I have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of kale. I think my problem with this super veggie started when I tried it for the first time … raw. I thought it was disgusting—so bitter with an unappetizing texture—and I haven’t tried it since.
But lately, there’s been so much hype about the health benefits of kale, I decided it was time to revisit this vegetable.
Health Benefits of Kale You Can’t Ignore
If you haven’t heard the news that kale is the king of health foods, here are some benefits of kale that may convince you to work more of it into your diet:
Kale is Loaded with Powerful Antioxidants and Essential Nutrients
Like other leafy greens, kale is very high in antioxidants, including beta-carotene, vitamin C, among others which have cardioprotective, blood pressure lowering, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-depressant and anti-cancer effects.
It is an excellent source of vitamin C, an important nutrient that serves many vital functions in the body’s cells. Kale is much higher in vitamin C than most other vegetables, containing about 4.5 times much as spinach! (and we all know how good spinach is for us). A cup of raw kale even contains more vitamin C than a whole orange.
Kale is high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that the body can turn into vitamin A. Vitamin A plays a vital role in bone growth, reproduction and immune system health. It also helps the skin and mucous membranes repel bacteria and viruses more effectively, and is essential to healthy vision. In other words, vitamin A is good for you. While kale doesn’t actually contain vitamin A, it is high in beta carotene, which the body can turn into vitamin A. For this reason, kale can be an effective way to increase your body’s levels of this very important vitamin.
Kale is Good for Your Heart
Kale contains very little fat, but a large portion of the fat it does have is a good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which is necessary for heart health.
Kale is also one of the world’s best sources of vitamin K, an absolutely critical nutrient for blood clotting and heart health. Vitamin K “activates” certain proteins and gives them the ability to bind calcium. A single raw cup contains almost 7 times the recommended daily amount.
And kale contains quite a bit of potassium, which is an essential part of heart health, according to the American Heart Association, and has been linked to reduced blood pressure and a lower risk of heart disease when consumed regularly. Kale is also a good source of potassium for us calorie-watchers because it has about 8 percent of the recommended daily intake per cup but significantly fewer calories than most high-potassium foods, such as bananas.
Kale is Good for Your Bones
Kale is a good, plant-based source of calcium, a nutrient that is very important for bone health and plays a role in all sorts of cellular functions. Calcium aids in bone loss prevention, as well as maintaining a healthy metabolism and alkaline environment in your body.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation listed kale as one of their “good-for-your-bones foods” because of its calcium content–that’s how much calcium it has. In fact, one cup of cooked kale has about the same amount of calcium as one cup of cow’s milk, according to an article published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Kale is Weight-Loss Friendly
Given the incredibly low calorie content, kale is among the most nutrient dense foods to eat. Eating more kale is a great way to dramatically increase the total nutrient content of your diet.
With just 33 calories per cup, kale is a popular food for the calorie-conscious. Though low in calories, kale’s fiber content provides significant bulk that can help you feel full longer. Because of the low calorie and high water content, kale has a low energy density. Eating plenty of foods with a low energy density has been shown to aid weight loss in numerous studies.
Kale’s magnesium content can help the body manage stress and maintain optimal digestion.
Kale is Good for Managing Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol has many important functions in the body, one of which is to help us digest fats. Kale’s high fiber content, aside from helping us to feel full longer, is essential for cleansing and detoxifying the body as well as helping to lower cholesterol. According to one study, daily consumption of kale juice for 12 weeks increased HDL (the “good”) cholesterol by nearly 30% while lowering LDL (the “bad”) levels by 10%.
Kale can help cholesterol levels whether it’s raw or cooked, but new research shows that steaming it can give you the greatest benefit. A study published in Nutrition Research found that the fiber in steamed kale binds better to bile in the digestive tract, which results in more cholesterol being removed.
Kale Can Help Protect Your Eyesight
Kale is high in the powerful nutrients–lutein and zeaxanthin–that protect the eyes. Many studies have shown that people who eat enough lutein and zeaxanthin have a much lower risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, two very common eye disorders as we age.
Some Risks of Eating Kale
As with so many things, too much of a good thing is not good for you. Eating excessive amounts of leafy greens can cause bloating, gas and constipation. More importantly, people taking blood thinners should watch their kale consumption because its high vitamin K content promotes clotting.
Because kale also contains oxalates, which are sometimes associated with kidney stones and gallstones, doctors recommend chewing well and relaxing between meals to minimize any problems with oxalates.
A real risk with kale is pesticide consumption. In 2014 and 2015, the Environmental Working Group listed kale on its Dirty Dozen Plus list of most contaminated foods. This means that you should buy organic kale if possible, and be sure to wash what you do buy thoroughly.
Working Kale Into Your Diet
There are lots of ways to incorporate kale into your diet. You can blend it into soups or sauces, sauté it with other vegetables in a stir-fry, toss it into a salad, bake it into frittatas, lasagnas or burgers. You can use kale the same way you would use any other green.
A popular snack is kale chips, where you drizzle some extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil on your kale, add some sea salt and then bake in an oven until dry. This sounded so easy, I actually tried it and it was delicious! But watch them carefully in the oven. They can go from perfectly crispy to completely burnt in a minute. Took me a couple of batches to learn that lesson. Crispy kale chips—super delicious! Burnt kale chips—opposite of delicious.
A lot of people also add kale to their smoothies in order to boost the nutritional value. I found a few smoothie recipes for kale that I’ll be trying out and sharing in future posts.