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.
'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, it 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.
'Kale is one of my key 'Detox Warriors', which I add 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.'
Kale Health Benefits: Why Kale Is a Superfood?
1/ Reduces diabetes symptoms
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 have been on people being given high doses of alpha-lipoic acid, a nutrient which is present in kale, rather than the leaves themselves.
2/ Lessen signs of ageing
With high levels of antioxidants, including vit C and beta-carotene, kale can help with the ageing process by countering oxidative stress caused by free radicals, which can cause wrinkles.
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.
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.
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.
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.'
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) cholesterol, with one study reporting a 27% rise in the former and a 10% drop in the latter after drinking kale juice for 12 weeks.
In fact, steamed kale functions like cholesterol-lowering medication cholestyramine.
8/ Improves blood clotting
Vitamin K plays a big part in our body’s ability to clot the blood healthily and a cup of kale contains more than six times our RDA.
9/ Bone strength
Another benefit of vitamin K is bone density, reducing risk of fractures or breakages — aided by the high calcium levels.
'Kale is also high in vitamin K, essential for healthy blood clotting and also 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.'
10/ 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.
11/ Weight loss
Kale for weight loss? Yessir. Unlike some superfoods, kale is low in fat and calories, but it’s also high in water so it helps us feel satiated.
12/ Reduce risk of heart disease and stroke
Few people get their RDA 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%.
13/ Improves hair and skin condition
Kale benefits for skin? You know it. High in vitamin A, which is the family that skin-boosting retinol comes from, kale helps with hair and skin moisture and repair.
And Some Kale FAQs...
Is it OK to eat kale everyday?
It’s okay, but aim to have maximum two servings and mix it up with other green vegetables.
Is eating raw kale bad for you?
Those on blood thinning medication or beta-blockers, or with kidneys that aren’t fully functional, should speak to their doctor before consuming kale.
Is it better to eat kale raw or cooked?
Though some vegetables lose nutrients when cooked, leafy dark green ones tend to be better cooked as they’re easier to eat and digest. So, is cooked kale good for you? Yes, preferably steamed which has shown to make kale 43% as strong as cholesterol drug cholestyramine. Though cancer studies suggest raw — potentially thrown into a smoothie — is better, so it's best to mix up your intake. And remember to cut out the hard middle stem.
Kale vs. spinach — which is better?
Kale is higher in nutrients, but check out these benefits of spinach and make your own decision.
Cooked kale nutrition
One cup of cooked kale contains only 36.4 calories, 7.3 grams of carbohydrate, 0.5g fat and 2.5g protein.
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