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Brassica Oleracea Var. Sabellica, more commonly known as “kale” originated from the Cruciferae (Brassicaceae) or the Cabbage family. It is closely related to cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, mustard greens, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and collard greens. Due to the many health benefits of kale, it has been growing in popularity among celebrities and health nuts alike. It is a leafy green, cabbage-like plant packed with a lot of nutrients.
Kale also has a variety, ranging from curly Kale, Red Russian Kale, Dinosaur Kale, Baby Kale, etc. that may differ slightly from one another in taste, texture and colour and can be used in an assortment of delicious and healthy recipes. Fresh kale usually has dark or bright green leaves.
A. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables are those that are part of the Brassica Genus. These vegetables are generally a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate (Vitamin B), Carotenoids (chemicals in the plants that provide them with colour), minerals and Omega-3 fatty acids (healthy dietary fats).
These important nutrients present in kale and other cruciferous vegetables help maintain cognitive health, skin health, the health of the heart etc. Adding more cruciferous vegetables to your diet can go a long way in increasing your life expectancy, owing to their anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and detoxifying properties.
Brussels sprouts, for example, can fight high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and cancer in the stomach, lungs and/or prostate. Broccoli can help in improving the condition of your bowels and regulate your weight. Cauliflower may aid your immune system and prevent afflictions relating to the brain and cognition.
B. Nutritional Value of Kale
One of the benefits of Kale is that it is one of the most nutrient-dense foods that you can add to your diet. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of raw kale would consist of approximately 89.6 grams of Water, 2.9 grams of Protein, and 1.49 grams of Total Lipid (fat). It would also consist of 4.1 grams of Dietary Fiber (providing your body with roughage), and 2.4 mg of calcium(good for your bone health).
It also contains several other nutrients mentioned below –
Our body consists of “free radicals”, which are uncharged molecules that can harm the body and cause various illnesses and ailments. These may be produced during normal metabolic functions or due to activities such as – smoking, consuming alcohol and fried foods, exposure to X-Rays, air pollution and industrial chemicals (some of which are also carcinogenic). These free radicals can be neutralized with the help of antioxidants.
Kale and other members of the cruciferous vegetable family have antioxidant properties, allowing them to give some of their electrons to the free radicals, thus, reducing the risk of several diseases.
2. Vitamin C
Kale is one of the best sources of Vitamin C for your body. One cup of kale may even have more Vitamin C than a whole orange, which makes it good for hair growth, reduces the risk of chronic illnesses and promotes skin health.
3. Vitamin K
There are 390 micrograms of Vitamin K in 100 grams of raw kale, which help in the creation of various proteins that our body needs in order to prevent excessive bleeding, reduce the risk of fractures and improve the mineral density
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Although it has very little fat, Kale contains Alpha-linolenic acid, a kind of Omega-3 fatty acid that promotes normal pumping of the heart and is essential for human growth. It also induces lower cholesterol, making it ideal for the rejuvenation of your arteries.
Although other leafy greens are considered high-potassium foods, kale is classified as a lower-potassium food. This, however, could be because more than half a cup of kale can flare up some issues in your stomach or thyroid.
These nutrients play a great role in bringing about the benefits of kale.
C. Health Benefits of Kale
There are a lot of powerful medicinal properties and benefits of kale that can do wonders for your body if consumed daily. It has been considered a “superfood” by many doctors and experts in nutrition and diets. This is due to its high nutritional value and the fact that it is filled with vitamins and minerals.
Adding kale to your diet can cleanse and replenish your body. Just one cup of kale consumed every other day can increase your lifespan and improve your quality of life. The health benefits of kale are innumerable, owing to kale’s high vitamin and antioxidant levels.
Mentioned below are just a few health benefits of kale –
1. Eye Health
Considered very good for your eye health, kale can prevent diseases like age-related macular degeneration (vision loss or changes in the eye due to old age). It contains Vitamin A and beta-carotene that keep your retina healthy and protect you from the ultraviolet rays of the sun.
2. The Brain
Kale has beta-carotene, which gets converted into Vitamin A upon digestion. By inducing an increase in the levels of this vitamin in our body, it boosts mental functions and promotes the flourishing of our brain health. One of the benefits of kale is that it has been associated with a decreased risk of depression as it is full of phytonutrients and folate.
3. The Bones
Vitamin K promotes the calcification of our teeth and bones. It also reduces the risk of bone fractures. This vitamin is essential for your bone health. Kale slows the decline in bone density of an individual and has proven efficient in lowering osteoporosis.
4. Cancer Prevention
The Carotenoids which are found in the dark green, leafy vegetable Kale boost the body’s defences against free radicals that attack our DNA and lower the risk of cancers like – colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, etc.
5. Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
Consuming vegetables such as spinach, kale, chard and collard beans also support heart health and helps the body generate new endothelial cells (that line the walls of arteries) and strengthen your blood vessels.
Eating kale every day can also result in lower levels of Low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol that causes a sort of plaque build-up in the arteries, thereby lowering the risk of heart disease and other ailments such as high/low blood pressure, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, blood clotting, etc. This is one of the most important benefits of kale.
6. Digestive Health
If you often face distress relating to digestion, kale can be a very efficient addition to your meal. It is rich in fibre, folate and Vitamins K and C. These can rid you of constipation, resulting in a healthier digestive tract. It also contains sulfoquinovose, which supports the flourishment of “healthy bacteria” present in the gut.
7. Liver Health
Kale helps in reducing HFD (High Fat Diet) induced inflammation and fat deposits in the body. Thereby inducing a lower risk of serious diseases such as fatty liver and obesity. The antioxidants present in kale can aid chronic liver problems and detoxify it.
8. Lower Blood Glucose Levels
A benefit of Kale is that it has a low glycemic index, meaning that it has fewer carbohydrates and may also decrease the blood sugar levels in the body. It may help control and regulate up to Type-2 diabetes. This is owing to the flavinoids (a kind of metabolite) present in kale.
9. Promotes Weight Loss
With its high water content and low calorific value, kale will help you on your journey towards weight loss. It is also rich in dietary fiber which leaves your tummy feeling quite full. Kale naturally increases your body’s metabolism and may be a great addition to the diet of those who may be looking to lose a few pounds.
D. Delicious and Easy-To-Make Recipes to Try
Although some people prefer consuming kale raw, if you are more of a foody looking to get healthier, or have a passion for experimentation, these recipes might be exactly what you need.
Kale can be baked, steamed, and used for garnishing. You can add it to any salad or sandwich. You may even add kale to your everyday meals!
Once you decide to incorporate it into your diet, the possibilities are endless. However, the method of cooking can greatly affect how much you are reaping the benefits of kale. The best cooking method for your diet may depend upon the purpose for which you wish to use it or your health status. Here are some examples of recipes you can try with kale –
1. Kale Chips
This recipe is perhaps as simple as it gets. These chips are a great alternative for you to snack on. The benefits of kale chips are that once you add them to your diet, they will be the perfect partner for your weight loss journey and will boost your energy.
- To make Kale chips, you will need a minimum of 3 key ingredients – Kale (flat, dinosaur or curly kale), extra virgin Olive oil and Salt.
- First, dry some kale leaves and spread them out flat on a sheet of butter paper.
- Coat the leaves with a very thin layer of oil and sprinkle salt over them.
- Preheat the oven to a temperature of 150 degrees (C)
- Place the kale leaves into the oven to cook for about 20-30 minutes till the leaves turn brown in the corners.
- You may experiment with different flavours and seasonings based on your taste. You may also use other oils like avocado oil.
2. Kale Juice
Drinking kale juice is undoubtedly one of the best gifts you can give to your body. It will revitalise your body and provide it with a myriad of nutrients. This particular recipe would be a rich source of beta-carotene, making it excellent for the health of your skin.
- The key ingredients of this recipe include a bunch of kale, 1 sliced apple and cucumber, 1 inch of ginger and 1 lime.
- Remove the citrus peel from the lime and wash all ingredients before use.
- Add all ingredients to a juicer one by one until you are left with this fresh, healthy juice.
- It is best to drink green juices right away, however in case you want to drink them later, you should refrigerate them and shake the container before drinking the juice.
3. Kale Soup
Kale soup is filled with nutrients, antioxidants, iron and calcium. Not only is it filling, but it is also incredibly easy to make.
The key ingredients for this recipe are kale, onions, garlic, vegetable broth, potatoes, milk, salt and pepper.
- Sautee onion, garlic, and potatoes in olive oil and add vegetable broth to it. Let it cook for about 10 minutes.
- Further, add milk and chopped kale to it and let the soup cook for 3 minutes. Blend it and maybe even pour some cream over it.
- You may also add salt and pepper to the soup according to your taste.
4. Steamed Kale
Studies have shown that steamed kale has a higher tendency of retaining its antioxidants and other nutrients. This is the best way of cooking kale without compromising on nutrition.
- To prepare this as a meal, add some water (fill up the steamer about an inch with water) into a steamer and place it on medium-high flame.
- Place washed and dried kale leaves into the steamer and let it steam for 5-10 minutes. Toss the Kale in between and remove the excess water before taking the leaves out.
- Add lemon and salt to a bowl of the steamed leaves and toss them to make sure that they absorb the flavour. You can also add black pepper to it.
E. Is It Safe to Eat Kale Raw?
Although raw kale may be a more nutritious alternative, it may also cause some damage to your thyroid function. It may be advisable to consume it raw in a more moderated fashion so as to reap the benefits of kale efficiently. Since it has a large amount of fibre, it may not be best for your stomach to be forced to digest it raw in large quantities.
You should also make sure that you wash kale thoroughly and dry it before tucking in. You can store it in a refrigerator for about 6 days in an air-tight container or a ziplock bag. Always check for brown or black spots before you buy kale. Make sure it is fresh and has an earthy scent to it. As it gets older, it starts smelling of rotten eggs.
F. Raw Kale Versus Cooked Kale
Studies have shown that kale loses some of its antioxidants and nutrients when cooked. Although the results of each method of cooking are different, it has been observed that steaming is the most efficient method of retaining these qualities. Since it has a bitter taste, especially when fresh and eaten raw, cooking kale is preferred by most due to the subtlety it adds to the flavour.
Both raw, as well as cooked kale, are considered healthy. It is, however, a matter of which is healthier. When cooked, the vitamin C concentration decreases significantly, along with many other nutrients that make it such a healthy alternative. If seen from the digestion point of view, cooked kale may be favoured instead.
G. Can You Ever Have “Too Much Kale”?
Although kale has many health benefits, having more than one or two helpings of it can have negative effects on your body. It may be best to stick with not more than half a cup of it. For one, it may cause gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhoea.
It can also interfere with your thyroid function by blocking the iodine in your body if consumed in high quantities. As it consists of compounds known as goitrogens (that prevent the absorption of iodine by the thyroid gland) it can be particularly harmful to those who are iodine deficient (commonly found in those who have goitre).
However, adding iodine-rich foods to your diet may subside this hazard. You should discuss this with a healthcare professional and limit your kale consumption to a healthy amount.
It is also recommended that those who are using blood thinners steer clear of a diet containing a lot of kale. This is because it has an abundance of Vitamin K, which aids blood clotting. An increased intake of this vitamin may counteract the effect of the blood thinners. So long as you eat kale in limited quality, however, the benefits of kale would surpass its risks.