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Kale: Health Benefits, Uses and Risks

Even spinach cannot come close in comparison to the number of nutrients that kale
provides. Eating kale is beneficial for maintaining healthy skin, hair and strong bones, as
well as helping with digestion and lowering the risk for heart disease.
The possible health benefits of consuming kale include improving blood glucose control in
diabetics, lowering the risk of cancer, lowering blood pressure, improving bone health,
lowering the risk of developing asthma and more.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health
benefits of popular foods, all written and reviewed by our qualified nutritionist. It provides a
nutritional breakdown of kale and an in-depth look at its possible health benefits, how to
incorporate more kale into your diet and any potential health risks associated with its
consumption.

Possible health benefits of consuming kale


Diabetes
Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood
glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids
and insulin levels. One cup of chopped fresh kale provides about 2.6 grams of fiber.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 g/day for women and 30-38 g/day
for men.
Kale contains an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower
glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in
patients with diabetes. Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown decreases in
peripheral neuropathy and/or autonomic neuropathy in diabetics.

Of note, most studies have used intravenous alpha-lipoic acid and it is unsure whether oral
supplementation would elicit the same benefits.
Heart disease

The fiber, potassium, vitamin C and B6 content in kale all support heart health. An
increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium intake is the most important
dietary change that a person can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease,
according to Mark Houston, M.D., M.S., an associate clinical professor of medicine at
Vanderbilt Medical School and director of the Hypertension Institute at St. Thomas Hospital
in Tennessee.

In one study, those who consumed 4069 mg of potassium per day had a 49% lower risk of
death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium
(about 1000 mg per day).

High potassium intakes are also associated with a reduced risk of stroke, protection against
loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density and reduction in the formation
of kidney stones.

For blood pressure, increasing potassium intake may be just as important as decreasing
sodium intake for lowering blood pressure because of potassium's vasodilation effects.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2% of US
adults meet the daily 4700 mg recommendation. One cup of chopped fresh kale provides
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329 milligrams of potassium.


Also of note, a high potassium intake is associated with a 20% decreased risk of dying from
all causes.

Cancer
Kale and other green vegetables that contain chlorophyll have been shown to be effective at
blocking the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines, which are generated when grilling
foods at a high temperature. If you tend to like your grilled foods charred, make sure to pair
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them with green vegetables to help negate these effects.


Bone health
Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk for bone fracture.
Adequate vitamin K consumption is important for good health, as it acts as a modifier of
bone matrix proteins, improves calciumabsorption and may reduce urinary excretion of
calcium.

One cup of kale provides a whopping 550 micrograms of vitamin K, over 680% of our daily
needs.
Digestion
Kale is high in fiber and water content, both of which help to prevent constipation and
promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract.
Healthy skin and hair
Kale is high in vitamin A, a nutrient required for sebum production to keep hair moisturized.
Vitamin A is also necessary for the growth of all bodily tissues, including skin and hair.
Adequate intake of vitamin C, which kale can provide, is needed for the building and
maintenance of collagen, which provides structure to skin and hair.
Iron-deficiency is a common cause of hair loss, which can be prevented by an adequate
intake of iron-rich foods, like kale.

Kale's nutritional breakdown


Kale is a leafy green cruciferous vegetable that is chock-full of essential vitamins A, C and K
as well as minerals like copper, potassium, iron, manganese and phosphorus. A cup of
fresh kale has only about 40 calories but packs almost 3 grams of protein.
One cup of cooked kale has over 1000% more vitamin C than a cup of cooked spinach and
unlike spinach, kale's oxalate content is very low which means that the calcium and iron in
kale are highly absorbable in the human digestive system.

How to incorporate more kale into your diet


A member of the mustard family, kale has a spicier and more pronounced flavor than your
typical lettuce. It is also heartier and crisp with a hint of earthiness.
Kale grows well in the colder winter months, so can be a great addition to your fruit and
vegetable routine when other produce is not as readily available.

Kale can be enjoyed raw in salads or on sandwiches or wraps, braised, boiled, sauted or
added to soups and casseroles.
Saut fresh garlic and onions in extra-virgin olive oil until soft. Add kale and continue to
saut until desired tenderness.
Kale chips: Remove the ribs from the kale and toss in extra-virgin olive oil or lightly spray
and sprinkle with your choice or a combination of cumin, curry powder, chili powder, roasted
red pepper flakes or garlic powder. Bake at 275 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-30 minutes to
desired crispness.
In a food processor or a high-speed blender, add a handful of kale to your favorite smoothie
for a nutrient blast without a big change in flavor.

Potential health risks of consuming kale


Beta-blockers, a type of medication most commonly prescribed for heart disease, can
cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High potassium foods such
as bananas should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers.
Important note: consuming too much potassium can be harmful for those whose kidneys
are not fully functional. If your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the
blood, it could be fatal.