Kale is a dark, leafy green vegetable that is part of the cruciferous family, and perhaps one of the healthiest vegetables available, calorie for calorie. It is high in fiber, contains over 10 times the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for vitamin K, twice the RDA for vitamin C and three times the amount for vitamin A (1). Kale is also impressively rich in potassium, and contains the key cancer-fighting compounds Indole-3-Carbinol (also found in broccoli). Kale is best consumed lightly steamed or sautéed, but can also be made into a raw salad by massaging it for a few minute in a healthy oil, such as olive or flax oil in order to soften the leaves.
1. Kale is one of the most nutrient dense foods in existence
Nutrient density is measured by the nutrients provided in a food compared to it the number of calories it contains. Kale is a relatively low calorie food, but offers an impressively high nutrient profile. According to the USDA, just 1 cup of kale (which contains 33 calories) contains the following (2):
• Vitamin A: 206% of the RDA (from beta-carotene).
• Vitamin K: 684% of the RDA.
• Vitamin C: 134% of the RDA.
• Vitamin B6: 9% of the RDA.
• Manganese: 26% of the RDA.
• Calcium: 9% of the RDA.
• Copper: 10% of the RDA.
• Potassium: 9% of the RDA.
• Magnesium: 6% of the RDA.
2. Kale is a top source of vitamin C
A little known fact about kale is that it is incredibly high in the key antioxidant, vitamin C. In fact, 1 cup of kale contains more vitamin C than an orange, and 5 times the amount of a cup of spinach. Vitamin C is critical for immune health, collagen production and many more critical bodily functions.
3. Kale has the ability to lower bad cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease
Kale and other cruciferous vegetables contain compounds that bind bile acids in the digestive tract, which has been shown to possibly decrease cholesterol levels (particularly LDL or “bad” cholesterol). (3) One study even found that drinking kale juice for a 3 month period had the ability to both raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels, while lowering LDL (4). Along with kale’s incredibly high antioxidant content, this makes it likely to lower the risk of heart disease.
4. Kale is loaded with powerful antioxidants
Kale is quite high in important antioxidants such as vitamin C, quercetin and beta carotene and an impressive supply of flavonoids and polyphenols (5). Including antioxidants in the diet is essential for fighting free radical and oxidative damage, which can increase the risk of cancer and other degenerative diseases, not to mention can wreak havoc on skin, hair and nails. The specific properties of antioxidants found in kale have been shown to lower blood pressure, support cardiovascular health, prevent certain cancers and decrease systemic inflammation in the body.
5. Kale is cancer-fighting
Aside from its plethora of antioxidants, kale also contains two potent anti-cancer compounds, sulforaphane and indole-3 carbonise. Both of these substances have been shown to prevent cancer on a molecular level in animal studies.
1. Make a kale salad
Supercharge your green salad by using kale as your base. Because kale is tougher than many lighter leafy greens (lettuce, for example), you’ll want to add a healthy oil and massage the kale until it softens and becomes more palatable. Wash and chop your kale, then add a tablespoon or so of your favorite oil, such as extra virgin olive, flax or avocado. Using your hands, massage the kale and oil together for at least 2 minutes, or until it reaches your desired consistency. Then, add all other salad ingredients.
2. Make Your own Kale Chips
Kale chips are all the rage these days, and be purchased pre-made in most health food stores, but they aren’t cheap. You can also make your own at home. Kale chips are an excellent alternative to potato chips, can be flavored in a number of different and delicious ways, and might be the best way to sneak kale into the diet of a picky kiddo. Check out this recipe to get started.
3. Add Kale to Your Smoothie
Another great nutrient boost for kids and adults alike is adding a handful of kale to your smoothie. While it will turn your drink green, the taste is usually masked by other flavors. Especially if you struggle to get enough green leafy vegetables into your diet, be sure to include them in any smoothie. Begin with 1-2 handfuls kale, 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds, 1 banana or other fruit of your choice, ice and unsweetened almond or coconut milk. Blend and enjoy!
4. Steam kale as much as possible
Studies show that steaming kale greatly increases its bile acid binding effect, which increases its potential to lower HDL cholesterol and lowers the risk of heart disease. To steam, place into a steamer basket with a bit of water, and lightly steam for just a few minutes. Add sea salt, pepper and other spices (turmeric is a great option for added anti-inflammatory properties).
5. Use Kale to make a wrap
Instead of a wheat or corn based wrap, try using kale. It is sturdier than lettuce and can make an excellent and easy to prepare lunch. Try wrapping up sliced avocado, thinly thinned tomato, nitrate free turkey breast and a bit of mustard or pesto. Simple assemble all ingredients, wrap and go!
Kale is a generally safe and nutritious vegetable for everyone, but like any food, for certain people it can be problematic. Some possible side effects of consuming too much kale include:
• Cruciferous vegetables and hypothyroidism: If you suffer from hypothyroidism (especially Hashimotos, which is autoimmune hypothyroidism), then you should avoid consuming kale in large quantities. Eating it mixed in with a salad or as an occasional side should not pose any problems, but drinking a large glass of kale juice daily, might. Kale and other cruciferous vegetables can have goitrogenic effects in sensitive individuals, which means they disrupt thyroid hormone production.
• Stomach Upset: Kale may cause stomach distress in some people. Some of these symptoms include bloating, cramps, gas, or diarrhea. If this is the case, try cooking kale instead of eating it raw (steaming is best), but discontinue if problems persist.
• Hyperkalemia: Since kale is very high in potassium, it could be possible to develop hyperkalemia from consuming too much kale. Hyperkalemia can cause muscle weakness, fatigue, diarrhea, and pain in the chest. Simply avoid consuming kale in excess, as in large quantities of juiced kale on a regular basis.
• Too Much Iron: Kale is very high in iron, and in rare cases consuming too much kale could cause an excess of iron in the bloodstream. If you experience symptoms such as headache, weight loss, fatigue, upset stomach, or skin color changes your doctor may test your iron levels. Again, if kale is eaten in normal amounts (without juicing), this shouldn’t be a problem.
• Blood Clotting Issues: If you are taking blood clotting or anticoagulant medications, foods high in vitamin K (such as kale) could be problematic. Vitamin K is known as “the blood clotting vitamin,” and blood will not clot properly without it. Check with your doctor before including kale in your diet.
Q: What is kale?
A: Kale is a dark, leafy green vegetable that is part of the cruciferous family, and perhaps one of the healthiest vegetables available, calorie for calorie. It is high in fiber, contains over 10 times the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for vitamin K, twice the RDA for vitamin C and three times the amount for vitamin A.
Q: What is kale good for?
A: Due to kale’s impressive nutrient profile, it is effective in lowering HDL cholesterol, supporting cardiovascular health, encouraging healthy hair, skin and nail growth, is packed with free radical and cancer fighting antioxidants, protects against macular degeneration due to its high content of beta carotene (6), and just might promote weight loss (7).
Q: Is kale gluten free?
A: Yes, kale is naturally gluten free (as is any raw vegetable). However, if you are purchasing commercially made kale chips, be sure they are certified gluten free, as some could have gluten as an added ingredient.
Q: How to I reduce the bitter flavor that kale has?
A: If you are cooking with kale, adding an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice can help to balance its bitter flavor. If eating raw, massaging kale with a healthy oil such as olive or flax for a few minutes can soften the leaves and improve the taste.
Q: Can I add kale to my smoothie?
A: Kale makes an excellent addition to just about any smoothie, and is a great way to get an extra serving of vegetables (particularly dark, leafy greens) into your daily diet. Try adding a sweet fruit along with an unsweetened coconut or almond milk base for a balanced smoothie and delicious, creamy texture.
Q: Is kale a good source of fiber?
A: Absolutely. In fact, kale contains approximately 2 grams of fiber per cup.
Q: Why should I massage kale?
A: Massaging kale when eaten raw can increase its palatability and decrease its earthy, bitter flavour dramatically.