We all know the comforting feel-better foods to turn to when we’re under the weather. Orange juice, chicken soup, and honey-lemon-ginger tea are tried-and-true staples. These soothe and nurture us with immune-boosting nutrients.

But what if there was an effective method for combating viral infections before that first telltale sniffle or annoying throat tickle? Thankfully, there is, and just like our go-to flu soothers, it’s something we do everyday anyway: eat.

It’s easy to include immunity boosting foods when we focus on the most enigmatic color of the rainbow: indigo.

Black, blue, and purple foods are proven to strengthen our immune systems due to the anthocyanins that create their beautifully deep, dark pigments. While these colors enhance the visual appeal of our meals, they are also rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, and other compounds that enrich our health.  

Jazz up your plate and elevate your immunity with these 11 anthocyanin rich foods. Serving suggestions and recipes are included to provide ultimate ease.

1. Blueberries

Not just for smoothies and cereal, these jewel-toned berries give salads extra life. Sprinkle them atop a bowl full of baby spinach, chopped pecans, bleu cheese, red onion, and raspberry vinaigrette. 

2. Blackberries

For a weekday treat that feels as indulgent as Sunday brunch, stir these into whole-grain pancake batter, or mix into probiotic-rich plain Greek yogurt for a double-dose of immunity boosting benefits. 

Special note: Finding fresh berries at this time of year may prove tricky. Frozen berries are just as effective and delicious. 

image courtesy of Canva

3. Concord Grapes

Sweet and juicy, they pair perfectly with crisp apples and snappy celery in this light chicken salad recipe. Another option: assemble a simple charcuterie board with grapes, figs, blueberries, and assortments of cheeses and hummus with whole wheat pitas for dipping.

photo by Leah Borski

4. Purple Cabbage

Its vibrant color and robust crunch make this an easy choice over its pale green counterpart. The sturdy leaves are an excellent substitute for your favorite bread, wrap, or chip.

Cut them into triangle-shaped bowls (as shown above) and embrace their versatility.

Load them up with your favorite taco toppings for a healthier version of this popular weeknight meal. Dunk them into creamy French onion dip or use them to scoop up chunky black bean & avocado salsa.  

5. Figs

These teardrop-shaped gems are packed with immunity boosting components that fight everything from fungus to bacteria.

They have a mild sweetness and can be enjoyed fresh or dried.

Add figs to a salad of hearty greens, chopped cabbage, cubes of roasted butternut squash, red onion, celery, pumpkin seeds, and crumbled nitrate-free bacon — then drizzle with your favorite apple cider vinegar dressing or poppyseed dressing. 

6. Eggplant

Eggplant’s chlorogenic acid supports immunity through its antimicrobial and antiviral activities. 

If some fried concoction is the only way you’ve experienced this veggie (that’s technically a fruit), you’re missing out.

Allow me to recommend this alternative to the traditional grease sponge. Slice eggplant into ½-inch pieces, leaving the peel intact to ensure you’re getting those immune boosting nutrients. Grill or bread-and-bake, then top with rich marinara and melty mozzarella for a healthier take on eggplant parmesan. 

7. Purple Carrots

Subbing these for their orange cousins is just plain fun. Dark on the outside and pale yellow inside, these crunchy treats are perfect for snacking or dressing up any recipe that calls for carrots.

Try roasting them with honey and rosemary for a beautiful and savory-sweet accompaniment to baked chicken or grilled salmon.  

image courtesy of Canva

8. Beluga Lentils

Lentils are available in a rainbow of colors, but the Beluga (black) variety boasts elevated levels of nutrients, including something the others do not — immunity-boosting anthocyanin.

Besides being a powerhouse of nutrition, this pantry staple is easily integrated into literally any dietary lifestyle. Add to soups, stews, and curries in place of –or in addition to– meats or beans.

Personally, I was never a fan of lentils until a friend served me this bright and flavorful bruschetta.

Combine 1 c. cooked, cooled lentils with the following:
½ c. diced vine-ripened tomatoes
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. lemon juice

Gently toss to mix, then serve with stoneground wheat crackers, crispy baguette slices, purple cabbage ‘chips’ (see above), and/or sweet bell pepper wedges.

9. Black Beans

With their mild flavor and a more delicate texture than that of most bean varieties, these pair well with bright flavors like lime and cilantro, as well as earthy and fiery spices like chili powder and cumin.

Stir them into chilis, soups, and stews. One of my family’s favorite black bean studded snacks are these Black Bean Quesadillas with Mango Avocado Salsa.

photo by Leah Borski

10. Forbidden Rice

Higher in protein and iron than other varieties, this black rice earned its nickname because of its use as a source of health and longevity, believed to have been historically reserved explicitly for the Chinese emperor. Today, we are fortunate to have access to the many health benefits it provides.

Black rice creates visually stunning dishes when used in combination with brightly colored vegetables like carrots, broccoli, sweet bell peppers (red, orange, yellow), green beans, red or green onions, snow peas, or radishes.

image courtesy of Canva

11. Black Quinoa

Higher in protein and fiber than rice, quinoa comes in a variety of colors including red, white, and, you guessed it — anthocyanin rich black.

Similarly to forbidden rice, black quinoa creates eye-appeal in dishes when paired with colorful vegetables. Use it in place of rice in any recipe, or to add a satiating, earthy element to salads or casseroles.

Food matters when it comes to our health.

There has never been a more important time to educate ourselves, take care of ourselves, and nourish ourselves well. We can maintain a level of wellbeing that keeps us at the top of our game, simply by being intentional with our food choices.

The foods and recipes in this list will help. Use them as a launching point to kick you off in the right direction, or integrate them into the healthy eating habits you’ve already established. 

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