Supporting your immune system starts with the foods you eat, and the good news is that many of the best foods for your immune system are low in carbs so you can continue to work toward your weight loss goal. In this post, I share 10 low carb immune-boosting foods.
List of 10 Low Carb Foods for Your Immune System
10 Low Carb Immune Foods [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- The role of Vitamin C and Zinc in the body.
- How gut health improves immunity.
- Ten low-carb foods that will boost your immune system!
Immunity: Bacteria vs Viruses
Bacteria and viruses can get inside of us and make us sick. Both of these microorganisms will activate your immune system. If a bacteria is the culprit, your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic to help you recover.
A virus can’t be treated with antibiotics, in the same way, so your defense has to come from your immune system. The time to strengthen your immune system is now, not when the next virus is upon us. Fortunately, there are many foods that you can eat regularly that will support immunity.
Low Carb Foods High in Vitamin C
Let’s start with low-carb foods that are particularly high in vitamin C, which is an antioxidant and a nutrient that several cells of your immune system need to function correctly.
Red Bell Peppers
You may be surprised to learn that red bell peppers contain a lot of vitamin C. If you slice up a cup (92g) of red pepper and add it to a salad or snack on it with some full-fat dip, you’ll get 117mg of vitamin C.
To give you an idea of how impressive that is, consider that the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C is 90 mg a day for adult men and 75 mg for adult women (If you are a smoker that amount increases by 35mg per day).
Less than a cup of chopped red pepper will exceed your daily need for vitamin C, and you’ll only be consuming about 5 carbs, 2 of which are fiber.
Citrus fruits are what most of us think of when it comes to getting vitamin C. Lemons are low-carb citrus fruits. A medium-sized lemon has about 30mg of vitamin C and around 5 total carbs (5.4grams carbs/1.6g fiber).
Lemon can be squeezed into a cup of tea, which is an immune-boosting drink. Tea provides cell-protecting antioxidants as well as an amino acid called L-theanine that has been shown to support the immune system.
Strawberries are another great low-carb fruit that is packed with vitamin C. A cup of strawberry halves (152g) supplies you with 89 mg, which is your entire day’s vitamin C requirement.
That cup contains about 12 grams of carbs, 3 of which are fiber. Frozen berries are a fine alternative to fresh berries if you are concerned about spoilage.
Low-Carb Foods for Gut Health
If you mix strawberries into a cup of full-fat yogurt that contains live and active cultures, you will give your immune system an additional boost. Yogurt is not high in vitamin C, but those live cultures feed your gut bacteria, and 70–80% of the body’s immune cells are found in the gut.
The growth and proliferation of good bacteria in your gut is going to make for a stronger immune system overall.
Bone broth is also good for gut health because it is rich in collagen, which forms gelatin when it’s cooked down. Collagen and gelatin contain glutamine, which is an amino acid that helps maintain the barrier between the inside of your intestines and the rest of your body.
Broth made from chicken bones may be why chicken soup is thought of as a remedy for a cold. Research done at the University of Nebraska put chicken soup to the test.
They found that it has a mild anti-inflammatory effect, which may be why it seems to reduce symptoms when we get a cold or upper respiratory tract infection (1).
Low-Carb Foods High in Antioxidants
Mushrooms are packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that fight infections and viruses. They contain plant nutrients that enhance a type of immune cell known as natural killer cells, which are programmed to attack and destroy virus-infected cells.
As discussed in a previous blog post, Mushrooms are best eaten cooked. You can give the dish an immune boost by cooking the mushrooms with garlic.
Garlic is often praised for its healing properties. It may be particularly good at protecting you from colds and the flu because of its high concentration of allicin. Allicin is a compound produced when garlic is minced or crushed that boosts the function of your immunity.
Low-Carb Immune Foods High in Zinc
Zinc has a reputation as a nutrient that protects against and shortens the duration of respiratory tract infections like the common cold.
In a randomized controlled trial, young children who were hospitalized for acute lower respiratory infections were given 30 mg of zinc a day. The study found that the zinc treatment cut their illness short and allowed them to leave the hospital an average of two days earlier than the kids in the placebo group (4).
Shellfish, like oysters, are particularly high in zinc, but they are not exactly everyday foods for most people.
Fortunately, zinc is high in a food item that most of have in our freezers, hamburger. A 4-ounce (112g) beef patty has more than 7 mg of zinc, which comes close to meeting the RDA for zinc (8 mg a day for women and 11 mg a day for men).
Hemp seeds are a plant-based food that is high in zinc with one tablespoon containing about one mg of zinc. They have a mild flavor, which makes them an easy addition to recipes.
For instance, when I make meatloaf at home, I add a tablespoon of hempseed to the recipe. Because of their mild flavor, they can be added to yogurt or salad.
Another diet advantage that we get from hemp seeds is that they provide us with a good dose of healthy fats and protein.
If you follow a low-carb diet and you don’t have hemp seeds in your house, you might want to consider grabbing some at your local grocery store or places like Costco. Each tablespoon has about 5 grams of fat, 3 grams of protein and less than 1 carb.
Low-Carb Food High in Vitamin E
We talked about the roles that vitamin C and zinc play in supporting your immune system, but we can’t overlook vitamin E. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant and plays an essential role in the development of immature T cells, which are a type of white blood cell (5).
The RDA of vitamin E is 15mg. One ounce of almonds, which is about 24, has more than 7mg and only 6 grams of carbs. 3.5 of which are fiber. Almonds are easy to carry with you as a snack, and like hemp seeds, slivered almonds can be added to things like salad and yogurt.
When viruses capture the headlines, we like to look for supplements that will give our immune system a boost, and some supplements do that.
However, if your overall diet is high in refined and processed foods, your body needs to divert resources to deal with the inflammation, and the supplements go to waste. A powerful immune system requires good whole foods, and fortunately, the needed foods are low in carbs and taste great.
If you’d like more guidance on how to jumpstart your healthy diet, you can download my free 0,1,2,3 strategy for weight loss.
(1) Rennard, Barbara O., et al. “Chicken soup inhibits neutrophil chemotaxis in vitro.” Chest 118.4 (2000): 1150-1157.
(2) Borlinghaus, Jan, et al. “Allicin: chemistry and biological properties.” Molecules 19.8 (2014): 12591-12618.
(3) Arreola, Rodrigo, et al. “Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds.” Journal of immunology research 2015 (2015).
(4) Rerksuppaphol, Sanguansak, and Lakkana Rerksuppaphol. “A randomized controlled trial of zinc supplementation in the treatment of acute respiratory tract infection in Thai children.” Pediatric Reports 11.2 (2019).
(5) Moriguchi, Satoru, and Mikako Muraga. “Vitamin E and immunity.” (2000): 305-336.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated in 1991 with a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Palmer College.