Kale: Queen of Greens

Move over spinach and make room for the super green, kale

By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD

Gaining in popularity, kale is a super nutritious vegetable recognized for its exceptional nutrient profile, health benefits and delicious flavor.

Eating vegetables is the basis of a healthy diet because it does wonders for your health; choosing super-nutritious kale may provide significant health benefits, including cancer protection and lowered cholesterol.

Kale, also known as borecole, is one of the healthiest vegetables around. A leafy green, kale comes in baby, curly, ornamental or Lacinato (also known as Tuscan, black or dinosaur). Leaves range from dark green to purple to deep red in color. It belongs to the Brassica family that includes cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, collards, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

View and printOpens a new window this article in PDF format

What makes kale so extraordinary?

It is a nutritional powerhouse loaded with phytochemicals, fiber and nutrients. One cup of chopped kale has only 33 calories and is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and K. It also is a good source of calcium, copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus.

Health benefits of kale

When it comes to health benefits, kale is linked to the high concentration and excellent source of antioxidants and sulphur-containing phytonutrients. Carotenoids and flavonoids are the specific types of antioxidants associated with many of the anti-cancer health benefits. Kale also is rich in the eye-health promoting lutein and zeaxanthin compounds.

And there's more. The fiber content of cruciferous kale may help lower blood cholesterol levels especially when kale is cooked instead of raw. Diets rich in vitamin K may help reduce the overall risk of developing or dying from cancer.

Too much vitamin K may pose problems for some people. Anyone taking anticoagulants should avoid kale and other vitamin K rich foods because the high vitamin K level may interfere with the drugs. If you take anticoagulants, consult your doctor before adding kale to your diet.

Work more kale into your diet

All kinds of vegetables are in season during the summer; not as many vegetables are available during cooler months with the exception of kale and other dark, leafy greens.

Select kale that looks firm with deep, rich colored leaves and rigid stems. Smaller leaves found on baby kale are more tender, milder and better for raw salads. Store kale, unwashed (like all produce), in a zipped plastic bag for up to five days in the refrigerator.

Soups, pastas, egg dishes and casseroles are types of dishes that one can readily work in more veggies, especially kale. Or substitute kale in recipes that call for spinach.

If you are new to the flavor of kale, try making kale chips. Simple and easy, even kids may like them.

Simple sautés of stemmed and chopped kale are also easy and delicious. Sauté until tender with a little olive oil, sliced shallots, chicken stock and season with salt and pepper – cover and cook for about 4 minutes.

Salads are another easy way to work more kale into your diet. Remove the leaves from the stems and chop a bunch of baby, curly or any variety of soft leaf kale.

  • Make a Caesar salad with Parmesan cheese, croutons and a Caesar dressing.
  • Toss chopped kale with avocado, roasted carrots, chickpeas and basil; top with your favorite vinaigrette.
  • Try a garden-variety salad with shredded carrots, sliced radishes, a chopped golden beet and a sprinkle of feta cheese; toss with balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Add chopped kale to cooked quinoa or farro, chopped tomatoes, sunflower seeds and toss with Asian vinaigrette.
  • Pair chopped kale with sliced apples, a few chopped green onions and shredded cheddar cheese. Drizzle with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.