Photo: Strainer with Fresh Kale

by Tracy Ternes

It’s no secret that leafy green vegetables are at the head of the class when it comes to nutrition. No matter what your health goals, you will benefit by including more of them in your diet. The more common varieties, such as spinach, broccoli and bok choy, although highly nutritious, take a back seat when compared to what some refer to as “The King of Greens”: Kale. The nutritional highlights and culinary possibilities of kale are vast. Iron might be the first benefit that comes to your mind, but did you know that kale is also an anti-inflammatory, making it especially beneficial for the heart? If one of your goals this year is to establish a more heart-healthy diet, be sure to incorporate kale into your daily meals. Read on to learn more of all that kale has to offer.

  1. Anti-inflammatory: Chronic inflammation is a leading cause of arthritis, heart disease and a number of autoimmune diseases.1 Kale is rich in flavanoids, vitamin K and omega-3’s, all of which make it a powerfully effective anti-inflammatory food.2
  2. Immunity: In the last few decades, the development of factory farming has given birth to drug-resistant strains of bacteria known as “superbugs” that are a serious risk to our health.3 Avoiding meat and increasing your intake of leafy greens is your best defense against such dietary hazards. Kale is an incredibly rich source of immune-boosting carotenoid and flavanoid antioxidants including vitamins A and C.4
  3. Calcium: Osteoporosis and low bone mass are currently estimated to be a major public health threat for almost 44 million U.S. women and men aged 50 and older – that’s 55% of the over 50 population.5 Kale contains more calcium per calorie than milk (90 grams per serving) and is also better absorbed by the body than dairy.6
  4. Fiber: Fiber deficiency is linked to heart disease, high cholesterol, digestive disorders and cancer. One serving of cooked kale contains 10 percent of the recommended daily intake of fiber.7 A recent study found that steaming kale actually increases the fiber's ability to bind with bile acids in the digestive tract, causing them to exit the body rather than be absorbed. When this happens, our liver replaces the lost bile acids with existing supply of cholesterol, which in turn causes our cholesterol level to drop.8
  5. Omega fatty acids: Essential Omega fats play an important role in maintaining and improving health. A serving of cooked kale contains 134 mg of omega-3 fatty acids and 103 mg of omega-6 fatty acids.9
  6. Iron: According to the World Health Organization, iron is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide, affecting both developing and industrialized nations.10 Kale contains significant levels of iron. Including a source of vitamin C (such as tomatoes or cabbage) with your kale will increase your body’s absorption of iron.
  7. Sustainable: Kale grows to maturity in 55 to 60 days.11 It can grow in most climates and is relatively easy and low impact to grow at home or on a farm. In contrast, raising one pound of beef requires 16 pounds of grain, 11 times as much fossil fuel and more than 2,400 gallons of water.12
Footnotes: 
  1. Leo Galland, MD. "Diet and Inflammation." Nutrition in Clinical Practice (December 2010): Volume: 25 Issue: 6 Pages: 634-640.
  2. WH Foods. Worlds Healthiest Foods: Kale. 10 January 2012
  3. Lessing, Ariele. "Killing Us Softly: How Sub-Theraputic Dosing of Livestock Causes Drug-Resistant Bacteria in Humans." Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review (2010).
  4. WH Foods. Worlds Healthiest Foods: Kale. 10 January 2012
  5. "Facts and statistics about osteoporosis and its impact." January 2011. International Osteoporosis Foundation. 10 January 2012
  6. RP, Heaney and Weaver CM. "Calcium Absorption from Kale." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (April 1990; Vol 51 Issue 4): 656-657.
  7. Self Nutrition Data: Kale. 10 January 2012
  8. TS, Kahlon, Chiu MC and Chapman MH. "Steam cooking significantly improves in vitro bile acid binding of collard greens, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, green bell pepper, and cabbage." Nutrition Research (June 2008): Volume 28, Issue 6 , Pages 351-357.
  9. Self Nutrition Data: Kale. 10 January 2012
  10. World Health Organization: Micronutrient Deficiencies. 10 January 2012
  11. "How to grow Kale." USA Gardener. 10 January 2012
  12. Shah, Anup. "Beef." 22 August 2010. Global Issues. 10 January 2012