Kale is the 21st Century’s version of the cartoon character Popeye’s superfood spinach. Spinach and its trendy twin have been around forever, but you’ve probably just started hearing about the much-publicized, nutrient-rich veggie recently.  Both vegetables are similar in vitamins, minerals, and carotenoid (beta-carotene) content, but there are subtle differences.

Health Benefits

A cup of cooked kale has 36 calories, a very low glycemic index, and a whopping 1180% of the daily value of Vitamin K. (Vitamin K helps blood clotting and has anti-cancer properties.) It also contains:

  • 98% of the daily value of Vitamin A (good for eyes and skin)
  • 71% of the daily value of Vitamin C (to prevent colds and the flu)
  • 27% of the of the daily value of manganese (fights diabetes, helps cognitive function)
  • 22% of the daily value of copper (reduces cholesterol, improves wound healing)

Other nutrients in this leafy green include fiber, Vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, iron, Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, magnesium, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B1, protein, phosphorus, Omega 3 fats, folate and Vitamin B3.

Kale nutrition is often compared to the benefits of spinach. Spinach has more Vitamin E, manganese and Vitamin A (377% of the daily value) while its leafy green challenger has more Vitamin K and 45 different disease-fighting, antioxidant-carrying flavonoids. It’s also heavy with carotenoids to protect your eyesight and heart health.

Lutein

Kale has more lutein than any of the other lutein-rich foods in the USDA’s National Nutrient Database. Lutein is a carotenoid, and it protects your eyes from light and oxygen damage. A study showed a reduced chance of glaucoma when women had a high intake of kale. Higher intake is described as more than a half-cup a week. Collards and kale were the top vegetables for preventing glaucoma, according to the study.

Zeaxanthin, another phytochemical in this vegetable, is also found in the retina and could help reduce macular degeneration in older adults. All red, orange, dark green and yellow fruits and veggies protect you against vision loss.

Iron

This vegetable has more iron per calorie than beef. Iron is essential for cell growth, liver function and maintaining strength.

Flavonoids Prevent Oxidative Stress

Of the 45 flavonoids in this green veggie that reduce oxidative stress, kaempferol and quercetin are the most dynamic. One cup gives you 60 milligrams of kaempferol and 29 milligrams of quercetin to keep cells healthy and reduce cancer risk. (Kaempferol is also found in broccoli, while apples contain quercetin.)

Anti-Cancer Glucosinolates

Cancer-fighting glucosinolates are found in many plants. This leafy green has five glucosinolates, and studies have shown that these compounds reduce the chance of prostate, ovarian, bladder, breast, and colon cancer.

Protection against Heart Disease

The magnesium and potassium in this veggie lower your blood pressure and protect you against heart disease. Along with beta-carotene and antioxidant flavonoids, this leafy green has more heart-healthy properties than a Vitamin E supplement.

A Korean study showed men with hyperlipidemia who received juice made from this vegetable for 12 weeks had a reduced risk of coronary artery disease and decreased LDL cholesterol.

Consult your doctor before adding this veggie to your diet, as it may cause complications if you are taking blood thinners or have kidney problems.

Weight Loss

This fibrous leafy green vegetable, like other low-calorie density foods, fills up fast and prevents you from overeating. Use it as a side when you eat dinner instead of high-calorie instead of fries or mashed potatoes or put it on veggie burgers or sandwiches. Add it to soup, stewed chicken or sauce for more nutrients without extra calories.

Snacks and Salads

Use simple kale recipes for salads and healthy snacks. Kale Salad with Apples and Cheddar combines vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, pepper, salt, and sugar as a dressing. Top the leafy greens and apples with the dressing and add chopped or crumbled white cheddar. (add walnuts or almonds to make it crunchier.)

Make chips at home instead of spending extra money the store for snacks that may contain preservatives. At 15 calories a chip, you can splurge on an entire bowl and still have plenty of calories left over for the rest of the day. Bake chips by preheating your oven to 350 degrees while washing and taking the stems off the leaves. Line a non-insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt on the veggie pieces and place them on the cookie sheet. Bake for ten to 15 minutes, or until edges are brown.

Before baking, you can also sprinkle the pieces with paprika, garlic powder, chili powder or any spice you prefer to liven up the flavor. The spices will also add more nutrients to the treat. (Garlic and cayenne pepper help lower blood pressure, for example.)

How to Prepare

You can’t just tear, wash and serve this bitter green. You need to do a bit of work to soften it (and make it more palatable for people who don’t like the bitter taste.) Prepping takes a few minutes.

Before Cooking

When you buy these veggies, select the crispest, greenest leaves, and avoid any bunches that look wilted or yellow. Smaller leaves are tender and have a milder taste than larger leaves. Remove stems and ribs from the leaves when you get home, but don’t throw them away. You can use these parts in smoothies. To remove stems, grab hold of them with one hand, making sure the veggie is perpendicular to the floor, and grab the kale with the other hand. Then pull off the stem.

Store the greens in your fridge but keep them dry and don’t take the stems off until you’re ready to eat them. Keep this leafy green away from other foods in your fridge, even other veggies.

Cooking Methods

Salads, smoothies, and chips aren’t the only choices you have for preparing this green. There are several ways to cook kale. They include roasting, steaming, sautéing, blanching and even braising it.

  • Braise means to cook something in liquid under a slow heat. You can braise this leafy green in tomato, garlic, chile or other flavoring agents. Roast it in a very hot oven for five minutes and then dress it like a raw salad.
  • Blanch it in boiling water to get rid of its bitterness and tough texture. (Blanching will remove some of the vitamins and minerals, but it will make the veggie taste more pleasant.)
  • Sauté it in a skillet over medium to high heat with olive oil for a quick side dish.
  • Steam cut veggies by placing them in a colander over a pot of boiling water for five to 10 minutes.

The leaves can be pretty tough, so you need to remove the fibrous stems or stalks to prepare it. Chop or tear it into small pieces and sprinkle with salt. Place it in a bowl and let it soften for five to 20 minutes. The vegetable will darken as it becomes tender. You can also tear the leaves, cover them with the dressing of your choice, and gently massage the leaves until they soften and shrink.

Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner

Kale dinner recipes can be used for main or side dishes, depending on your tastes. Garlicky Pea Sauté adds other healthy ingredients – garlic, olive oil, peas, and a red hot chile to this leafy green – for a twist on the usual veggie side dish. Add this veggie to Broccoli-Cheddar Cheese Soup, Chicken and Bacon Pasta, or other recipes to get more fiber, Vitamin K, and flavonoids in your diet.

If you want the extra nutrition, this green offers, but don’t like the taste, add it to pesto. Use it to replace spinach or basil, or add a tiny amount to the sauce.

Add this leafy green to omelets or a breakfast burrito for more nutrition to start your day. Spice it up with cayenne pepper or paprika. Add this green to sandwiches or wraps instead of lettuce, or chop it up and include in pasta or macaroni dishes.

Eating this vegetable with avocados, olive oil or parmesan cheese will make carotenoids more accessible to your body. Adding lemon juice will increase the bioavailability of iron.

How Often Should You Eat This Green Veggie?

Three to four cups of this superfood a week, combined with other healthy foods, should be enough to keep you feeling great. Combining two cruciferous vegetables improves their healing and anti-inflammatory power, so keep Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli in your kitchen.  Eat millet, brown rice or quinoa bread with meals, and zest up dishes with herbs and spices for optimum nutrition.

Many news stories have claimed that eating raw kale is bad for you. But what are the facts? Like anything else you eat or drink, overdoing it can have disastrous health effects. If you overeat this leafy green veggie, you can ingest excess amounts of a heavy metal called thallium. Too much thallium causes fatigue, foggy thinking, and digestive problems. Reduce or stop your consumption of this veggie if you experience symptoms of mild thallium poisoning. (Overeating cabbage or cauliflower can also cause thallium poisoning.)

Cook this leafy green before you eat it to avoid any problems with toxins, and stay within the three to four cup a week range.  

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