Winter is here and if you’re planning to double down on your immune health strategy this season, you’re not alone!
But if you’ve ever perused the immunity aisle at a health food store or pharmacy, you’ve likely noticed that taking care of your immune system isn’t exactly straightforward. There are tablets, powders and syrups. There are supplements to take at the start of an illness and others to take in between. There are extracts, isolates and concentrates; herbs, berries and roots. The products and possibilities are nearly endless.
So what’s a health-conscious shopper to do?
While I keep some familiar staples on hand for acute symptoms (here’s looking at you, Alka-Seltzer!) my everyday immunity plan is much simpler than what the pharmacy has to offer: nutrient-dense whole foods. Not only do our bodies seem to benefit the most from nutrients like vitamin C when they’re obtained in their whole food form, but this strategy also helps us avoid the synthetic fillers and additives that many supplements contain. By boosting my diet with certain superfoods, I feel confident that while I might not be able to stave off every illness, I will at least have set up my immune system for long-term success.
When I’m looking for foods for immunity, I’m thinking primarily about vitamin C, powerful antioxidants and certain polysaccharides. In this regard, it’s hard to beat richly colored berries for their concentrated and high-quality nutrition. Here are my four go-to favorites:
1. Camu Berry Powder
This beautiful, tart little berry grows along the banks of the Amazon and spends a good chunk of the year submerged from seasonal flooding. It’s absolutely packed with antioxidants and an abundance of vitamin C. In fact, just one teaspoon of camu berry powder contains 760% of the DV for this nutrient! It would be redundant to expound on the necessity of vitamin C for immune health, so I’ll just leave this one here.
This berry powder is quite tart and stringent, so I like using it to brighten up an otherwise mild-mannered smoothie or bowl, like one with banana and greens. It also complements tropical flavors quite well, like in this mango smoothie.
2. Acai Berry Powder
Acai has had some interesting research behind its ability to support immune health, which it seems to do primarily through high amounts of antioxidants and certain polysaccharides that increase the activity of our innate immune system. Studies have shown that these polysaccharides, in particular, can boost the production of T cells, interleukin-12, and certain white blood cells, like macrophages and neutrophils.
Acai berry powder is a deep, dark purple, thanks to the potent anthocyanin antioxidants found in its skin. Its flavor is somewhere between berry, chocolate and wine with a slight bitterness that pairs perfectly with cacao. The high amount of fibers, amino acids and essential fatty acids give this powder a slightly gritty texture, so it’s best blended into thick liquids like smoothies or incorporated into raw treats like these acai energy bites. A treat a day for immunity? What’s not to love!
3. Elderberry Powder
Elderberry is hardly a new kid on the block when it comes to immunity. In fact, this widespread berry has been used as an immune booster around the globe for literally hundreds of years! If that’s not a testament to its effectiveness, I don’t know what is.
Elderberry is most often used at the start of an illness to help reduce the length and severity of symptoms, especially those related to the flu or upper respiratory infections. Its combination of flavonoids, antioxidants and vitamin C work as a serious stimulant to activate the immune system and inflammatory processes needed to fight off viral and bacterial invaders.
This little berry is quite tart and slightly bitter, and is most often sold in sweetened syrup form. I prefer using elderberry powder for maximum nutrition and stirring it into a Greek yogurt bowl with a touch of honey or making a simple, soothing tea.
4. Acerola Cherry Powder
Acerola cherry – actually not a cherry at all but a bright, slightly misshapen, red/pink berry – is a tart little fruit from the Central America region where sailors in centuries-past consumed it to prevent scurvy. This is another fruit impressively high in vitamin C with one cup of the fresh fruit providing 1,800% of the DV! It’s equally rich in various antioxidants and other phytonutrients, making it an excellent choice for all-around immune health, and one of three immune-supporting superfruit powders found in Navitas' Superfood+ Immunity Blend.
Acerola’s flavor is bright, berry-like and slightly tart, making this fruit a perfect addition for fruit-based smoothies, bowls and juices. It’s also sneaky tasty when shaken into a vinaigrette and drizzled over a salad!
Boosting our immune health is serious business, but don’t let anyone tell you that it can’t be delicious as well! Case in point: this orange & cream immunity smoothie recipe – a blend so delicious and full of nutrients, you'll want to whip it up ASAP to make your immune system (and your taste buds) happy.
Looking for more delicious ways to incorporate these and other top immune-boosting superfoods into your wellness routine? Check out 4 Superfoods That Support Immune Health (and How to Use Them!).
Author Bio: Kali Sink is an outdoor enthusiast, foodie and animal lover who was raised on the New Hampshire seacoast and now lives in Maine with her husband. As a horse-obsessed kid and eventual Equine Science major at the University of New Hampshire, Kali's first foray into the food world was as a waitress. She ultimately returned to school to study nutrition, eventually graduating as a certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant from Hawthorne University and stumbling into the natural food industry along the way.