Kale benefits have been hyped for the last decade or so, with the cousin of broccoli turning up on Beyoncé's jumpers, the menu of every health hangout from Manchester to Malibu and in the shopping basket of anyone aspiring to live their best nutritional life.
Part of the cruciferous (aka brassica) vegetable family, it’s related to cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens and Brussels sprouts, as well as broccoli, and comes in a variety of forms including fancy purple kale – though the one you probably stick in your Tesco cart most common is curly or Scots kale.
'Brassicas are well known to be full of health-promoting sulphur containing phytonutrients, making it a perfect all year round antioxidant source', says nutritionist Mays Al-Ali.
How does kale help your body?
'With many bioactive compounds, such as glucosinolates, vitamins C, K, E, cholesterol-lowering substances, and carotenoids like lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene, kale has powerful medicinal properties'.
With an even huger hit of nutrients than spinach, kale benefits healthy hair, skin and bones, as well as lowering the risk of diabetes, cancer, blood pressure and asthma.
A single cup contains 206% of the daily recommendation of vitamin A, 684% of vitamin K and 134% of vitamin C (... 17 times more than carrots!) , as well as high levels of potassium, fibre, antioxidants, calcium and chlorophyll, as well as being a vegan source of iron and antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid.
As with most green leafy veg, it’s low in fat but it does contain an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha linolenic-acid - a relative unknown among the many kale benefits.
'I add kale to smoothies, curries and stir-fries for an added antioxidant boost', says nutritionist Angelique Panagos. 'It's packed with phytonutrients that support all your body’s detoxification organs, ridding our body of toxins and spent hormones, benefiting all aspects of our health.'
13 Kale benefits to inform your healthy eating
Kale Benefits 1: Reduces diabetes symptoms
One of many kale benefits is that kale has been shown to lower glucose levels, which can increase insulin sensitivity and prevent oxidative stress in people with type 2 diabetes.
Though it's important to note that most studies that have provided evidence of kale benefits have been on people being given high doses of alpha-lipoic acid, a nutrient which is present in kale, rather than getting these kale benefits from the leaves themselves.
Kale Benefits 2: Lessen signs of ageing
With high levels of antioxidants, including vit C and beta-carotene, one of the kale benefits is that eating the leaves can help the ageing process by countering oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which can cause wrinkles.
Kale Benefits 3: Fights disease
The same free radical fighters — particularly the antioxidant kaempferol and quercetin — can help decrease the chance of diseases, though more studies on humans are needed.
Kale Benefits 4: Decrease the risk of colon cancer
One of the disease that’s shown to be particularly affected is colon cancer, which responds to a diet rich in indole-3-carbinol.
Kale Benefits 5: Improves digestion
High in fibre and water, kale helps to maintain a healthy gut, but it's also thanks to the indole-3-carbinol, which is created when we digest kale.
Kale Benefits 6: Protects the skin from sun damage
With extremely high levels of vitamin C — four times as much as spinach — studies on the effects of oral lycopene and lutein suggest kale can shield the skin from harmful UV radiation.
'Just one cup of kale contains nearly 90% of our recommenced daily requirement of vitamin C', says Ali. 'So always go for the kale instead of the high-sugar, blood sugar-spiking orange juice.'
Kale Benefits 7: Lowers cholesterol
Research has found kale could increase good (aka high-density lipoprotein or HDL) and decrease bad (aka low-density lipoprotein or LDL) cholesterols, with one study reporting a 27% rise in the former and a 10% drop in the latter after drinking kale juice for 12 weeks.
But remember: it's always better to access the many kale benefits by eating the leaves in their whole form, rather than juicing.
When you juice vegetables and fruit you strip away their highly beneficial fibre content, which - among other health wins - is crucial for supporting good gut health. And we don't need to tell you just how important good gut health is for your overall health - mind and body.
Kale Benefits 8: Improves blood clotting
Vitamin K plays a big part in our body’s ability to clot the blood healthily - a vital function for healinG. A cup of kale contains more than six times our RNI.
Kale Benefits 9: Bone strength
Another of the multifarious kale benefits relates back to the nutrient vitamin K. This vitamin plays an important role in promoting and maintaining bone density, reducing risk of fractures or breakages.
'The bone building benefits of vitamin K are associated with reduced risks of bone fracture', Ali says. 'It helps modify bone matrix proteins, improving calcium absorption, and may reduce the amount of calcium excreted in urine helping keep our bones stronger.' Strong stuff!
Kale Benefits10: Protects eyes
Degradation of our eye sight is another thing that happens as we get older, but some nutrients — like lutein and zeaxanthin — help prolong their functioning without cataracts or maculopathy, a condition of the macula at the centre of the retina. And, you guessed it, these nutrients are present and correct within kale.
Kale Benefits 11: Weight loss
Kale for weight loss? Yessir. Unlike some so-called 'superfoods', kale is low in fat and calories, but it’s also high in fibre, which helps us feel satiated.
Kale Benefits 12: Reduce heart disease and stroke risk
Few people get their RNI of potassium, which kale has a huge amount of — 491mg in a cup of cooked leaves, despite it having shown to reduce the chance of heart disease and stroke. In fact, a study of US adults over nearly 15 indicated sufficient potassium decreased the risk of dying by any cause by 20%.
Kale Benefits 13: Improves hair and skin condition
Kale benefits for skin? You know it. Kale is high in vitamin A, which is the family where retinol - you know that super effective skincare active ingredient touted for it's resurfacing and anti ageing benefits - comes from. So, eating those leaves as part of a varied, balanced diet can help keep your skin looking its best. Along with your hair, which is also boosted by vitamin K.
Q&A: How to maximise kale benefits in your diet
So, now you know more about the curly leaf than you ever knew you needed to, it's time to look at how best to include kale in your diet. Here are the questions you wanted answered.
You asked: Is it good to eat kale everyday?
Short answer: probably not. Kale is one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, it is an amazing resource of essential vitamins.
But what happens if you eat too much of it? Well, kale contains progoitrin, which can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis and disrupt iodine intake, which makes it tricky for your thyroid to produce the hormones it needs to function. So, if you are undergoing treatment for a thyroid concern, it's worth discussing your kale intake with a dietician.
Eating too much kale can also affect your gastrointestinal system, causing gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea.
So, bottom line? Remember that the healthiest diet is a balanced, varied one. So rather than eating kale every day, why not switch it up with other greens to ensure you're consuming a more rounded selection of nutrients.
If you only cook for one, why not freeze your kale and spinach so you can alternate between the two without having to deal with the guilt that arises from letting a half-eaten bag so off in your fridge.
You asked: Which is healthier spinach or kale?
It's not a competition! These two leafy greens both pack considerable benefits and both both deserve a place in your fridge - and diet. As every dietician worth their salt will tell you, healthiest diet is a balanced, varied one.
If you want to geek out on all the many benefits of spinach, check out our deep dive into the topic, below.
You asked: Is kale better for you cooked or raw?
Cooking kale, in any way damages its vitamin and mineral levels, according to a study published in by the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. It was the calcium levels that took the biggest hit. Which, in turn, prevents the iron contained in kale from being properly absorbed.
Much anecdotal evidence suggests that eating raw kale can trigger the aforementioned GI disruption - bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhoea. If this is true for you, consider steaming or roasting your kale leaves - or adding them to a stew.
All the kale benefits; less of the bloat. The authors of the aforementioned study found that steaming was the best cooking method for preserving as much of the nutrients we have to thank for the many kale benefits.
Eating kale raw can also increase the risk (explored above) that kale can pose to those with hypothyroidism. That's because the glucosinolates (yes, the very compounds associated with the plant's cancer prevention properties) can disrupt thyroid function.
Glucosinolates are reduced when cooking so, if you are currently experiencing issues with your thyroid health, its best to cook your kale to access the kale benefits without risking adding to your thyroid concerns.
Also, let's face it, crispy roasted kale or sautéd kale in a chunky breakfast frittata are so much tastier than a raw kale salad.
Note: Those on blood thinning medication or beta-blockers - or who have kidneys that aren’t fully functional - should speak to their doctor before consuming kale.
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