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No wonder it’s been dubbed by health and nutrition experts as a “superfood” over the last few years: Kale benefits your entire body, from your bones to your heart to your digestive system. Kale is also versatile, easy to prepare, and delicious, so if it hasn’t found a permanent place on your weekly grocery list yet, now might be the perfect time.
Let’s start with some facts: Kale is a member of the Brassica family, a group of cruciferous vegetables that also includes cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Kale is native to Europe and Asia Minor and has been grown and eaten for nearly 4,000 years. While there are many varieties of kale with colors ranging from dark green to pink, the most common types include curly, Lacinato, Salad Savoy, and Red Russian.
One cup of raw chopped kale contains 33 calories, 1 gram of fiber, 7 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein, and 29 mg of sodium. Each serving also comes with adequate sources of vitamins A, C, and K as well as calcium and iron—but a little more on that later.
Here are seven ways that kale benefits your health.
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#1 Kale can lower your cholesterol.
The Brassica family of vegetables contains over 40 phenolic compounds that help fight many serious medical conditions, including high cholesterol.
A recent study found that male patients with high cholesterol saw a 10 percent reduction in LDL levels after drinking kale juice. This is due to kale’s ability to bind to bile acids produced by the liver. This binding causes them to be excreted by the body instead of being reabsorbed. As a result, the body uses stored cholesterol to replace the lost bile acids, thus causing a reduction of cholesterol.
For more information on kale’s ability to lower cholesterol, check out “The Best Cholesterol-Lowering Food: Cruciferous Vegetables.”
#2 Kale benefits your bones.
Kale is an excellent source of vitamin K, which the body needs for bone mineralization and to maintain calcium balance. One cup of kale contains over 600 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K. For more information about vitamin K and how it’s used to both prevent and treat bone-related conditions, check out “Vitamin K Supplement—Which Type is Best for Osteopenia and Osteoporosis Treatment?”
#3 Kale might help prevent and fight cancer.
In recent years, cancer researchers have been studying the effects that kale and other cruciferous vegetables can have in preventing and fighting the disease. The results are mixed. According to the National Cancer Institute, key studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables might have some effect on cancers of the prostate, colon, lung, and breast, but the evidence isn’t yet strong enough
What researchers did find was that when eaten, cruciferous vegetables are broken down into active compounds that have been frequently tested for their anti-cancer effects. Animal studies have shown that these compounds can protect cells from DNA damage, deactivate carcinogens, prevent inflammation, and more.
#4 Kale benefits those living with diabetes.
Besides being rich in fiber, which is always a good choice for diabetics, kale is also rich in lutein and beta carotene. These support health of the eyes, which can suffer damage resulting from diabetes. It also contains a high amount of potassium, which can help lower your blood pressure, and manganese, which can help control your blood sugar levels.
#5 Kale fights against inflammation.
In addition to protecting your bone health, vitamin K is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Kale is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and the antioxidant sulforaphane, both of which can reduce inflammation.
#6 Kale can help detoxify your body.
Kale is a good source of potassium, a mineral known to have alkalinizing properties. Your body’s able to eliminate more toxins when your urine contains more alkaline than acid. Many nutrition experts recommend using soups and broths to naturally balance your body’s pH levels, and kale is often a main ingredient.
For more on using soup to detoxify your body, check out “3 Top Detox Soup Recipes to Promote Alkalinity.”
#7 Kale serves as a natural appetite suppressant.
Kale, as well as other dark leafy greens, naturally contains thylakoids, which scientists discovered in the early 1990s could be used as an appetite suppressant. Studies show that meals rich in thylakoids reduced insulin levels, which when raised, can cause reactive hypoglycemia followed by hunger a short time late. Studies also found that thylakoids can reduce levels of ghrelin, known as the “hunger hormone,” and significantly increase levels of leptin, the hormone that tells your brain that you’re full.
For more information on thylakoids, check out “Need a Natural Appetite Suppressant? How to Lose Weight Naturally by Eating Thylakoids.”
Kale Benefits Also Include Versatility
Like many dark leafy greens, kale can be eaten raw in a salad or it can be sautéed, roasted, blanched, braised, or steamed as a nutritious side for a healthy dinner. Plus, kale can be blended into a healthy smoothie with fruit, added to soup, or made into “chips” for a healthy snack. (To learn how to make your own at home, check out our article “Carrie’s Kale Chips.”)
It’s important to remember that kale is sturdier than other greens, so it will take longer to cook. It also has a slightly bitter taste that some people might take time to get accustomed to. Here are a few more tips for storing and preparing kale, according to Eat This, Not That!:
- Remove the stems and ribs of fresh kale before cooking.
- Keep fresh kale cool and dry in your refrigerator. Don’t wash your kale until you’re ready to prepare it.
- If you like your kale extra crispy, try baking it on low heat in your oven for 20 to 25 minutes.
- Is the taste of kale too bitter for you? Try massaging it with an avocado before eating. Learn more here.
Curried Red Lentil and Kale Soup
SERVES 6 TO 8
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 celery stalk, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 cup red lentils, rinsed
1 cup finely chopped green or red kale
1 quart water
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
⅛ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup coconut cream, for garnish
2 teaspoons lemon juice, for garnish
¼ cup diced green onions, for garnish, optional
- In a large pot, melt the ghee over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrot and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook for 5 minutes until tender.
- Add the tomato paste and curry powder and cook for 30 seconds while stirring. Add the red lentils, kale, water, ¾ teaspoon salt, coriander and cumin. Bring the liquid to a boil. Then reduce heat to medium low, cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes or until lentils are tender.
- In a small bowl, stir together coconut cream and lemon juice.
- Serve the soup chunky or puree it in the blender for a smooth and creamy texture. Top with coconut cream mixture and diced onions, if desired.
Each serving contains 135 calories, 4g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 1mg cholesterol, 326mg sodium, 19g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 7g protein.