this, your body's first line of defense are the millions of bacteria that line your digestive system, fighting bugs off before they have a chance to cause much harm. Next, the structure and strength of the digestive system walls protect harmful toxins, pathogens, and foreign particles from getting any further into the body.
Bone broth provides the necessary building blocks to support the strength and structure of the intestinal wall, resulting in a stronger, more resilient immune system. Try it plain, warmed with a teaspoon of butter and sea salt. Other ideas: Add a splash to your veggie sauté, as a base for soups, in stews, braises, and sauces. In the summer months, when you’re less inclined to want a mug of steaming hot bone broth, turn to grass-fed gelatin and make a batch of electrolyte gummies.
- Learn how to make your own bone broth.
- Check out Senza's keto electrolyte gummy recipe.
- Buy our pre-mixed Keto Electrolyte Gummy Kit with a silicone mold.
These slimy, salty shellfish are high in iron, copper, selenium, omega 3 fatty acids and most importantly, zinc. Oysters blow all other foods out of the park in regards to how high they are in zinc; there’s no other food that compares.
Zinc is an important nutrient that plays a role in the development of a healthy immune system as we age. It provides ongoing support to the immune system, especially during times of sickness. Zinc is not only important for immune cells to function, but for the recovery process after you’ve been sick too. Zinc supports healthy inflammation, recovery and bounce back of the immune system after a sickness.
Needless to say, zinc is an immune system superstar. So why eat oysters instead of just taking a zinc supplement? Always remember, no nutrient functions in isolation, and supplementing single minerals can interfere with the levels of many other micronutrients. Zinc works in combination with copper, iron, calcium, folate, and vitamin A. Supplementing one without the others can lead to imbalances in the body. Luckily, oysters provide all the other cofactors the body needs to digest, absorb, and use zinc. Learn more about this mineral in the Micronutrient Information Center of Oregon State University.
Some ways we enjoy oysters:
- Crown Prince smoked oysters make Mark Sisson’s list of top keto-friendly snacks.
- You also can enjoy them with a slice of cheese and hot sauce.
- Ketogasm's Keto Fried Oysters recipe
- How to shuck and eat oysters
- Oysters with a Champagne Mignonette
These small cold-water fish are a must-have in your keto pantry! Not only are sardines rich in Vitamin D, Selenium and B12, they also are one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are classified as an ‘essential fatty acid’ meaning, they cannot be made by the body, so they have to be consumed in the diet. And it turns out, oily cold-water fish are one of the best sources of omega-3s you can eat.
Omega-3s support a healthy bacterial balance in the gut (remember that immune function and gut health are closely linked), cardiovascular function, eye health, brain health, nervous system, and immune function.
One of the most important ways that omega-3s support your immune system is by managing and balancing inflammation. There is a delicate balance in the body of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, ideally a 1-1 ratio. Both are necessary in the diet, but in modern day society, overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids (primarily coming from vegetable oils) increases our need for the balancing properties of omega-3 fatty acids. Bottom line: Too many omega-6 fatty acids increases inflammation in the body. You probably need more omega-3.
In the event of a sickness, inflammation in the body increases by design, which is exactly what you want. This response helps the body fight off infection, heal, and recover. This type of inflammation brings heat, blood flow, immune cells and nutrients to the site of infection or damage. After the inflammatory event is over, the body should reduce the inflammation and clean up the damage.
Think of omega-3s like the cleanup crew after a car accident. They support many types of immune cells that are in charge of restoring balance after an inflammatory response. With a lack of these critical nutrients, inflammation in the body can remain high, which in turn can contribute to cardiovascular damage, immune dysfunction, accelerated aging, metabolic dysfunction, and more.
Ideas for incorporating sardines into your diet:
- Buy tins of wild-caught sardines from Wild Planet, Patagonia Provisions, Crown Prince, or other high-quality brands.
- Read a review of the best brands.
- Make Patricia Daly’s Creamy Sardine Pate or this 5-Minute Keto Fried Sardines Recipe with Olives
Did you know, immune cells are created with amino acids? Since all proteins are derived from combinations of amino acids, this macronutrient is critical to consider when you want to give your immune system a boost. The body breaks down and uses proteins to build its immune cells, as well as to maintain muscle mass.
In the Senza content feed, we emphasize the importance of hitting your daily protein target when following the keto way of eating. Protein provides the structure for your existing muscles, helps you feel full, and assists with exercise recovery. The conventional wisdom to eat a “moderate” amount of protein causes many people to under-eat this macronutrient, which can result in losing muscle mass instead of body fat, as well as compromise the strength of your immune system.
Protein needs are determined by your specific age, gender, body composition, and exercise routine. Ignore advice to make protein a certain percent of your overall caloric intake. Instead, use a keto macro calculator, such as the one built into the Senza app, which will recommend an amount of protein in grams per day. Your goal is to meet or exceed that amount each day, even when intermittent fasting.
Which proteins are best for your immune system?
The most complete, easy to digest, and nutrient-dense sources of protein come from animals: meat, seafood, eggs, dairy. Plants contain much smaller amounts of protein and usually with higher carb levels and an amino acid combination that is incomplete.
How to include more protein in your keto diet:
- Make sure each meal includes a bioavailable source of protein.
- Include a variety of proteins throughout your week, from meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy.
- Keep an eye on your protein intake throughout the day, and add snacks or larger serving sizes of protein at each meal, if needed to hit your target.
- Remember that if you are eating in a compressed eating window (intermittent fasting) or only eating one meal per day (OMAD), you still should try to have the full amount of protein.
A few protein-rich recipes, created in the Senza test kitchen:
This versatile tropical oil has gained popularity in the keto community. Coconut oil is commonly used in fat bombs, in bulletproof-style keto coffee, and as a medium-heat cooking oil.
The immune-supportive properties of coconut oil come mainly from the specific types of fat it contains, called lauric acid and monolaurin. Together, these fats make up 50 percent of coconut oil by weight. These compounds have been found to help break down and impede replication of fungus, bacteria, and viral particles. They also have been shown to support normal, balanced inflammation in the body, as well as important to heart, skin, and digestive health.
Lauric acid has a specific fatty acid chain that’s transported directly to the liver, converted to energy (aka ketones), and used by the body rather than being stored as fat. (Lauric acid also is the fat that's found in popular MCT oil supplements.) By contrast, most other types of fat require more time, energy, and resources for the body to break them down into usable forms.
Some of our favorite ways to use coconut oil:
- As a replacement for vegetable oil in keto-friendly baked goods
- As a medium-heat cooking fat that adds great flavor to a skillet of sautéed low-carb veggies
- Lemon Protein Bites
- Morning Keto Mocha
- Keto Bulletproof Chai Tea
You’re likely well aware of the culinary uses for the aromatic allium we call garlic. But did you know it also has many immune supportive properties? Garlic compounds are known to be antibacterial, antiparasitic, and helpful in supporting cardiovascular, metabolic, and digestive functions. One of the properties garlic is known for is the compound allicin. Other alliums including onions, shallots, leeks, and chives contain this same compound but in much smaller concentrations than garlic. Allicin is responsible for garlic's pungent taste and aroma, as well as many of its immune-supportive qualities.
So what does it do exactly? Allicin helps with bacteria balance in the gut, fighting off bacteria and viruses, and supporting important immune cells. In order to activate the benefits of garlic, there’s a special trick you can use: Allicin is released when you chop the garlic cloves and let it sit. This step allows the enzymes to interact and create more allicin. So next time you’re using garlic, chop it up, let it sit for 10 minutes, then use it.
A note for those with sensitive digestive systems, plants within the allium family (garlic, onion, leeks, chives) can contribute to bloating, gas and pain. You can still enjoy the immune supportive properties by using garlic infused olive oil, see the recipe below!
Learn more about the science of garlic:
- Immunomodulation and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Garlic Compounds
- The effects of allium sativum on immunity within the scope of COVID-19 infection
- Micronutrient Information Center: Garlic
- Garlic Infused Olive Oil
- How to Make Garlic Paste
- Lemon & Garlic Broccoli
- Low Carb Garlic Chicken
- Keto Garlic Spinach Saute
Wild blueberries are different from conventional berries in several ways: They are smaller in size than regular blueberries, higher in antioxidants, lower in carbs, and they taste a little more tart. Unless you live in a place where wild blueberries grow, like Maine or Nova Scotia, your best bet is to look for them in the freezer section of your local health food store or supermarket. Popular brands include Wyman’s, Cascadian Farms, Woodstock Organic, 365, and Trader Joe’s. Whether you are following a keto diet or not, these berries deliver flavor, nutrition, and a variety of immune-supportive compounds. Blueberries also can contribute to cardiovascular, gut, skin, brain, and oral health.
You may have heard that wild blueberries contain high levels of antioxidants, particularly vitamin C. And you may even be supplementing vitamin C already during the winter months. But watch out for vitamin C powders, drinks, and supplements because most are derived from genetically modified corn! This is a problem in and of itself, but it also brings about the issue of absorbability.
Whole foods that are high in vitamin C contain other compounds, including quercetin, rutin, and hesperidin. Although these compounds aren’t well known, they do play a critical role in assisting with the absorption and utilization of vitamin C in the body. Get more of these compounds into your diet and you may find that the body does a better job of balancing inflammation, building stronger immune cells, and recovering from immune system activation.
Check out these Senza keto recipes featuring wild blueberries:
Discover More Keto-Friendly Foods & Recipes
Make sure your next grocery haul prioritizes some of these immune-boosting foods, and look for more related recipes in the Senza Recipe Box. Here are some additional resources to learn more about keto foods and cooking low-carb meals:
- Browse our list of the most keto-friendly foods by searching Top 100 as the brand in the Senza Food Journal or Recipe Box.
- Get Senza's Keto Food Shopping List.
- Browse our list of Practical Keto Snacks.
- Read up on popular supplements for keto: Take It or Leave It?
Content provided by Senza is not medical advice. It is intended for informational and educational purposes only