Author: Beth Zupec-Kania, RDN, CD
COVID-19 is an unwelcomed virus that affects everyone on the planet in some manner. Aside from staying on top of the news, practicing stellar hygiene, and avoiding crowds and people who carry this highly contagious virus, you may be wondering what else you can do to prevent yourself from contracting Coronavirus. Did you know that it’s possible to get the virus but not get sick? It’s true! You can increase your resistance to viruses through healthy lifestyle choices to optimize your immune system. In addition, research shows that nutritional ketosis may offer its own immune function benefits.
Viruses are a parasite that secretly attack our bodies, hack into cells and multiply like crazy. Glutathione is an antioxidant within every cell of your body. It not only destroys viruses, it can clean up after “the battle” to restore the body’s natural immune function. Its known as the body’s “master antioxidant”. Our bodies continuously make glutathione but we can also get it from food. The best low-carb sources of glutathione are: asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, okra, spinach and squash. I’ve bolded the foods below that are also high in Vitamin C which is helpful in preserving glutathione.
Vitamin C has one of the most critical functions in the health of immune cells. White blood cells, also called leukocytes, are cells in the immune system that protect the body against viruses. Vitamin C, an antioxidant, is needed every day to replenish these cells and keep them strong. If you are following a ketogenic diet, your body will use Vitamin C better. Vitamin C is similar in structure to glucose. On a ketogenic diet, you’re blood glucose is lower than on a high-carbohydrate diet, therefore, Vitamin C doesn’t have to compete with as much glucose to become activated. Excellent low- carb sources include: bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, sprouts and chicken liver. I’ve bolded those that are also high in glutathione (described above).
Vitamin D is important for healthy immune function by activating fighter cells called “T cells”. This unique vitamin is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because you can get it from sun exposure through your skin. You’ll likely not need to worry about a low vitamin D level if you live in a warm climate where the sun shines regularly and you’re outdoors with your arms and legs exposed. If you live in a northern climate, you can still get good Vitamin D exposure through a south-facing window during winter when the sun is out. The best way to know if you have enough Vitamin D is to get your blood level checked. Glutathione (described above) is needed for Vitamin D to perform as an immune system booster. Salmon, swordfish, tuna, organ meats and egg yolks are great sources of Vitamin D. Mushrooms are the highest of plant-food sources.
Most of our immune function resides in the gut where there is a garden of microbes that are constantly working. Probiotics from carefully fermented food feed these microbes. Fermented foods are lower in carbohydrate than the foods that they were derived from. For example cabbages has 3 grams of carbohydrate in a cup while the same amount fermented into sauerkraut has less than 1 gram of carbohydrate. Dill pickles, olives, kimchee and umeboshi (fermented plum) are also excellent sources of probiotics and are very low in carbohydrate. Even just a small amount added to your daily raw salad is a good dose of probiotics! I encourage daily food sources of probiotics because they also contain fiber and other nutrients which probiotic pills don’t have. One of the least expensive sources of fermented food is apple cider vinegar. Add 2-3 teaspoons daily mixed into your water, soup or smoothie to give a boost to your body’s microbial garden.
Gingerol is the main bioactive compound in ginger responsible for much of its medicinal benefits. It has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects among other benefits. One study compared people who consumed fresh versus dried ginger who were also exposed to a respiratory virus. The fresh ginger had a more positive effect in preventing illness, especially when taken before cold symptoms appeared.
Ginger tea: Buy a fresh ginger root the size of an adults palm. Scrub the root under running water then slice – you can leave the skin on. Use a one inch piece for each cup of water. Place sliced ginger and water in a small sauce pan and boil for 5 minutes (weak tea) or 10 minutes (strong tea), remove from heat. If you’ve made a large batch, pour the tea and cooked ginger into a covered glass container and keep in your refrigerator for up to 1 week. Strain before drinking; serve cold or warmed. You may add ginger tea into other beverages or soup.
Olive oil is packed with nutrients. Not only does it contain mostly monosaturated fats that are good for your heart, it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Olive oil is a great source of antioxidants Vitamins E and K, both important for bone and brain health. There are three main grades of olive oil; refined, virgin, and extra virgin. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed or refined type. Extra virgin olive oil is especially high in phenolic compounds which play a vital role in fighting against cancer, inflammation and degenerative diseases. I recommend homemade olive oil dressings for everyone who follows a ketogenic diet. My favorite dressing is very simple and can be made and stored in a glass jar.
Low-carb Vinaigrette Pour into a glass jar with a tight fitting lid; ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil and ¼ cup wine vinegar (which has negligible carb). Add a pinch of salt and a large pinch of dried herbs then shake well and refrigerate. Good quality 100% olive oil will firm up like soft butter (this may take 48 hours). Stir mixture with a spatula before serving and scoop out your hearty keto serving onto raw salads, cooked vegetables or protein foods. Keep refrigerated.
Total body rejuvenation
Good quality sleep is extremely important to allow your body to regenerate healthy immune cells. There is no substitute for sleep. Seven to 9 hours is recommended for adults (more for kids). Going to bed and waking up at about the same time is also helpful in getting your body’s circadian rhythm in check. There are several therapies available to help improve sleep and sleep quality. Many people who become keto adapted find that they have better quality sleep, possibly through reduced inflammation and improved hormone balance. Exercise is also a method of rejuvenation by improving blood flow which leads to better use of nutrients, better digestion and improved immune function.
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Disclaimer: This post is intended to educate on preventative measures against becoming sick from COVID-19. Please discuss personal health decisions with your licensed health practitioner.