The #1 Best Leafy Green for Your Immune System, Says Dietitian
Cold and flu season is officially upon us. As the weather changes and our bodies will try to adapt to the new temperatures, our immune systems might begin to weaken. Whether you're feeling a little run down or so ill that you can't muster the strength to get out of bed, getting sick is never an enjoyable experience. So, when searching for solutions to help stave off illness or remedies that can facilitate healing when under the weather, adding more immune-boosting foods to your diet is one approach to improving your health.
Leafy greens are one of those food choices that can support your body's defense. And though fall and winter are prime seasons to be extra vigilant about the state of your immune system, leafy greens can reinforce your health all 365 days of the year. According to Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LDN, CLEC, CPT, and author of The First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility, all varieties of leafy green provide some sort of health benefit.
"Any leafy green will provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other key nutrients to your diet," Manaker told Eat This, Not That!
However, when it comes to your immune system, there is one particular leafy green that stands out above the rest.
"No matter which green leafy you choose, including more into your diet is likely a good idea, assuming you don't have an underlying condition that requires you to limit this type of food. But among the greens out there, my favorite choice is kale," she continues.
How kale's vitamins and nutrients support your immune system
What makes kale the best leafy green for your immune system is the fact that it is packed with vitamins and minerals that are essential to fortifying your immune health.
"When you don't have adequate levels of immune-supporting nutrients, your body may not be able to perform properly, which may lead to your immune health suffering," Manaker explains. "All leafy greens will provide a boost of nutrients. And among the list of options, kale is one that is incredibly nutrient-dense."
According to Manaker, kale contains two essential nutrients that can aid in bolstering your immune system: vitamins A and C. Vitamin A, in particular, is great for maintaining healthy skin. As the largest organ in the human body, ensuring your skin is strong enough to shield your body from external factors that can lead to illness, like bacteria and chemicals.
"Vitamin A can play a role in helping support the immune system and helping the body fight infection by promoting skin health," Manaker says. "Since skin acts as a barrier from the outside world, keeping skin health in check is critical when supporting our immune health."
She also explains that vitamin A may also have anti-inflammatory effects on the body and is critical to the integrity of the mucus layer in your respiratory tract and intestines.
"Some data suggests that taking in more vitamin C may offer immune support benefits," Manaker says. She attributes some of this healthy influence to vitamin C's ability to stimulate the formation of antibodies, a protein your immune system uses to target and attack foreign objects in your body, including viruses and bacteria.
Along with vitamins A and C, kale provides fiber, a nutrient that can also provide health-boosting benefits that protect and improve your immune system.
"Kale also contains fiber, a nutrient that supports gut health," says Manaker. "And since having a healthy gut is linked to having a healthy immune system, including fiber foods like kale [into your diet] can be a fantastic immune-supporting step."
How to incorporate more kale into your diet
Now that you better understand kale's amazing immune-boosting power, you're probably wondering how to best include this leafy green into your diet. While there are plenty of recipes to dress up this earthy-tasting vegetable, Manaker also shared some creative recommendations to help you jazz it up.
"To include more kale in your diet, you can add a handful to your smoothie, sauté it with some extra-virgin olive oil and garlic for a simple side, or bake leaves for a crispy chip," she advises.
Whether you decide to cook this leafy green or have it raw, eating kale will protect your immune system in ways that can preserve your health all year round. So, take that cold and flu season!