We collectively crowned kale “the queen of greens” years ago. By this point, it would be understandable if hearing kale health benefits felt a little bit like hearing old news. You may even be asking yourself: “Is kale really that healthy?
The thing is, the answer to that question is a definitive yes! Kale is so much more than a food that got 15 minutes of fame. These dark, leafy greens contain a shocking quantity of nutrients that easily qualify kale for the title of one of the healthiest and most nutritious foods, period.
In this article, we’ll cover why you should still get excited about kale nutrition facts and health benefits, plus we’ll address common questions about kale, like:
Kale may just be the most popular member of the cruciferous family, which also includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts. There are several types of kale, but the most common, curly kale, has green and (you guessed it!) curly leaves that shoot off a hard, fibrous stem.
SELF Nutrition Data provides the following information for a single cup of chopped, raw kale:
As you can see from the list above, kale contains a truly massive quantity of nutrients. And since kale is so low-calorie (and low-carb!), that makes it easily one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
As for concerns that you could eat too much kale, either because of heavy metal contamination or a negative effect on your thyroid or kidneys, you’d have to eat a truly insane amount to be in any danger. That said, eating a varied diet is the healthiest approach, so feel free to mix things up and eat some spinach, or collard greens, or arugula. You really can’t go wrong when it comes to greens.
Many kale health benefits come from the wealth of antioxidants it contains, like beta-carotene, vitamin C, flavonoids like quercetin and kaempferol, and an assortment of polyphenols. Research has shown that these powerful plant compounds can improve your health in a variety of ways.
Antioxidants, like the ones found in kale, prevent oxidative damage by keeping free radicals in check. This can keep you from developing a number of serious diseases, including cancer. Studies show that the antioxidants in kale can also quell chronic inflammation, lower blood pressure levels, and more.
Read on to learn about five of the most exciting ways the antioxidants and other nutrients in kale benefit you.
If you’re trying to lose weight, kale can help you achieve that goal. When it comes to kale as a weight-loss food, there’s science to back the hype. Kale is low in calories but provides substantial, filling bulk that will keep you satiated. Because of this, kale is a low energy density food. Three main factors determine the energy density of food: water, fiber, and fat. The more water and fiber and the less fat food has, the lower its energy density.
One year-long study evaluated whether the connection between energy density and weight loss would hold up if you took calories out of the equation. The researchers divided participants into groups. The first consumed low energy density soup, the second consumed a high energy density snack food that contained the same number of calories as the soup, and the third group was the control group and consumed no special food. At the study’s conclusion, the researchers found that the group that consumed the low energy density soup lost 50% more weight than the high energy density snack group!
Kale contains multiple plant compounds that have been shown to lower your risk of developing cancer. Of those, perhaps the most-researched is sulforaphane.
According to findings published in Anti-Cancer Agents in Medicinal Chemistry, sulforaphane has “huge cancer chemopreventive potential.” Not only can it help to prevent cellular changes that spur the development of cancer, but it can also increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments.
Kale also provides indole-3-carbinol, another bioactive compound with strong research supporting its anti-cancer effects.
All in all, the results of studies done with humans so far clearly indicate that eating cruciferous vegetables like kale can lower your risk of developing many kinds of cancer, although researchers have yet to completely grasp why that is.
As we age, our eyesight often declines. But we don’t need to resign ourselves to a fate of squinting to read road signs and constantly wondering where we left our reading glasses.
Lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoid antioxidants found in large concentrations in kale, can help keep your eyes healthy and your sight sharp as you grow older.
A team of French scientists evaluated the ability of carotenoids to protect against age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, two of the most common eye disorders, and found that zeaxanthin had a particularly impressive effect.
According to Angela Ginn, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eating kale gives your body a wonderful dose of digestive-health-boosting fiber, plus it “revs up your body’s natural detoxification ability.”
One reason kale can be so beneficial for your digestion is that its stems are loaded with prebiotics, a kind of fiber that fuels the healthy bacteria living in your gut. The stems can be quite tough to eat when raw, but they’re tasty when cooked! And if you’re wondering about the nutrients of cooked kale vs. raw, there are pros and cons to both approaches, so don’t overthink it. Have a kale salad one day and sautéed kale the next. It’s all good.
Kale contains tons of compounds that help lower inflammation. As we’ve discussed, kale is an incredible source of antioxidants—it contains 45 different flavonoids with a variety of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects!
Plus, eating a single kale leaf gets you more than six times your RDA for vitamin K, which research has shown can lower inflammation levels. Kale also provides a significant share of your daily recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acids, another formidable ally in the quest to keep inflammation in check.