The Many Health Benefits of Kale

By Michael Lloyd  

May 7th, 2019

Kale is arguably the most nutritious food on the planet, as it is the most nutrient-dense plant we know of. The following is the nutritional content for 1 cup of kale: 

Looking at the vitamin and mineral contents of one cup, it’s clear just how many nutrients kale has to offer. Just to highlight the most prominent characteristics, kale offers 206% of your daily recommended vitamin A intake, 134% Vitamin C, 684% Vitamin K, and 26% of your manganese. Kale is also low in calories, a good source of protein compared to most vegetables, and a good source of fiber.1

Consuming all of these nutrients offers a wide variety of health benefits.

Starting with Vitamin A, the primary source of this vitamin in kale is from Beta Carotene, a vitamin A precursor. When consumed, our bodies convert Beta Carotene into Vitamin A1, which is also known as retinol. Retinol functions to help maintain healthy skin and vision. Maintaining healthy levels of Vitamin A in our body is important not just for immediate vision benefits, but also, it helps to prevent long term degeneration of our eyes. Vitamin A combats macular degeneration, which is the number cause of blindness in people above the age of 55. On top of these primary benefits, vitamin A also helps to maintain the proper function of our heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs. Vitamin A plays an important role in maintaining proper body function, but it is important to note that it is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means when consumed at extreme doses, it can be toxic.2

Kale helps with immune function due to being an excellent source of Vitamin C, but also because of the fiber found in it. When our body is low on Vitamin C, it has been found that immune function suffers, which impedes our ability to properly fight off foreign pathogens. Specifically, Vitamin C has been found to enhance the proliferation of B and T cells; two key components of our body’s immune system.3

There are two kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and kale provides a source of insoluble fiber. This type offers a number of benefits for our body; most notably is how it promotes digestive health by helping regulate bowel movements. Our bodies are unable to digest fiber, so it more readily moves down our digestive system and helps move materials through the system helping to properly digest the food we consume. This function helps to maintain a healthy environment for the good bacteria in our gut known as our microbiome. The microbiome in more recent research has been found to be one of the most important pieces of our immune system, so promoting healthy function of the microbiome by maintaining a positive environment helps our bodies fight off infections due to pathogens we ingest.

Kale is also one of the best sources of Vitamin K on the planet. A lesser-known vitamin, Vitamin K plays a role in cardiovascular as well as bone function. In regards to cardiovascular health, it plays an important role in the prevention of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD), America’s number cause of death. Vitamin K functions to prevent vascular calcification, a hallmark of CAD, by activating certain proteins. Vascular Calcification can lead to obstructed arteries and eventually blood clots, which cause stroke and heart attacks. Vitamin K also plays an important function in the prevention of osteoporosis. Individuals that have low levels of the vitamin are more prone to the development of Osteoporosis, which is characterized by brittle bones that leave people more susceptible to fractures. Like Vitamin A, Vitamin K serves a number of important preventative functions, but is also a fat-soluble vitamin, and should not be consumed consistently at high dosages to prevent toxic exposures.4

On top of offering the direct benefits previously described, these micronutrients also play a number of other roles. A common theme I have talked about is the importance of antioxidants, and the ability to help in the prevention of progressive diseases. It is important to consume a lot of antioxidants, as well as a variety of them. Beta Carotene and Vitamin C are two prominent antioxidants, and have been researched on how they help in the prevention of cancer. The source of many cancer cases is due to mutations of our DNA leading to irregular functions of our cells. Many of these mutations result due to our DNA being exposed to free radicals found in our cells. Antioxidants like Beta Carotene work to neutralize these dangerous molecules; thus preventing the damage from ever happening. The research is still ongoing regarding how much these nutrients help to prevent Cancer, but thus far has shown promising results.

Finally, Kale is great in preventing weight gain and obesity. It is a plant that is low in calories and carbs, but offers more protein than most plants and is a good source of fiber. Protein is digested much slower than carbs and as previously mentioned, fiber is not digested, which helps to fill us quicker when eating. By filling us faster, it prevents overconsumption at meals, and also it keeps us fuller for longer, which limits the amount we need to eat throughout the day.

Kale provides a number of key nutrients at very concentrated doses, which means not a lot needs to be consumed in order to experience the benefits it has to offer. With such a wide variety of nutrients packed into the plant, it truly is a top superfood on this planet. Many people do not enjoy eating kale, but there are a number of ways to consume it and make it more enjoyable. Two that I recommend are Kale chips or adding it into a fruit smoothie. So start working kale into your diet to reap the plethora of benefits it has to offer.

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References

1. Kale, Raw Nutrition Facts & Calories. Nutrition Data Know What You Eat., https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2461/2.

2. Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin A. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-Consumer/.

3. Carr, Anitra, and Silvia Maggini. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients, vol. 9, no. 11, 2017, p. 1211., doi:10.3390/nu9111211

4. Office of Dietary Supplements – Vitamin K. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-HealthProfessional/.

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