Kale has been hot for some time. A search of #kale on Instagram yields more than 3.6 million hits. Along with an endless stream of green smoothies and juices, you’ll find health enthusiasts sporting t-shirts and hats proudly displaying cute sayings, like “kale yeah.” A kale cult has clearly emerged. But does kale really live up to its superfood status? The answer is: you bet! Here are seven of its impressive benefits, and some easy ways to incorporate kale into your diet beyond salads and smoothies.
Kale is packed with nutrients
Kale is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, meaning it packs a powerful nutritional punch per typical serving. One cup of kale provides more than 100% of the daily minimum target for immune-supporting vitamin C and over 200% for vitamin A. The latter nutrient also supports immunity, as well as skin and brain health. Additionally, kale contains smaller amounts of key minerals, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, and phosphorus. It also supplies energy-supporting B vitamins and some plant-based omega-3 fatty acids and plant protein.
Kale promotes bone health
Kale is a top source of vitamin K, with one cup packing nearly 700% of the daily goal. In addition to helping blood to clot, this key nutrient protects bones. Vitamin K is required for bone formation, and several studies have shown that a shortfall is linked to increased fracture risk and osteoporosis.
It keeps inflammation at bay
Kale is a potent source of antioxidants known to reduce inflammation, a trigger of premature aging and disease. Antioxidants also counter oxidative stress, which occurs when there is an imbalance between the production of cell-damaging free radicals and the body's ability to counter their harmful effects. For these reasons, kale is thought to be one of the top disease-fighting foods.
Kale protects the heart
Kale has been shown to reduce cholesterol by increasing its excretion and preventing cholesterol from being reabsorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. In one study in men with high cholesterol, the consumption of kale juice daily for 12 weeks increased “good” HDL cholesterol by nearly 30% and decreased “bad” LDL by 10%, while improving antioxidant status. Kale also helps fend off damage to artery walls, especially within the bends and curves most vulnerable to inflammation and hardened plaque buildup.
It may help reduce cancer risk
As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family (which also includes broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and cabbage), kale contains natural compounds shown to help fend off cancer. This includes the ability to protect cells from DNA damage and mutations, inactivate cancer-causing compounds, slow cancer growth and spread, and even trigger cancer cell death.
Kale supports eye health
The antioxidants zeaxanthin and lutein in kale protect the retina and lens. They’ve also been shown to reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, two common eye disorders.
It’s figure friendly
One cup of kale provides roughly 10 to 30 calories, depending on how loose or packed it’s prepared. Its water and fiber content makes it filling—so you can cut back on more caloric foods. For example, trading one cup of cooked brown rice with one cup of chopped kale and a half cup of the rice increases total food volume while saving about 85 calories and 20 grams of carb.
How to eat more kale
You can serve eggs over kale for a breakfast salad, or add kale to an omelet, scramble, or frittata. Sprinkle finely chopped kale over oatmeal or overnight oats, and blend a handful into any type of smoothie.
Bake kale in the oven for a crispy snack or a topping for just about any dish. Gently massage kale with extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil as the base for a salad, bed for your protein, or a tasty green to blend with whole grains. Add kale to soups; chili; stews; stuffed peppers; hummus or other dips; and casseroles. Toss shredded kale onto pizza and tacos.
Whip the leafy green into the wet ingredients when you make pancakes or other baked goods. Or stir finely minced kale into nut butter, energy balls, and dark chocolate bark along with nuts or seeds and dried fruit.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a nutrition consultant for the New York Yankees.
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