Julie Freeman is a licensed integrative nutritionist with graduate education in psychology, counseling and education. Her post-graduate certifications include functional medicine, yoga, and mind-body medicine. She works closely with other h... more
Queen of the greens we certainly address kale this way because kale benefits your health in multiple ways. It is also becoming known as the new beef due to the rising popularity of plant-based superfoods all over the world.
What Is Kale? Why Is It Good?
Also called leaf cabbage, kale belongs to the plant species Brassica oleracea. The kale plant has green or purple leaves, and unlike cabbages, the central leaves do not form the head.
But why is it good?
Kale is low in calories, and it is high in fiber and contains zero fat. All of these are the pillars of good health.
But thats not all.
It is replete with nutrients (oh yes, most foods are, so whats the big deal?) several vitamins and minerals like magnesium and folate. It is loaded with beneficial compounds that possess remarkable medicinal properties.
It is called the Queen of Greens, given its exceptional nutritional profile (1). Which is why it is a big deal.
There are four popular types of kale:
Curly kale, which is the most common variety. It has a pepper flavor and is very pleasant to the palate.
Lacinato kale, which is also called the Tuscan kale or Tuscan cabbage or Dinosaur kale. It has dark green and narrow leaves.
Redbor kale, which has ruffled leaves ranging from deep red to purple.
Russian kale, also called Siberian kale, which has flat and fringed leaves, and is the hardest to find.
Before we proceed, lets first learn where this veggie came from originally.
What Is The History Of Kale?
Worry not. We are not going to bore you with too much of history.
Kale was the most common green vegetable in Europe until the end of the Middle Ages. It was also used as medicine. Disocorides, a Greek physician and botanist, wrote in one of his books that kale can be used to treat bowel issues as well.
Kale arrived in North America in the 16th century, where it was brought in by the colonists. At a later point in time, Russian kale was introduced (by the Russian traders) to Canada and the United States.
It is but important to know what kale contains, as what it contains is what makes it what it is.
What Is The Nutritional Profile Of Kale?
One cup of raw kale contains about 34 calories. It contains 2.2 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of fat, and 1.3 grams of fiber. Other nutrients it contains include:
547 micrograms of vitamin K (684% DV)
10300 IU of vitamin A (206% DV)
80 milligrams of vitamin C (134% DV)
0.5 milligrams of manganese (26% DV)
0.2 milligrams of copper (10% DV)
0.2 milligrams of vitamin B6 (9% DV)
91 milligrams of calcium (9% DV)
299 milligrams of potassium (9% DV)
1.1 milligrams of iron (6% DV)
22.8 milligrams of magnesium (6% DV)
19.4 micrograms of folate (5% DV)
Before heading to the real deal, how about some fast facts about kale?
Any Interesting Facts About Kale?
Thats with the facts. Now lets talk about what we are here for the benefits of kale.
What Are The Benefits Of Kale?
Kale is super-rich in antioxidants, vitamins K, A, and C, and other minerals like iron. The antioxidants and other phytonutrients help prevent dangerous ailments like cancer, heart disease, and inflammation. Vitamin K preserves bones while vitamin A enhances vision health. And the antioxidants and vitamin C improve the health of your skin and hair.
1. Fights Cancer
The chlorophyll in kale (and other green vegetables) helps prevent the body from absorbing compounds called heterocyclic amines. These are chemicals associated with cancer, which are produced while grilling animal-derived foods at high temperatures.
Heres the trick the human body cant absorb much of chlorophyll. So when this chlorophyll binds with the carcinogens, it prevents them from getting absorbed as well.
According to the National Cancer Institute, cruciferous vegetables like kale help fight cancer. They also contain substances called glucosinolates, which have a role to play in cancer prevention (2).
2. Promotes Heart Health
Kale contains compounds called bile acid sequestrants, which are known to lower blood cholesterol levels (4605011076' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >3). Kale is also exceptionally rich in vitamins C and K (more than spinach) and contains omega-3 fatty acids as well. All of these nutrients are healthy for the heart (4). They even help lower bad cholesterol and elevate the levels of good cholesterol.
The lutein in kale, as per a Los Angeles study, can offer protection against the early stages of atherosclerosis. Another uncommon compound in kale is glucoraphanin, which activates Nrf2, a special reactive protein. This protein creates a coating in your arteries and prevents plaque accumulation.
The potassium in kale helps lower blood pressure levels, which otherwise might lead to a heart attack. The magnesium in the veggie also helps in this aspect.
3. Aids In Diabetes Treatment
One cup of freshly chopped kale contains about 0.6 grams of fiber, a nutrient that lowers blood glucose levels in patients with type 1 diabetes. Even those with type 2 diabetes can see improved blood sugar levels.
According to a Japanese study, intake of kale can suppress increase in postprandial (after a meal) blood glucose levels (5).
4. Fights Inflammation
This could be the most beneficial property of kale. We know the importance of a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in our body (6). Kale promotes this balance. It contains both omega-3s and omega-6s at nearly a 1: 1 ratio.
These anti-inflammatory properties of kale also make it an ideal food to 784906' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >ease arthritis symptoms (7). In yet another study, intestinal cells affected by inflammation had shown improvement on exposure to kale and other vegetables from the cabbage family (8).
5. Offers Antioxidant Benefits
It could be an understatement when we say kale is packed with antioxidants. In fact, it overflows with em. The antioxidants in kale include vitamin C, beta- carotene, and other flavonoids and polyphenols (9). Other important antioxidants in kale are quercetin and kaempferol. All of these antioxidants neutralize the harmful free radicals, which otherwise can accelerate aging and even lead to serious ailments like cancer and heart disease.
The antioxidants in kale can also help boost mood and combat depression (10).
6. Aids In Detoxification
This can be attributed to the fiber in kale. It promotes regularity and helps the body detox. And not just kale, consumption of plants, in general, can aid in detoxification and improve liver health (11).
7. Improves Bone Health
Given that kale is rich in potassium, it preserves bone mineral density. Research also suggests a deficiency in vitamin K can be linked to a higher risk of fractures. Kale is wonderfully rich in vitamin K, with one serving offering about 684% of the daily value. The vitamin C in kale also improves bone health it gives structure to the bones.
We saw kale contains beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. The body converts it into vitamin A for use. Vitamin A plays an important role in bone health. However, beware of excess consumption of vitamin A as it has been linked to an increased risk of fractures (12). Otherwise, beta-carotene is the best form of vitamin A that works great for bone health.
8. Promotes Digestion
Kale is high in fiber and water, and both are imperative to proper digestion. They also prevent constipation and enhance the health of the digestive tract. And the B vitamins and vitamin C in kale promote iron absorption another nutrient that helps release energy from food.
But do consult your doctor before taking kale for treating digestive issues. Certain individuals reported indigestion post kale consumption, which was attributed to its high levels of fiber.
9. Promotes Vision Health
According to the Center for Disease Control, kale is one of the foods that can promote vision health (13). This is because of the presence of lutein and zeaxanthin, two powerful antioxidants for vision health (14). If the sad part is that these two antioxidants arent synthesized in the body, the good part is that kale is rich in them. These two antioxidants help prevent severe eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
Another survey had shown that individuals between the ages of 40 and 59 can cut their risk of macular degeneration by introducing kale (and other such leafy greens) to their diets (15).
10. Enhances Brain Health
This is self evident. We dont have to stress the importance of omega-3s for brain health, and they are present in kale. Also, omega-3s can help lower blood sugar, which otherwise ages the brain cells and deteriorates neuronal health.
And then, we have vitamin K in kale. This nutrient is required for the production of sphingolipids, which are specialized fats responsible for the structure of brain cells.
We also have vitamin B6, iron, and folate in kale all essential for the production of dopamine and serotonin (both of which can help fight depression). So, yes, kale is a brain food. Hence proved.
Again, since kale is rich in folate, it helps in brain development of infants. Eating kale can also help prevent birth defects. It supports the formation of neural tubes and ensures the proper development of the face and heart.
11. Eliminates Fatigue
Fatigue sure doesnt feel good. Never. And remember we spoke of a special protein called Nrf2? Well, that can take your fatigue issues by the horns. Kale and other cruciferous veggies contain isothiocyanates, which activate Nrf2. And Nrf2 generates mitochondria, a part of the cells that converts glucose into ATP (a compound in a cell that regulates its energy).
Alright, thats a little too much of biology. In simple terms the more mitochondria you have in your system, the better your muscles will work, and the less fatigued you will feel (16).
12. Boosts Immune Health
Good health boils down ultimately to your immune system. If your immune system is strong, your cells are gonna be okay. And if they are okay, you will be okay.
The high levels of vitamin C are what we must look at when we want to boost our immunity levels. And the folate in kale is another immune booster.
Heres a quick tip the darker the kale leaves, the more antioxidants it contains (which, in turn, boost your immunity) (17). You can jazz up your salads with dark green kale.
13. Aids Weight Loss
It is but a matter of common sense that one needs to consume fewer calories than they expend to lose weight. And eating foods with low calorie density can help in this aspect which is what kale is. One cup of kale contains just about 33 calories.
Apart from that, the dietary fiber in kale suppresses your appetite and discourages overeating. More importantly, kale is nutrient-dense. If you are on a weight loss diet, you are going to restrict yourself from eating this and that and this might mean losing on some very important nutrients. With kale on your plate, things are going to be just fine.
And yes, the darker the kale, the more the nutrients it has (18). Lets remember that.
Speaking of weight loss, this simple kale recipe can be of help. All you need are 1 sliced banana, 2 cups of chopped kale leaves, cup of plain Greek or almond Greek yogurt, 1 teaspoon honey, and ice cubes (as required). Put them all in a blender and serve. The fiber in banana and kale plays a role in weight loss, and the protein in the yogurt provides long-term satiety. It can keep you full and discourage overeating throughout the day.
14. Promotes Healthy Pregnancy
The vitamin K keeps the blood vessels strong, and this is particularly important during pregnancy. The added blood flow to the uterine area is quite important, which becomes easier with stronger blood vessels.
And the vitamin C, like we saw, enhances immunity. The nutrient also nourishes the baby inside, and it gives the mother added vitality.
The calcium in kale can ensure your baby can develop strong bones and teeth. However, remember that the calcium found in plants is less bioavailable than that found in dairy products and other fortified foods (19). So, ensure you also take dairy products (and calcium supplements, after checking with your doctor) during pregnancy.
Also, like we discussed, the folate in kale is quite important during pregnancy. It ensures the baby is healthy and is born without any defects.
15. Supports Urinary Health
As kale is rich in calcium, it can help prevent kidney stones and support your urinary health. The calcium binds to the oxalates in the digestive tract and prevents them from getting absorbed. This, otherwise, can lead to calcium oxalate stones.
For quite a while, critics had been shunning kale and accusing it of causing kidney stones. But studies have proven otherwise. Kale is really low in oxalate. So unless you have the ability to eat unreasonable amounts of kale (unless you are the cousin of Gregor, The Mountain, from Game of Thrones), you are safe (20).
Kale is also rich in iron, another nutrient essential for kidney health. Studies have found that most individuals with kidney disease are also deficient in iron (21).
16. Improves Health Of The Skin And Hair
The vitamin C content in kale helps boost your skin health. The collagen fibers in your skin need vitamin C for strength. Low amounts of vitamin C can weaken your collagen fibers and affect skin health. And since vitamin C also offers antioxidant protection, it sure does save your skin from the harmful UV radiation.
And then, we have vitamin A in kale, the deficiency of which can negatively impact your oil and sweat glands.
Kale, or even kale juice, works well for enhancing skin and hair health. In one study, merely drinking kale juice had improved wrinkles (22). The juice also acts as a very good skin cleanser. As it detoxifies your skin from within, it, by default, keeps your skin healthy.
Washing your face with fresh kale juice in the morning can be a good way to start your day.
Talking about hair, the iron in kale takes care of your tresses. The veggie also takes care of the elasticity of your hair. The iron in kale strengthens your hair while the other nutrients and antioxidants fight dandruff and dry scalp. You can use kale juice to wash your hair before you rinse and then shampoo.
Kales omega-3 fatty acids also nourish your hair and give it a healthy texture.
Thats with the benefits of kale. But do you know how to pick the right variety? What about storage?
As a reminder about optimizing the absorption of calcium and iron in kale, it is best to serve with an acid and an oil. For example, consider steaming kale and tossing with a little olive oil and cider vinegar. It tastes great and supports nutrient absorption.
Store kale in a plastic bag or inside the freezer.
Need help with using kale? Okay.
Any Tips On Using Kale?
Kale is a winter vegetable and is known to taste more delicious after the cold seasons first frost. In case you are wondering how to cook kale, keep reading.
- Young kale leaves taste better while the old ones are tough and bitter.
- It is highly recommended that you harvest kale while the leaves are young and tender.
- Cook your kale frozen as it tastes best without first thawing. It needs to be thoroughly washed before cooking, and the leaves need to be gently shaken after washing.
- Alternatively, you could use a salad spinner to run it through.
- If you have no plans to immediately use it, carefully store your kale.
- You could briefly stir-fry young and tender kale leaves, while the mature ones need to be boiled for a few minutes vigorously. This helps soften the stringent cellulose structure.
- Once cooked, you could season your kale with some extra virgin olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and pepper.
- It could also be used as a pizza topping, or you can finely chop the leaves and make a delicious and nutritious soup.
Sauteing kale is another easy way to have it.
In case you are wondering how to procure your bunch of these awesome leafy greens
Where To Buy Kale?
Your nearest supermarket must have fresh kale. Go grab a bunch! You can also purchase raw kale powder online.
Okay. You have bought your kale now. But how do you take it?
How To Incorporate Kale Into Your Diet?
Wondering how to eat kale? Heres how.
- You can simply add kale to your evening vegetable salad. Steamed kale is healthier.
- Kale soup can be great too.
- Or you can add kale to your soup.
- Use the leaves to have a green kale smoothie or add them to any smoothie.
- Use it to make kale chips (we will discuss the recipe in a while).
- You might want to simply prepare a kale smoothie and have it for breakfast.
Or best, you can even prepare one of the few recipes we have listed below.
This is the most popular kale recipe, and one cup of kale chips contains just about 130 calories.
Thats everything great about kale we just saw. But anything that we eat, no matter how beneficial, does have some side effects.
Does Kale Have Any Side Effects? What Are They?
Since kale is rich in potassium, eating it in excess can cause a condition called hyperkalemia. This can cause chest pain, muscle weakness, and diarrhea.
Kale might contain goitrogens that can interfere with thyroid medication. Hence, if you have any thyroid issues, consult your doctor. It is best to separate thyroid medications from kale intake by about four hours.
Taking kale in normal amounts can have great benefits during pregnancy and breastfeeding. But we dont know what might happen if we take it in excess. Stay on the safe side and stick to normal amounts.
Also, where you buy your kale matters. The benefits of kale also depend on where you buy it from. Ensure you are going for organic kale as it is one of the crops exposed to heavy pesticides.
According to the Environmental Working Group, non-organic kale can sometimes contain as many as 51 pesticides (according to studies conducted in 2008).
Choosing organic kale and kale products is important due to the information listed above. Check online for the Dirty Dozen list of foods best consumed organic.
Kale is a healthy green superfood frequently used in salads and smoothies. The benefits of kale are attributed to its diverse phytonutrients and array of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. Kale may help boost gut, brain, bone, and heart health. It may help reduce inflammation, enhance immunity and vision, and aid in detoxification and weight loss. However, it may also cause a few side effects like allergies and diarrhea and may interfere with thyroid medications. Talk to your physician if you are unsure if you can take kale.
Frequently Asked Questions
What does kale taste like?
Raw kale usually tastes bitter. Cooked kale might taste like broccoli, but even that can be bitter as well.
What is baby kale?
Baby kale are nothing but the delicate leaves of the young and immature plant.