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If you have not tried kale yet, now is the time. This super green is packed to max with nutrition that puts it high on the list of the world's healthiest foods. Even spinach cannot come close in comparison to the number of nutrients that kale provides. Dark leafy greens like spinach are important for skin and hair, bone health, and provide protein, iron, vitamins and minerals.
The possible health benefits of consuming kale include improving blood glucose control in diabetics, lowering the risk of cancer, lowering blood pressure, improving bone health, lowering the risk of developing asthma and more.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods. It provides a nutritional breakdown of kale and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to incorporate more kale into your diet and any potential health risks of consuming kale.
Kale is a leafy green cruciferous vegetable that is chock-full of essential vitamins A, C and K as well as minerals like copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. A cup of fresh kale has only about 40 calories but packs almost 3 grams of protein.
One cup of cooked kale has over 1000% more vitamin C than a cup of cooked spinach and unlike spinach, kale's oxalate content is very low which means that the calcium and iron in kale are highly absorbable in the human digestive system.1
Diabetes: Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. One cup of chopped fresh kale provides about 2.6 grams of fiber.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 g/day for women and 30-38 g/day for men.
Kale contains an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes. Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown decreases in peripheral neuropathy and/or autonomic neuropathy in diabetics.3
Of note, most studies have used intravenous alpha-lipoic acid and it is unsure whether oral supplementation would elicit the same benefits.3
Heart disease: The fiber, potassium, vitamin C and B6 content in kale all support heart health. An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium intake is the most important dietary change that a person can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, according to Mark Houston, M.D., M.S., an associate clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School and director of the Hypertension Institute at St. Thomas Hospital in Tennessee.2
In one study, those who consumed 4069 mg of potassium per day had a 49% lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium (about 1000 mg per day).2
High potassium intakes are also associated with a reduced risk of stroke, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density and reduction in the formation of kidney stones.2
For blood pressure, increasing potassium intake may be just as important as decreasing sodium intake for lowering blood pressure because of potassium's vasodilation effects.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2% of US adults meet the daily 4700 mg recommendation.2 One cup of chopped fresh kale provides 329 milligrams of potassium.
Also of note, a high potassium intake is associated with a 20% decreased risk of dying from all causes.2
Cancer: Kale and other green vegetables that contain chlorophyll have been shown to be effective at blocking the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines, which are generated when grilling foods at a high temperature.4 If you tend to like your grilled foods charred, make sure to pair them with green vegetables to help negate these effects.
Bone health: Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk for bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption is important for good health, as it acts as a modifier of bone matrix proteins, improves calcium absorption and may reduce urinary excretion of calcium.5
One cup of kale provides a whopping 550 micrograms of vitamin K, over 680% of our daily needs.
Digestion: Kale is high in fiber and water content, both of which help to prevent constipation and promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract.
Healthy skin and hair: Kale is high in vitamin A, a nutrient required for sebum production to keep hair moisturized. Vitamin A is also necessary for the growth of all bodily tissues, including skin and hair.
Adequate intake of vitamin C, which kale can provide, is needed for the building and maintenance of collagen, which provides structure to skin and hair.
Iron-deficiency is a common cause of hair loss, which can be prevented by an adequate intake of iron-rich foods, like kale.
A member of the mustard family, kale has a spicier and more pronounced flavor than your typical lettuce. It is also heartier and crisp with a hint of earthiness.
Kale grows well in the colder winter months, so can be a great addition to your fruit and vegetable routine when other produce is not as readily available.
Kale can be enjoyed raw in salads or on sandwiches or wraps, braised, boiled, sautéed or added to soups and casseroles.
Sauté fresh garlic and onions in extra-virgin olive oil until soft. Add kale and continue to sauté until desired tenderness.
Kale chips: Remove the ribs from the kale and toss in extra-virgin olive oil or lightly spray and sprinkle with your choice or a combination of cumin, curry powder, chili powder, roasted red pepper flakes or garlic powder. Bake at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-30 minutes to desired crispness.
In a food processor or a high-speed blender, add a handful of kale to your favorite smoothie for a nutrient blast without a big change in flavor or try this Green Pumpkin Pie Smoothie.
Beta-blockers, a type of medication most commonly prescribed for heart disease, can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High potassium foods such as bananas should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers.
Consuming too much potassium can be harmful for those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal.
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