Kale is a nutritional powerhouse. This post summarizes the 10 most important health benefits of kale, plus a quick list of simple recipes to add more of this leafy green to your diet.
Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you’ll find on your supermarket shelves. It doesn’t only contain tons of vitamins and minerals. It also has less than 7 grams of carbohydrates and only 42 calories.
But that’s not all. Eating the bright green leaves of kale can support your overall health, so let’s get right to it and talk about some of the health benefits of kale.
Keep reading to find out why kale is such an awesome vegetable and why you should seriously consider eating kale and more cruciferous vegetables (if you don’t already!)
What Are Cruciferous Vegetables?
Kale belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family. These vegetables have leaves in the shape of a cross (hence the name cruciferous).
Other cruciferous vegetables you might be familiar with include:
- Collard greens
- Brussels sprouts
Health Benefits of Kale
Kale and other leafy greens are tasty, nutritious, and inexpensive ways to make healthy food choices. Here are just some of the many health benefits of kale and the reasons why you should incorporate kale into your diet.
1. Brain Health
This cruciferous vegetable also contains 6-7% of your recommended daily amount of iron. Iron helps in the formation of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to cells everywhere in the body, including brain cells.
While kale contains very little fat, what little there is, is in the form of omega 3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid), which are good for memory, cognitive function, and overall brain health.
Cruciferous vegetables like kale also contain sulforaphane, which has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant health benefits, especially after brain injury.
2. Bone Health
Kale is a rich source of calcium and phosphorus, which are the major building blocks of bones and are essential for strong bones. A cup of raw kale contains approximately 50 mg of phosphorus and 175 mg of calcium.
This leafy green vegetable also has roughly 500 mcg of vitamin K, which research shows may reduce the risk of bone fractures.
3. Heart Health
Kale is high in an important nutrient - potassium - which according to the American Heart Association, can help to control blood pressure by lessening the effect of sodium (salt). High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of heart disease.
One cup of cooked kale contains 170 mg of potassium, so it’s definitely one of the best high potassium foods.
Kale also contains nearly 5 grams of fiber per cup. Consumption of dietary fiber is linked to lower cholesterol levels, lower blood glucose levels, and a lower risk of heart disease.
It also contains bile acid sequestrants that can help to lower cholesterol levels. High cholesterol levels are linked to a number of health conditions, primarily cardiovascular disease.
The vitamin K in kale helps make proteins needed for blood clotting (this is important because it prevents you from bleeding too much). In fact, doctors use vitamin K to reverse the effects of blood thinners like warfarin if there is excessive bleeding.
4. Skin Health
Kale has beta carotene content, an antioxidant that gets converted to vitamin A in the body. This plays an essential role in maintaining the integrity of soft tissues like skin and nails.
5. Eye Health
Kale and other leafy green vegetables contain substances called lutein and zeaxanthin. Studies suggest that a high dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin can significantly lower the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMRD).
AMRD is one of the common eye disorders that can lead to severe and permanent vision loss.
Also, kale’s high vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, and beta carotene content are believed to support eye health. Adding kale to your diet is a great way to get lots of important nutrients for eye health into your body.
6. Liver Health
Kale is high in iron (around 1 mg in one cup of cooked kale), which is needed to make hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to every cell in the body.
Aside from this, iron is also essential for liver health. Women, in particular, need iron due to the blood loss that occurs with their monthly periods.
Cooking kale in a cast iron pan may increase the iron quantity in your meal even more. Plus, drinking citrus juice with kale increases the body’s ability to absorb iron, given the citrus juice is rich in vitamin C.
7. Weight Loss
Like most people, I’ve had my struggles with weight gain. Like me, you might be thrilled to hear that kale can help with weight loss.
The secret ingredient is fiber.
Kale contains very few calories yet provides bulk, so you feel full. If you add more kale or cruciferous vegetables from the cabbage family to your diet, I’m sure you’ll get closer to your weight loss goals.
Of course, if weight loss is your goal, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re cooking kale. I find steamed kale is delicious and there are no additional calories from the cooking method. It also gets rid of the somewhat bitter taste that some people find bothersome.
If you must add oil to your kale dishes, I recommend extra virgin olive oil, which has many additional health benefits. A snack like baked kale chips in avocado oil is another great way to eat fewer calories and still feel satisfied.
Here’s a list of the healthiest oils I recommend.
Kale contains water and fiber, both of which play a major role in digestive health.
The high fiber content increases stool bulk and keeps the “stuff” in the digestive tract moving. In other words, if you add kale to your diet, it can help to keep your bowel movements soft and regular with a reduced risk of constipation.
Dietary fiber is also known to protect against colorectal cancer.
Leafy green vegetables like kale contain healthy doses of vitamin C, one of the most potent antioxidants available from food.
Eating a leafy vegetable like kale can therefore help in improving antioxidant status. Antioxidants are substances that mop up cell-damaging free radicals. Just one cup of kale contains about a fifth of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C for adults.
Kale has strong anti-inflammatory properties because of its vitamin E content, which reduces inflammation in the body.
Inflammation is at the heart of many chronic conditions like arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Various cancers also develop at sites of inflammation. By eating an anti-inflammatory food like kale, you may reduce your cancer risk.
I consolidated a list of anti-inflammatory foods that you can try. You can check them out the video here:
And if you’re looking for help to reduce your inflammation, improve your relationship with food, feel amazing in your body, and lose weight, check out my 30 Day Healthy plan, which gives you great benefits without starving yourself or dealing with complicated eating rules.
Is it good to eat kale every day?
While there’s likely no harm in eating kale every day for most people, I would say don’t overdo it.
Kale is a good source of vitamin K, which can mess with blood clotting when eaten in large amounts, especially in people who are on blood thinners. Some medications like beta-blockers used to treat high blood pressure can raise potassium levels, and kale can add to this effect.
Too much kale may also be harmful to people at risk of kidney stones due to the potassium content.
If you have underlying medical conditions, be sure to talk to your healthcare professional about consuming kale and any dietary restrictions.
Is it better to eat kale raw or cooked?
Like all vegetables, cooking can reduce the nutritional profile of kale, so it is best eaten raw. I’m careful to wash kale thoroughly before eating it raw, though… pesticides - ugh!
Which is better, spinach or kale?
Both kale and spinach are nutrient-dense vegetables with a host of health benefits. It’s impossible to pick one over the other because some nutrients are higher in spinach while others are present in greater quantities in kale.
Add both spinach and kale to your diet and enjoy the different flavors and textures.
Easy Kale Recipes
Here are some of our favorite recipes to help add more kale to your diet.
This soup is comfort food at its best, and it also packs a powerful nutritional punch. The full recipe is here.
There are different types of kale you can use– I like to use dinosaur kale, also called Tuscan kale, for this soup (the leaves tend to be thinner and softer, and it has a deeper color than curly kale).
Another type, red Russian kale, which is a deep red/purple color, looks pretty in salads.
Kiwi and Kale Smoothie
Smoothies are my favorite way to start the day or kill those midday hunger pangs. Way healthier than snacks packed with sugars.
This kale smoothie is a mood-boosting vibrant green color. It packs the punch of another nutrient-dense fruit - kiwi - and tastes yummy (be sure to use ripe kiwis that are sweet).
Sweet Potato and Lentil Hash with Garlic Sauteed Kale
This inexpensive but nutritious dish has all the benefits of kale and the added benefits of lentils and sweet potatoes. The garlic-flavored kale in this recipe, lightly sauteed in olive oil, is my favorite way to eat cooked kale.
Check out the full recipe and nutrition facts here.
Shopping For Kale
Kale is so loaded with nutrients that some people believe drinking a glass of kale juice is like taking a multivitamin.
If you’re new to eating or shopping for kale, here are some quick tips:
- Remove the central stalk.
I suggest you remove the tough central stalk before cooking curly kale.
- Add it to your favorite recipes.
You can pretty much use kale the same way as spinach - it’s great in salads, stir fry, pasta, soups, and omelets.
- Make sure the leaves are bright green and firm.
When you go to the grocery store to buy kale, look for bright green leaves that aren’t limp.
- Proper storage is key.
I store my kale in the refrigerator in a plastic bag, and it’s usually good for up to a week.
Kale is a great source of many vital nutrients and is regularly counted among some of the world’s best-known superfoods. It can be consumed both raw and cooked and lends itself really well, in both flavor and texture, to a range of dishes like soups, salads, smoothies, stir fries, casseroles, omelets, and more.
There are many, many health benefits of kale, so eating more kale may be the best way to get the most bang for your buck from every meal.