Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. Often referred to as a “superfood,” kale packs a serious nutritional punch. This leafy green is loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and powerful plant compounds that provide a multitude of health benefits. From improving heart health to fighting cancer, kale earns its place as one of the healthiest foods around.
An Overview of Kale
Kale is a leafy green vegetable that belongs to the Brassica family, which also includes cabbage, collards, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Native to Europe, kale has been cultivated for food for thousands of years. This highly nutritious vegetable comes in several varieties:
- Curly kale – Has ruffled leaves and a firm texture. This is the most commonly available variety.
- Lacinato kale – Also called dinosaur or Tuscan kale. Has a dark blue-green color and flat, wrinkled leaves.
- Redbor kale – Has a red-purple color and ruffled leaves. Offers a slightly sweeter taste.
- Russian kale – Features flat, smooth leaves that have a bluish-green color around the edges.
- Ornamental kale – Primarily a decorative variety with white, red, pink, lavender or violet leaves.
In addition to the color and texture, the taste of kale can range from mild to peppery depending on the variety. Curly kale is the most bitter, while redbor kale is sweeter.
Kale can be eaten raw in salads, sandwiches, smoothies and cold pressed juices. It can also be sautéed, roasted, baked or added to soups, stews and casseroles. The options are endless when cooking with this versatile superfood.
Now let’s take a closer look at why kale is so good for you and how it benefits your health.
Nutrition Profile of Kale
Kale is one of the most nutrient-rich foods you can eat. Just one cup of raw kale contains:
- Vitamin A – 206% of the RDI (from beta-carotene)
- Vitamin K – 684% of the RDI
- Vitamin C – 134% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6 – 9% of the RDI
- Manganese – 26% of the RDI
- Calcium – 9% of the RDI
- Copper – 10% of the RDI
- Potassium – 9% of the RDI
- Magnesium – 6% of the RDI
In addition, kale provides small amounts of folate, iron, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, phosphorus and zinc.
This stellar nutrition profile is completed by potent antioxidants like quercetin and kaempferol, which have been shown to lowering inflammation and fight cancer.
Clearly, adding more kale into your diet is a great way to dramatically increase your nutrient intake.
Top 10 Health Benefits of Kale
With its stellar nutritional profile, kale provides some major health benefits. Here are 10 evidence-based ways that kale improves your health:
1. Packed with Antioxidants
Kale contains high amounts of antioxidants like quercetin and kaempferol. These compounds fight oxidative stress caused by free radicals and reduce inflammation in the body. Research shows that getting more antioxidants from your diet significantly reduces the risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer.
2. Excellent Source of Vitamin C
One cup of kale provides more vitamin C than an orange, with 134% of the RDI in just a single serving. Vitamin C boosts the immune system to fight off disease and supports collagen production for healthy skin and tissues. It also acts as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals.
3. Great Source of Vitamin K
Kale is one of the best plant-based sources of vitamin K. One serving gives you a whopping 684% of the RDI for this important vitamin. Vitamin K plays a central role in bone and heart health and may also boost brain function.
4. Rich in Eye-Healthy Vitamin A
With 206% of the RDI for vitamin A per serving, kale is an excellent source of this vision-protecting nutrient. Vitamin A supports eye health and helps prevent macular degeneration and night blindness.
5. Provides Calcium for Strong Bones
Per calorie, kale has more calcium than milk. The calcium in kale gets absorbed better by the body too. Getting enough calcium is crucial for preventing osteoporosis and bone fractures as you age. Just one cup provides 9% of the RDI.
6. May Lower Cholesterol and Heart Disease Risk
The fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in kale make it beneficial for heart health. Studies show that eating more kale is associated with lower cholesterol levels and reduced risk of heart disease.
7. Helps Detoxify the Body
The isothiocyanates produced when kale is chopped or chewed have been shown to counteract toxins and help remove heavy metals from the body. Eating kale regularly may lower your risk of chronic diseases caused by toxicity.
8. Useful for Blood Clotting
Vitamin K is essential for proper blood clotting. The exceptionally high amount in kale makes it a perfect food for supporting this process and preventing excessive bleeding. This makes kale especially important for those taking blood thinning medications.
9. May Fight Cancer Cell Growth
Sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol are two compounds found in kale that may suppress cancer cell growth and stop the formation of cancer at the molecular level. More research is needed, but evidence is promising for kale’s cancer-fighting abilities.
10. Provides Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
A type of omega-3 fatty acid, ALA has been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. Kale provides a plant-based source of ALA in each serving to support heart health.
Healthy and Delicious Ways to Eat More Kale
With all of its nutritional goodness, it’s easy to see why kale deserves a regular place in your diet. Here are simple and tasty ways to enjoy more of this super healthy green:
- Add raw kale to green smoothies or fresh-pressed juices
- Make chips by baking kale leaves with oil and salt
- Mix chopped kale into soups, stews, casseroles, pasta dishes and stir-fries
- Saute kale in olive oil with garlic, lemon, pepper and parmesan
- Bake kale leaves into crispy kale chips for a healthy snack
- Add massaged kale to salads for a nutrition boost
- Make a pesto with kale, olive oil, garlic and nuts
- Wrap tacos, sandwiches, burgers or fish in kale leaves
- Blend steamed kale into hummus or basil pesto for a pop of green
- Add kale to egg scrambles along with onions, peppers and mushrooms
With so many ways to enjoy its flavor and crunch, adding more kale into your meals is easy. Take advantage of its incredible nutrition to boost your overall health.
Potential Precautions with Eating Kale
Despite all its health perks, kale does come with some precautions:
- Thyroid function – Kale contains goitrogens that may interfere with thyroid function when eaten raw and in large amounts. Cooking kale helps reduce these compounds.
- Blood clotting – The vitamin K content may be problematic if you’re taking blood thinners. Consult your doctor.
- Pesticide exposure – Kale’s leafy surface makes it prone to pesticide residues when not organic. Consider going organic.
- Bloating and gas – Kale contains raffinose sugars that can cause gas and abdominal discomfort for some people. Start with small servings.
Overall, kale is very safe to eat for most people, especially when cooked. Just be mindful of any digestive issues or medication interactions.
The Takeaway on Kale and Your Health
With its phenomenal nutrient profile and modern superfood status, kale earns its place as one of the healthiest foods you can eat. This leafy green is packed with essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that benefit your entire body.
Adding more kale into your diet protects your heart, bones, eyes, liver and brain. It may help lower cholesterol, blood pressure and inflammation while fighting oxidative stress and cancer cell formation.
While raw kale works great in many dishes, cooking it breaks down fiber and makes its nutrients more absorbable. Sauteing, roasting, baking and steaming are all excellent options.
Focus on getting at least 1-2 servings of kale per week to boost your nutrient intake. With its versatility, mild flavor and significant health benefits, kale is easy to include in many different recipes. Harness the power of kale for better health!