By Ali Burtraw, R.D.
Kale is a nutrient-dense, cruciferous vegetable that originated from Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean. While it’s available year-round, this cool-season crop grows best in early spring or fall and even has no problem growing in the snow! In fact, the flavor is best when kale plants are touched by frost because cold temperatures alter the starch molecules, taking away some of the bitterness and leaving behind a sweeter flavor. There many types of kale. They vary in leaf size, shape, texture, taste, and color—including varieties with purple, red, and dark green leaves. Some common varieties you may see in your grocery store include Dwarf Siberian, Red Russian, Redbor, and Toscano kale, also known as dinosaur kale.
Kale packs a big nutritional punch when compared to many other leafy greens, such as romaine and iceberg lettuce. Kale is a great source of vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, phytonutrients, and fiber. One cup of raw kale delivers 4 grams of protein and 2 grams of fiber and just 33 calories. Each of these powerful nutrients delivers numerous benefits to the body.
Vitamin K is an essential nutrient that helps with blood clotting and the regulation of calcium levels in the body. Vitamins C and A are both important for maintaining a healthy immune system. Additionally, vitamin C improves iron absorption and vitamin A assists with eye health. Folate, one of the B vitamins, is essential for making new cells, a process that is essential for the body during periods of growing or healing. The phytonutrients found in kale may help prevent the development of cancer and decrease inflammation in the body. Additionally, the fiber content of kale can create a feeling of fullness, promote bowel regularity, and help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. It also supports healthy cholesterol levels.
While kale has a naturally bitter taste, there are many delicious ways to incorporate it into your diet. If consuming kale raw, cut off the fibrous stems. The stems, if cooked, can either be removed or kept intact for extra texture and fiber.
Here are just a few ways to add this nutrient-packed ingredient into your healthy diet.
- Serve up a tasty side dish by sautéing kale with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, oregano, and salt and pepper.
- Create a nutrient-dense pesto to top your favorite pasta by blending kale, olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts or walnuts.
- Finely chop kale and add to ground beef or turkey for a veggie-powered burger.
- Freeze kale and add a handful into your favorite smoothie recipes.
- Slice kale leaves into ribbons and combine with your favorite greens for added color, texture, and flavor in your salad.
- Make your own vegetable stock by boiling kale, onions, carrots, celery, and your other favorite veggies. Discarded kale stems work great in stocks!