Losing weight and boosting your immune system do not have to be separate goals. Like the tide that lifts all boats, practicing good diet and lifestyle habits will keep you healthy from the inside out. Here are 5 things that you can do to gain health and lose weight at the same time.
Quick Tips to Boost Immune System
- Colorful fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants that protect your cell’s DNA from damage that can lead to a weakened immune system.
- Empty calories in foods like cookies, cakes, and candies, are void of vitamins and minerals and take up resources that could otherwise be used for repair and protection.
- Sleep deprivation alters your hunger hormones and your immune system.
- Intermittent fasting reduces chronic inflammation, which is a burden on your immune system and depletes resources that you need to fight off illness.
- Fasting and eating healthy improve your gut health, which is vital for weight loss and immunity
5 Ways to Boost Immune System as You Lose Weight [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- Which fruits and vegetables have the most antioxidants and how they boost your immune system.
- How sleep affects your weight and immune system.
- How to improve your gut health!
What Eating a Rainbow Really Means
We’ve all heard it said that if you want to ward off illness, you should eat a rainbow every day, which is a catchy way of reminding us to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
What you’re really being told to do is eat your antioxidants. Colorful plant foods are rich in cell-protecting substances called antioxidants. They are most prevalent in plants because plants make them as a natural protection against UV light from the sun and other environmental stressors (1).
When you eat the plants, the antioxidants are transferred to you and provide you with a similar type of protection. Antioxidants defend your cells against free radicals.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that can damage your cells, including the cell’s DNA, which is what can lead to a weakened immune system.
Eating a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables will support your immune system, but those foods contain carbs. If you follow a low-carb or keto diet, you need to be selective in your food choices.
As for fruits, berries are a good choice because they are relatively low in carbs yet have very rich deep colors, which indicates that they are rich in antioxidants.
When it comes to vegetables, you want to focus on non-starchy vegetables with vibrant colors. Dark leafy greens are more nutritious than pale iceberg lettuce. Different colored peppers will provide your body with a variety of antioxidants. I have a blog post on 17 low-carb vegetables that will provide you with more choices.
Even though free radicals are looked at as bad apples, we do need some in our bodies. In fact, they can be used by our immune cells to help destroy bacteria.
The problem is that we tend to do things that create too many free radicals. That’s when the damage occurs and we open ourselves up to illness. Just like plants, environmental stressors are problems for us.
Things like too much sun exposure, smoking, and a poor diet that contains a lot of refined and processed foods are what lead to damage. Your immune system and your weight do best when you ditch the empty calories.
Avoid Empty Calories
Whole foods that have been minimally processed contain both macro and micronutrients.
Macronutrients are where we get the vast majority of our calories. They are the carbs, fats, and proteins in food.
Micronutrients are the non-caloric vitamins and minerals in the foods. When a food is processed and refined, the micronutrients are lost, and this is when we say that the food is nothing more than empty calories. Examples being soda, refined bread, and the 3C’s: cookies, cakes, and candies.
These types of foods are obviously bad for your waistline, and you can probably guess that their lack of micronutrients makes them rather useless for your health.
Beyond that, these junk foods often contain chemical preservatives and flavorings that your body must break down and eliminate, which requires resources that could otherwise be used for repair and protection.
Whether the food came from a plant or an animal, you are always better off eating foods that still resemble their source. A salmon filet is going to be better than a fish stick and vegetables are going to be better than veggie chips.
Sleep Yourself Thin and Healthy
When life gets busy and stressful, sleep is one of the first things to suffer. While we all know that sleep is important, most of us overlook how much it affects our weight and our immune system.
Being sleep deprived changes your hunger hormones and boosts your cravings for junk food. You have two main hunger hormones; they are leptin and ghrelin.
Leptin suppresses your appetite and ghrelin stimulates it. When you lack adequate sleep, leptin goes down, and ghrelin goes up, leaving you feeling hungrier than usual throughout the day.
On top of that, the hunger you feel when you are sleep deprived is less inhibited, which makes it more likely that you’ll go for the impulsive pizza delivery rather than the home-cooked meal.
As for your immune system, sleep deprivation weakens your defenses against illness, and noticeable changes can happen after just one night of disturbed sleep.
A study subjected 46 healthy men to a single night of partial sleep deprivation by keeping them awake until 3am. They found that even this modest disturbance of sleep produced a reduction of natural immune responses and white blood cell function (2).
While no one has nailed down exactly how much sleep we need per night, the general consensus is that we do best when we get between 7 to 9 hours a night.
There are some natural supplements that can improve sleep like melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium. It is also a good practice to go to bed and wake up at about the same time every day, even on the weekends.
You also want to help your body wind down in the evenings by avoiding food 3 hours before bedtime.
By setting this 3-hour rule, you avoid empty calories from after-dinner drinks and snacks, and you give your body time to complete digestion of your last meal, which allows your core temperature to drop so that you can drop into a deep sleep. This 3-hour rule also serves as the start of a fast, which leads to our next strategy, which is intermittent fasting.
Practice Intermittent Fasting
Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool for weight loss. It is also a powerful tool for better health, especially if you start your fast early in the evening. A large study on women found that each 10 percent increase in the calories they ate after 5pm resulted in a 3 percent increase in inflammation (3).
Acute inflammation is actually a part of the immune system’s response to an injury or infection. But chronic inflammation that can result from a poor diet and lifestyle factors is a burden on your immune system and depletes resources that you need to fight off illness.
Intermittent fasting is worthwhile, and you can start with a simple 12 hour fast. To do this, you can stop eating after dinner and then delay breakfast until 12 hours have passed. When you feel comfortable at this level, you can work up to 14 to 16 hours of fasting.
Improve Gut Health
Fasting and eating healthy will also improve your gut health, which is vital for weight loss and immunity. A healthy gut is one that contains an abundant and diverse community of bacteria.
While we don’t typically think of our digestive tract and immune system as being linked, the surprising fact is that about 75% of your body’s immune cells are found in your gut.
As for how the gut impacts your weight. A study looked at pairs of female twins in which one of the twins was overweight and the other was not. They found that the overweight twin had a lower diversity of bacteria in her gut than her sibling (4).
The bacteria of the gut feed off of remnants of undigested food. Foods that feed the bacteria include high fiber foods like the colorful fruits and vegetables I mentioned earlier as well as fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
Interestingly, not eating may also have a positive effect on your gut. Studies have shown that restricting food intake for periods of the day, as you do with intermittent fasting, may positively influence the diversity and abundance of gut bacteria (5).
Viral and bacterial infections can sneak up on us quickly, so it is important that you have a strong immune system in place to ward off these invaders.
Fortunately, the actions that give you a healthy immune system can also help you lose weight. If you need a place to start, you can download my free 4 daily habits for weight loss, which will get you started with the tips we discussed here.
(1) Kasote, Deepak M., et al. “Significance of antioxidant potential of plants and its relevance to therapeutic applications.” International journal of biological sciences 11.8 (2015): 982.
(2) Irwin, Michael, et al. “Partial night sleep deprivation reduces natural killer and cellular immune responses in humans.” The FASEB journal 10.5 (1996): 643-653.
(3) Marinac, Catherine R., et al. “Frequency and circadian timing of eating may influence biomarkers of inflammation and insulin resistance associated with breast cancer risk.” PloS one 10.8 (2015).
(4) Turnbaugh, Peter J., et al. “A core gut microbiome in obese and lean twins.” nature 457.7228 (2009): 480-484.
(5) Kaczmarek, Jennifer L., Sharon V. Thompson, and Hannah D. Holscher. “Complex interactions of circadian rhythms, eating behaviors, and the gastrointestinal microbiota and their potential impact on health.” Nutrition reviews 75.9 (2017): 673-682.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated in 1991 with a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Palmer College.