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Why Your Gut Wants Leafy Greens

Leafy greens on pink background.

I have to admit, I am a little obsessed with this green juice trend. Any opportunity I have to grab a fresh juice, even at $5 or more per cup, I totally jump on it. I can totally make juice at home, I even have a high-powered blender that can do the trick, but for some reason I can never get it quite right. The local juice bar has perfected the ratio of fruits and green veggies, so why not? I understand that maybe the “green” taste is not for everyone, but I personally find it quite refreshing and the health benefits of leafy greens are incredible.

Why Leafy Greens?

Leafy green vegetables, such as kale, lettuce, and spinach, are chock-full of vitamins and minerals. They provide huge quantities of vitamin K, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C, just to name a few. Greens are also particularly beneficial for maintaining the health of the digestive system. A well-functioning digestive system is where wellness begins.

Our digestive system does so much more to help maintain health than just digest our food. The digestive system is also an active part of the immune system. It provides a barrier against pathogenic viruses and bacteria that can make us sick if they are allowed to enter the body. It is also filled with beneficial bacteria that help modulate the immune system and neutralize toxins.

Leafy greens have been found to play an important role in helping maintain a healthy gut and in turn a strong immune system. A 2013 study, published in Nature Immunology, found that there is a specific immune cell in the intestinal tract called innate lymphoid cells (ILC). These immune cells are activated by specific foods, particularly leafy greens. The ILCs, once activated, help the digestive system fight off pathogens, heal any damage, and reduce inflammation. Researchers believe that the ILCs, if they are activated, may help reduce the risk of food allergies and certain digestive diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. But, even if you don’t have these particular diseases or food allergies, eating leafy greens can still help your gut and immune system by keeping the ILCs thriving.

How Much Leafy Greens Should We Eat?

How many leafy greens do we need per day? Aim to eat at least two servings a day for the most benefits to your immune system and your gut. A serving is a cup of raw greens or a ½ cup cooked. Try to get as much variety as possible, for example try spinach this week and Romaine lettuce the next.

Some of us have trouble eating enough leafy greens due to the bitter taste. So, why not try juicing them? Add half an apple, a slice of ginger, or a bit of lemon to fresh kale juice to cut some of the bitterness. Or if drinking something bright green isn’t for you, find ways to sneak greens into other dishes by adding spinach to lasagna or throwing some kale into a chicken and rice soup. Look for creative ways to add more leafy greens to your diet on a daily basis and your gut will thank you.

Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

Author Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD

Ana Reisdorf is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with 10-years experience in the field of nutrition and dietetics. After graduating from California State University, Long Beach, she began her career as health educator, helping those who were preparing for weight loss surgery or who needed to learn about diabetes, heart disease, or other nutrition-related conditions. This experience helped her gain a deep understanding of the psychological, social, and environmental aspects of how we choose to eat. She also has extensive experience in medical nutrition therapy, through her work in both acute and long-term care. This work has allowed her to truly hone her nutrition skills to help make an impact on the health and lives of her patients. Currently, she works to share her passion for nutrition on a larger scale as an author. She has written for various online publications, such as and Dr. Josh Axe. Her latest article “Beauty and Nutrition” was published in Today’s Dietitian magazine. Ana brings her extensive nutrition experience, understanding of psychology, and compassion to every client interaction. She has a passion for helping people achieve ideal health and make transformational changes in their lives.

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