Kale Nutrition, Benefits, and How to Use It

Find out why this leafy vegetable is so much better for you than spinach.

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Curly Kale
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If you're used to chowing down on spinach to up your iron and vitamin K intake, the flavor of kale might be off-putting at first. Don't let that stop you. We're exploring several types of kale, how to prepare it, and why it's worth adding to your salad (or making some smoky kale chips for a snack) every week.

What Is Kale?

A member of the cabbage family, kale is a leafy green that's related to Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and other cruciferous veggies. It has been growing in popularity thanks to its wide variety of health benefits and high concentration of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

In the past, American farmers grew kale leaves largely as a garnish, but it's been a widely-used vegetable throughout Europe and other parts of the world like Asia, South America, and Africa since before the Middle Ages. Today, the majority of kale grown in the US comes from California farms, with Georgia, New Jersey, and Texas following not too far behind.

Kale vs. Spinach

While kale is a member of the cruciferous (brassica) family of vegetables, spinach is related to beets and its taste is less aggressive than kale. Although they're both high in nutrients and good for you, when it comes to the depth of health benefits, kale packs a bigger punch with higher levels of Vitamins B6 and K. Plus thicker, heartier kale lasts longer in your fridge than more delicate spinach.

Popular Varieties

There are as many types of kale as there are ways to prepare this delicious leafy vegetable, and it comes in a range of colors from deep green and purple to even white and pink. Unlike its relative the cabbage, kale doesn't grow in a round head, but in long stalks similar to romaine lettuce. The most common variations of kale include curly, purple, and dinosaur kale.

Curly Kale

Curly Kale
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Curly Kale features dark, thickly ruffled leaves and is a sturdy, earthy green with a peppery edge to it that tends to be bitter when eaten raw. If you prefer less bitterness, choose baby kale because it has a milder flavor.

Purple Kale

Purple Kale
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Redbor or purple kale is distinctive from other kales thanks to its deep purple stems and its vibrant, frilly leaves in shades of red and maroon. Eaten raw, it has a mild cabbage-like flavor and a hearty texture that becomes softer and sweeter when cooked.

Dinosaur Kale

Dinosaur Kale
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Dinosaur or Lacinato Kale, also known as Tuscan Kale, has been a staple in Italian cuisine for centuries. Also called cavolo nero ("black cabbage" in Italian), it has long, dimpled blue-green leaves (reminiscent of reptile skin) and is more delicate and less bitter than curly kale.

Health Benefits and Nutrition Facts

The health benefits of kale are among the highest of any food around. It's quite high in nutrients and provides over 100% of the RDA of several vitamins including A, K, and C. But the benefits of kale don't stop there. Here are some more to consider:

A Powerful Source of Antioxidants

Antioxidants protect our bodies from free radicals, which are linked to cancer, blood vessel diseases, and other health issues. The flavonols kaempferol and quercetin are among the top antioxidants found in kale, two carotenoids that may protect our body from health problems such as cataracts, glaucoma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Can Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Researchers have learned that adding kale to your diet regularly can increase your HDL or "good" cholesterol while simultaneously lowering your LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels. Thanks to its high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, kale helps us avoid clogged arteries and plaque build-up in our circulatory system.

Contains Some Cancer-Fighting Substances.

Kale has been shown to contain a range of compounds that are believed to protect our bodies from forming cancer cells. Sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol are just two of the anticarcinogenic agents (cancer inhibitors) found in kale.

Great for Weight Loss

Because kale is a hearty green with few calories, eating it helps you feel full without packing on pounds. On top of that, the fiber contained in kale leaves is an effective agent in promoting weight loss.

How to Prepare Kale

Kale can be eaten raw in salads, but it's also delicious when sautéed, steamed, or even baked into crisps that are a fantastically crunchy substitute for potato chips. Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy this vegetable:

Raw

Although it's one of the few vegetables that are healthier when cooked, kale still packs a wallop nutrient-wise when it's eaten raw, like in a kale Caesar salad or as an ingredient in a surprisingly delicious kale-apple smoothie.

Added to Stir-Fry Dishes

Remove the tough spines and chop or cut the kale leaves into strips for a great addition to stir fries. You could also add kale to other one-pot dishes like a bucatini with kale and ricotta or quinoa with sweet potatoes, kale, and pesto.

Boiled

The hearty leaves of kale soften with boiling but keep their beautiful color, making it a wonderful addition to soups and stews like kale and white bean soup.

Sautéed

Kale is a great choice for sautéed side dishes because the leaves don't get limp like other greens. Try sautéed kale as a side dish for a roasted pork chop dinner.

Can You Freeze Kale?

If you're not going to use your kale right away, you can freeze it. Freezing kale is a simple way to avoid tossing piles of yellowed, wilted leaves, and it gives you easy access to a healthy ingredient for your smoothies or sautés. Note that once it's frozen, kale's texture changes, so stick with fresh kale for salads. Here's how to freeze it:

  1. Wash the leaves and remove the thick stems (which can be frozen separately for use in soups or stews where they'll be cooked down more). Don't worry about blanching.
  2. Roughly tear or chop the leaves and then place small clumps on a cookie sheet.
  3. After a few hours, relocate the frozen clumps to freezer bags or containers until you're ready to grab a handful for a recipe.

Don't worry about thawing. Frozen kale can go straight from the freezer into your morning smoothie or your evening entrée.

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