Ultimate Guide to Kale: Healthy Benefits, Recipes, Nutritional Info, and More

By Kristen Mccaffrey on

Everything you have ever wanted to know about kale including its health benefits, nutritional info, and of course tons of recipe and cooking ideas!

Kale. There, I said the dreaded world. Some of you might be tired of hearing about kale. It is, after all, a four-letter word. Coincidence? Maybe not to some. It seems like all you hear about lately is kale — kale in your smoothies, kale in your soup, kale in your salads...kale seems to be taking over the culinary world, doesn't it?

I don't even remember kale being a "thing" growing up. I can't recall eating it at all in my youth. The first time I feel like I may have seen it show up on a menu was at a fancy farm-to-table restaurant I went to in college with my roommate's parents. It was mixed in to some sort of vegetable soup and so I don't really remember thinking one way or another about it. Now, I can't go a week without purchasing it at the store. It's so versatile and easy to slip into just about any meal for a little extra kick of nourishment.

If you're still thinking you don't need kale in your life, listen up because there is a reason it's everywhere — it's soooooo good for you! One might even go so far as to call it a superfood. With its abundance of vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and deficit of calories and carbs, you should eat this leafy green veggie ASAP. If you're still not convinced, allow me to deliver the ultimate guide to kale — why it's good for you, how to buy it, store it, and eat it.

Is Kale Good for You?

Is the sky blue? What a silly question. No, but in all seriousness, I couldn't find a list of healthy foods in which kale wasn't given a mention. What makes it so healthy? Well, first of all, it's packed chock full of just about every vitamin and mineral you could ever want (206% of your daily value of vitamin A! 684% of vitamin K!). It's low calorie and full of fiber which makes it great for those of us watching our what we eat. It has protein and zero fat! Plus, it tastes great in so many recipes. I don't understand all the kale haters out there. I love it so much I should be on the kale counsel (is there such a thing?).

The Nutritional Makeup of Kale

One cup of raw kale contains 33 calories, 2 grams of protein, zero fat, 7 grams of carbs, 1 gram of fiber, and zero grams of sugar. It also packs a bunch of other dietary wonders, such as vitamins A, C, B, and D, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, thiamin, and folate.

Pieces of curly kale scattered on a white wood background.

The Health Benefits of Eating Kale

If you still need a bit more convincing, I'd be happy to break it down for you. Here's the nitty-gritty on this leafy, cruciferous vegetable.

  • Kale is low calorie. I know, I know, I already said that. But it's a point I believe in driving home. One cup only has 33 calories! 33! You could eat two cups and still not equal the calories in a banana. Now, I realize that's a lot of kale to eat. But if you've ever steamed it or put it in soup, you know that that two cups cooks down to nearly nothing, like spinach. So you can go ahead and pile it on. I realize most people don't eat kale plain, but even if you add just a little olive oil and a couple tablespoons of parmesan cheese, maybe some red pepper flakes — you've got yourself a nice, low-calorie side dish or snack.
  • It can lower your blood pressure. Kale contains lots of antioxidants, including vitamin C, beta-carotene, polyphenols, and other flavonoids. These substances take the free radicals in your body and help to neutralize them. In doing so, they can lower your risk of certain diseases such as cancer, high blood pressure, inflammation, and depression.
  • Kale contains fiber. Not a ton, I realize, but fiber is fiber nonetheless. Fiber helps you feel fuller, longer and is great for your digestive system. Every little bit of healthy eating you can do helps to keep your weight under control and can also lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
  • Kale delivers all the vitamin C. How much vitamin C? Oh, just more than 100% of your daily recommended value. No biggie. That's in one cup! (Don't worry, your body gets rid of any vitamin C you don't use.) Vitamin C is great for helping your body make collagen, a protein that builds up the structures of your body. It also can protect your immune and cardiovascular systems, prevent eye disease and help your skin to wrinkle less.
  • Kale can help lower your cholesterol. Kale contains something called a "bile acid sequestrant," which help keep bile acids from being reabsorbed. Bile acids are created from cholesterol by your liver when you eat fattening foods. These sequestrants keep the bile acids from being reabsorbed by your bloodstream, thus reducing the total amount of cholesterol in your body. Steamed kale seems to be the best at producing the cholesterol-lowering helpers.
  • Kale helps you see more clearly. Kale helps protect your eyes from aging too quickly because of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin that it contains. People who eat these antioxidants specifically have shown a reduction in getting macular degeneration and cataracts as they age.

Is It Better to Eat Kale Raw or Cooked?

While many nutritionists would say that the best way to eat a veggie or fruit is whatever way you like, so long as you eat it, there are some reasons why you'd want to eat your kale cooked.

While raw kale is okay to eat (be sure to destem and wash it thoroughly before eating to remove any dirt or pesticides), it can be hard on some people's digestive systems. That means it could cause you to bloat, have gas, or other unpleasant side effects. There are properties in raw kale that can mess with your thyroid function too if eaten too often.

Cooking kale, like other dark green leafy vegetables, though, makes them easier to digest. The cooking process breaks down the nutrients and makes them more readily available for your body to digest and absorb into your bloodstream. Healthy ways to cook kale include sauteeing, boiling, steaming, or braising.

Kale soup with potatoes and sausage in a bowl on a wooden table.

7 Varieties of Kale

Kale is a member of the brassica family, whose members also include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, and Kohlrabi. You'll find kale in a variety of colors — from dark green to red to purple. It can have flat or ruffled leaves. It can be bitter and sometimes a little sweet or spicy. The seven most common varieties you'll come across include:

  • Common curly kale. As the name suggests, this type of kale is the kind you'll most typically see at the grocery store. It can be deep to pale green and has long stems and ruffled leaves. You'll most often find it bundled together and sold by the bunch.
  • Siberian kale. You might find this hard to believe with that kind of name, but this kind of kale can take a beating from the cold. Considered a "winter crop" in the United States, its leaves are huge, dark green, and ruffled. It's pretty bitter though so I suggest adding it to a flavorful dish rather than eating it on its own.
  • Red Russian kale. This kind of kale is considered an "heirloom" kale, looks like large oak leaves and is not easily found. Its colors range from purple/red to blue/green. It tastes sweeter in recipes and looks just as pretty as its relatives.
  • Chinese kale. Otherwise known as Chinese broccoli, Chinese kale can actually be substituted for recipes that call for broccoli. It goes great in stir-fry dishes, soups, or pasta dishes.
  • Lacinato kale (also called dinosaur or Tuscan kale). You'll recognize this kale by its flat, long, slender leaves. Its color is dark bluish-green and it looks a little bit like dinosaur skin. Feel free to use it however you would typically use curly kale.
  • Ornamental kale. Yes, this kale is actually grown as decoration and looks kind of like a pretty purple/white cabbage surrounded by a bed of green leaves. While I wouldn't recommend picking it from someone's flower garden, it is edible. But I think it works better as a pretty garnish.
  • Redbor kale. The Redbor can grow quite tall (up to three feet) and is similar to ornamental kale in that it's, well, ornamental. But also, it's edible. It only comes in purple, dark in the leaves and lighter at the stem. While you can eat it, it's good for fancying up a plate for special dinner guests.

How to Select and Store Kale

Purchasing kale is fairly simple. It's usually already bunched for you, tied at the stems with a produce tie of some sort. It should be stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department, in the part where they water it occasionally with the automatic sprayers. No matter which type you are purchasing, make sure the kale has a nice, green (or purple or red) color to it throughout and no yellowing, browning, or wilted-looking leaves.

Storing kale is easy because it's so hardy. You can actually prep this veggie and store it without worrying about it wilting right away. Just make sure after you rinse it well and trim the stems that you pat it dry to keep most of the moisture off. It'll be just fine in the fridge up to three days.

If you don't feel like prepping it, that's okay too. You can store it as-is, right in the fridge's veggie crisper drawer, or wrap a moist paper towel around the stems, then place it in a bag. It will keep for about a week.

If you want to freeze kale, I suggest blanching it first, squeezing the excess water out, then storing it in resealable bags or portioning out into ice cube trays for future use. Frozen kale is great to pop into a smoothie or soup. It will stay fresh in the freezer for up to eight months.

Kale and white bean quesadillas stacked in a pile with kale on the side.

How to Cook With Kale

Finally, my favorite part — cooking with kale! As I mentioned, I love kale, so I have many recipes devoted to these yummy leaves. Do be sure to rinse, pat dry, and de-stem the kale though before eating. I also like to cut the kale into smallish pieces (easier to eat this way) and massage it. Sure, you don't HAVE to, but it's a good idea, as it breaks down the leaves and tenderize them a little. Massage the kale with a little olive oil, sea salt, and maybe lemon juice too, depending on your recipe. You can do this up to two hours before eating it.

Kale Salad Recipes

This Healthy Kale Caesar Salad is one of the most popular on my site. If you're not a Caesar fan, try this Asian Kale Salad with Edamame and Avocado, Salmon, Sweet Potato, Avocado and Kale Salad, Asian Kale Apple Slaw, or this Kale Waldorf Salad.

Main Dishes with Kale

 Kale is easy to throw in just about any dish. But feel free to get creative, as I did in these recipes for Roasted White Bean and Kale Quesadillas, Kale Caesar Quinoa Bowl, or these Cheesy Sausage and Kale Spaghetti Squash Boats.

Kale Side Dish Recipes

To healthy up your sides, try this Creamed Kale, Sauteed Kale with Garlic and Bacon, Kale Chips with Lemon Yogurt Dip, or this Angel Hair Pasta with White Beans and Kale.

Guide to kale including quesadillas, pasta, soup, and loose kale leaves,
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