9 reasons to throw some kale in your next salad

kaleOf all the leafy green vegetables you could choose to include in your diet, kale delivers an impressive list of nutrients.

This member of the cabbage family is loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber, and has been proven to possess powerful medicinal properties that can help you cultivate vital health.

Curly kale, also called Scots kale, is the most commonly available variety; you’ll also find types with smooth leaves that are either green or purple. All are extremely nutritious, including the fibrous stems.

Here are 9 reasons to make kale a staple vegetable in your home:

  1. Packed with Essential Nutrients

A single serving of 2.5 ounces of raw kale contains only 33 calories and tons of beneficial components, making it one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can eat. (1)

While it doesn’t have much fat content, the alpha linoleic acid in kale is one of the omega-3 fatty acids we’re always hearing we should eat more of. Two of the 6 carb grams are fiber, so it’s also a good fit for low-carb diets.

This amount of kale in one serving provides 3 grams of protein and almost 700% of the RDA for vitamin K, also known as phylloquinone. (2) Kale will fulfill more than a quarter of daily requirements for manganese, with lesser amounts of these important minerals: copper, potassium, calcium and magnesium.

  1. An Excellent Source of Antioxidants

Antioxidants help destroy free radicals that can cause oxidative damage in the body. (3) Researchers believe this damage may contribute to the development of chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, as well as speeding up the aging process. (4)

Kale contains plenty of vitamin C and other antioxidants like polyphenols, flavonoids and beta-carotene. (5)

Kaempferol and quercetin are two flavonoids abundant in kale that are among the hardest-working of antioxidants. (6)

Animal studies and lab tests show these antioxidants perform many important functions, and can also help normalize blood pressure, protect the heart, and decrease inflammation. (7, 8, 9)

  1. Rich in Vitamins C and K

The nutritional profile of kale is especially impressive because of its generous quantities of these two essential vitamins.

In order to make collagen, a structural protein occurring in larger amounts than any other protein in the body, we need vitamin C.

Spinach has been known as an excellent source of vitamin C for decades, and kale contains nearly 5 times the amount in spinach. And while oranges are recommended for insuring adequate intake of vitamin C, a single cup of raw kale delivers more than a whole orange. (10)

Kale is among the most abundant sources of vitamin K1, which activates proteins so they can bind calcium, a vital part of the blood-clotting process. A typical American diet may not provide enough vitamin K, but eating kale three times weekly can do the trick.

  1. Cholesterol-Lowering Properties

Including kale in your diet may even protect heart health through lowering cholesterol.

Participants in one study drank kale juice over a three-month period, raising levels of HDL cholesterol (the good kind) by 27% and dropping the LDL (the bad kind) by 10%. An improvement in antioxidant levels was also noted. (11)

One of the jobs cholesterol performs in the body is to serve as raw material for the liver as it produces bile acids, which are necessary for fat digestion. The bile acid sequestrants found in kale can lower cholesterol levels. (12)

  1. May Help Prevent Cancer

Kale is a good source of sulfurophane, which can help fight cancer by discouraging the growth of cancer cells at the molecular level. (13, 14, 15, 16)

Researchers believe indole-3 carbinol works to prevent cancer, and kale provides this compound as well. (17)

Other cruciferous vegetables have been tested for cancer-fighting properties with mixed results (18), but kale is a proven winner.

  1. Provides Raw Materials For Vitamin A Production

While it’s often noted that green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamin A, this isn’t technically the way it works.

The antioxidant beta-carotene, found in kale in high quantities, is used by the body to make its own vitamin A. (19)

This essential vitamin is necessary for many important functions, and getting it through a natural food like kale is far superior to taking a supplement. (20)

  1. Abundant Minerals

The typical American diet doesn’t deliver enough of many minerals necessary for proper cell function and essential for good health.

The generous amounts of magnesium found in kale can help protect against heart disease and type 2 diabetes. (21)

Adequate potassium levels, another mineral kale contains, is also important for heart health, as well as keeping blood pressure in normal ranges. (22)

Another advantage to choosing kale over spinach is its low oxalate content. Oxalates can bind minerals like potassium and magnesium, inhibitng the body’s ability to absorb them, so in this case, less is better. (23)

  1. Supports Eye Health

Eyesight often deteriorates with age, and two carotenoid antioxidants in kale are especially efficient at providing micronutrients that can preserve eye function.

Zeaxanthin and lutein are found in other foods as well, but kale is a rich source. These antioxidants have been shown to significantly decrease the risk of macular degeneration and the formation of cataracts (24, 25), which are two of the most common eye disorders people develop as they age.

  1. May Aid in Weight Loss

Because kale is low in calories and high in nutrients, it classifies as a food potentially useful for weight control.

The high water content means kale has low energy density, and eating plenty of foods in this group is known to help with weight loss. (26, 27)

Protein and fiber content are also considered weight-loss friendly foods, and kale delivers respectable quantities of both.

Although there have been no studies directly assessing the role kale can play in achieving healthy weight, the stats make it a wise choice for your diet plan.

King of Greens

With the range of health benefits kale offers, you can’t go wrong adding it to your shopping list.

A good place to start incorporating it is by bulking up salads. Some people find the flavor a bit intense at first, so slipping it in with other greens works well.

It’s simple to make your own kale chips by drizzling olive oil over leaves and sprinkling with salt, then baking until crisp. These make a great substitute for unhealthy snacks like potato chips.

Summary: Kale is reasonably priced, widely available, and incredibly healthy. Make a dramatic difference in the nutrient content of your diet by including kale on a regular basis.

References:

  1. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3018
  2. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3018
  3. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2014/761264/
  4. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0009898114002629
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22744944
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19253943
  7. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/tswj/2013/162750/
  8. http://advances.nutrition.org/content/3/1/39
  9. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21428901
  10. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2626/2
  11. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0895398808600124#
  12. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S03088146050
  13. http://www.eurekaselect.com/122312/article
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862133/
  15. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-642-38007-5_12
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22583415
  17. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/aps/2014/832161/
  18. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12094621
  19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17368314
  20. http://www.jlr.org/content/46/9/1896
  21. http://ckj.oxfordjournals.org/content/5/Suppl_1/i25.full
  22. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21371638
  23. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1997.tb04421.x/abstract
  24. http://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2125160
  25. http://www.iovs.org/content/44/6/2461.short
  26. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15976148
  27. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17556681
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