Health Benefits of Kale That Go Beyond the Waistline
If you ask me to name a “superfood”, the first one that comes to mind is kale.
There is a good reason why this ever popular leafy green is in every other juice and smoothie at your local healthy juice shop. The health benefits of kale are a long list.
Kale benefits your lifestyle because it is packed with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that you need to be the best version of yourself. A You that is filled with the energy and confidence needed to thrive in your busy life.
That “green” smoothie or juice? It’s green because it’s loaded with kale (okay, maybe it’s spinach sometimes). Let’s learn about the health benefits of kale so you know the benefits of that greenery next time you have one.
What is Kale?
Kale is a hardy, leafy green that is part of the Brassica family. It has gained popularity over the last decade or so because of its nutritional benefits, versatility, and ease of growing. At this point, it is muscle memory for me to pick up a bunch of kale during my weekly grocery store visit. I know that I will use it at some point.
Kale has a slight bitter taste and is often cooked because of its fibrous leaves. However, it makes a great raw salad with the right preparation. It is often used in stews, braises, stir-fries and roasted dishes where you want to add some green because it holds up well during the cooking process. Cooking kale also reduces bitterness.
Health Benefits of Kale
Kale is packed with nutrients
In fact, kale is one of the most nutritionally dense foods on Earth. So, the “superfood” label makes a lot of sense.
According to the USDA, 100 grams (about 1.5 cups) of kale has the following nutritional values:
- Calories: 53
- Fat: 0.88 grams
- Protein: 3.54 grams
- Carbohydrates: 9.73 grams
- Fiber: 1.8 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
According to Self, that same amount contains the following recommended daily value percentages:
- Vitamin A: 308%
- Thiamin: 7%
- Vitamin C: 200%
- Vitamin K: 1021%
- Riboflavin: 8%
- Niacin: 5%
- Vitamin B: 14%
- Folate: 7%
High in antioxidants
Kale is packed with multiple types of beneficial antioxidants. These antioxidants in kale are substances that counteract cell damage caused by unwanted toxins – or free radicals – in the body.
Having too many free radicals in the body can lead to many health issues such as cancer, heart disease, and inflammation. The antioxidants in kale help protext against these diseases.
May reduce risk of cancer
Kale, like other cruciferous vegetables, has multiple substances that may protect against cancer. These potential cancer fighting compounds in kale may help protect against mutations at the molecular level and prevent the body from absorbing carcinogens associated with animal food cooked at high temperatures.
When you eat a grilled steak or other blackened meat, always be sure to serve it next to a side of kale or other cruciferous veggie like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, or brussels sprouts.
Helps protect the heart
High cholesterol is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease. It can increase fat deposits in your blood vessels, making it harder for blood to flow through your arteries.
Several studies have shown that kale can reduce cholesterol levels. This study showed that drinking kale juice every day for 3 months decreased “bad” and increased “good” cholesterol levels by 10% and 27%, respectively.
Is one of the best sources of vitamin C
Move over oranges, kale may actually be the king of vitamin C.
One cup of kale has more vitamin C than an entire orange. In addition, it has more vitamin C than most other vegetables.
Vitamin C is an important antioxidant for various functions in the body. This includes building and maintaining collagen, which is a structural protein used throughout the body.
Good for your skin and hair
If you’re looking for silky smooth and shiny skin and hair, then adding more kale to your diet may help.
Kale is high in beta carotene. And your body converts beta carotene into vitamin A.
Vitamin A is used to grow and maintain body tissue, including skin and hair.
In addition, the collagen built from vitamin C provides structure for skin, bones, and hair.
Protects against inflammation
We’re talking antioxidants again. The antioxidants in kale help protect against inflammation in the body.
Excessive inflammation in the body can damage healthy cells, tissues and organs. As a result, it can cause premature aging and other diseases.
Helps maintain critical blood clotting functions
Effective blood clotting probably isn’t at the top of your health priorities, but it is an important function in the body. And kale can help because it is high in vitamin K. In fact, kale is one of the best sources of vitamin K.
In 1.5 cups of kale, there is over 10 times the recommended daily value of vitamin K.
May help keep your bones healthy
In addition to blood clotting, some studies have shown that vitamin K may protect against bone fractures. Calcium and phosphorus are other nutrients in kale that are important for maintaining healthy bones.
Promotes eye health
Who doesn’t want to see better? I don’t want to get myself into a situation where I’m guessing what road signs say as I get older. Luckily, kale is high in two antioxidants – lutein and zeaxanthin – that may help protect against age related eye health decline. Studies have shown this nutrient combination to reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts.
May help with weight loss
Kale is low in calories, but high in nutritional value. The winning combination when trying to lose weight.
So, kale will help you feel full without packing on the calories. It also has a high water content and small amounts of fiber and protein. All of which help you feel full.
High in many important minerals that our diets may be lacking
First off, kale is low in a substance called oxalate that can prevent minerals from being absorbed by the body. Other plants like spinach and leafy greens have higher amounts of oxalates which can affect mineral absorption.
So, when you eat kale, your body is actually able to use all its healthy minerals.
Kale is high in calcium which is important for bone health. Magnesium, which protects against type 2 diabetes and heart disease, is an important mineral found in kale. The potassium in kale is important in maintaining cellular function. It also may reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
According to Self, 100 grams (about 1.5 cups) of kale contains the following recommended daily value percentages:
- Calcium: 14%
- Iron: 9%
- Magnesium: 8%
- Phosphorus: 6%
- Potassium: 13%
- Sodium: 2%
- Zinc: 3%
- Copper: 14%
- Manganese: 39%
- Selenium: 1%
Potential Kale Side Effects
Kale is incredibly healthy. But, there are a few risks to watch out for.
First off, kale is one of the higher risk vegetables for pesticide contamination. According to the Environmental Working Group, kale was the third most at risk fruit or vegetable in terms of pesticide contamination. So, if you purchase non-organic kale, be sure to give it a good wash before eating.
Raw kale is also high in a potentially harmful compound called goitrin, High amounts of goitrin may be harmful to thyroid function and lower iodine levels. However, studies have shown that consuming a moderate amount of raw kale per day is not harmful to thyroid function.
How to Eat More Kale
Kale is one of the most versatile veggies. You can eat it raw or cook it using just about any method. I love it oven roasted into kale chips, sauteed in a pan and added to a grain bowl, and raw as a simple kale salad.
Here are some simple and healthy kale recipes to take advantage of these amazing health benefits:
- Simple Chickpea and Kale Salad With Avocado
- Creamy Vegan Kale and Cauliflower Soup
- Roasted Kale Chips In the Oven
- Quick Sauteed Kale With Garlic and Sesame
- Everyday Simple Kale Salad
- Anchovy and Garlic Braised Kale
- Vegan Kale Pesto
Ready to Eat More Kale?
Whoa, that’s a lot of kale benefits. I mean, kale is only one of the most nutritionally dense foods on the planet. No big deal.
But, one of my favorite things about kale is how versatile it is. I always have a bunch of kale in my refrigerator, because I know I can use it in almost anything I am cooking throughout the week. Soup, grain bowl, salad, pot of braised meat, roasted veggies, you name it.
When you learn how to cook kale in the oven, in a pan, in a pot, and raw, then you know how to cook any vegetable using those same methods.
Check out this Kale 101 article for everything you need to know to buy, store, cook, and use kale.