Meet Your Ingredients: Kale

Meet Your Ingredients: Kale

Considered a super food by many, kale is a leafy green that continues to be popular in healthy cooking. Find out all about the nutrition benefits of kale, as well as tips for buying, storing and cooking it!

The Basics

Like many foods that are now trendy, kale has been around for a long time. Popular during the Roman Empire, Kale has been grown in Europe and the Mediterranean region for over 2000 years.

Kale is a hearty cruciferous vegetable that can thrive in cooler climates. As a result of it being able to grow in a variety of climates, the flavor of it can vary from bitter and almost peppery to slightly sweet.

As we’ll get to in How to Select, there are multiple types of kale, each with their own texture, flavors and uses in cooking.

Nutrition Overview

Kale is considered to be one of the healthiest and most nutrient-dense foods in the world. This is due to its high amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants with a low amount of calories.

One cup (approximately 67 grams) of raw kale provides approximately 33 calories, 6 grams of carb, 2 grams of fiber, and 3 grams of protein. While low in fat, the majority of the fat in kale is actually alpha linolenic-acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid.

As for vitamins and minerals, that same cup provides:

  • Vitamin K: 684% of the daily value (DV)
  • Vitamin A: 206% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 134% of the DV
  • Manganese: 26% of the DV

As well as 9-10% of the DV for Vitamin B6, calcium, copper, and potassium; 6% of the DV for magnesium and 3% of the DV for iron, phosphorus and vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin).

But that’s not all! Kale is also one of the richest sources of an antioxidant called Lutein, which is responsible for filtering out blue light (which we are exposed to from computers, tablets, TVs, and phones). As a result, lutein protects our retinas and has been shown to reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Other notable antioxidants in kale include quercetin and kaempferol, which have been shown to be beneficial for heart health and anti-inflammatory.

How to select

Regardless of the type of kale you purchase, look for dark, crisp leaves. Avoid one’s with leaves that are browning, yellowing, wilting or have holes.

While I don’t personally buy everything organic, kale is one food that I always spend extra for organic.

Each year the Environmental Working Group compiles a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables found to be highest in pesticides (a.k.a The Dirty Dozen), and conventional kale is usually in the top 5 of the highest pesticide residues.

Curly kale on cutting board

Types of Kale

While in no means an exhaustive list, these are the three varieties you’re most likely to come across at the grocery store or your local farmer’s market.

  • Curly Kale: this is the most common. It’s usually a deep green with frilly-edged leaves and long stems. It’s also incredibly versatile, as it can be sautéed, added to soups and stews, or blended into smoothies.
  • Lacinato Kale: also called Dinosaur or Tuscan Kale, it has a blue-green hue with long and slender leaves. Unlike other varieties, the leaves a bumpy but don’t have any frills. It’s most often used in soups and stews.
  • Red Russian: ranging in color from blue-green to purple-red, it has smaller leaves with slightly frilled edges. It’s one of the sweeter varieties, making it popular for eating raw in salads or as a garnish.

How to store

To start, avoid washing kale until ready to use as the moisture can cause it to spoil quickly. Keep kale bunches in an air-tight bag in the vegetable drawer of your fridge for up to 5 days.

While I haven’t stored kale long enough to notice, some people report that kale gets more bitter the longer it’s stored.

How to use in cooking/baking

Kale can be enjoyed both raw and cooked.

For cooked uses, kale can be sautéed with oil, onion and garlic for a simple side dish, tossed into soups or stews, or baked into kale chips.

To eat raw, kale can be thrown into smoothies or eaten as a salad.

However, to cut down on some of the bitterness, I recommend massaging the kale first by drizzling the leaves with salt and lemon juice and lightly crushing the leaves between my hands.

Do this until they feel just slightly softened and are crisp to bite into – don’t over-massage otherwise you’ll end up with mushy kale! And make sure to only massage kale that you plan on eating right away.

Recipes

Roasted kale chicken pizza with cheesy walnut beet sauce

To get you started, here are a few THT classics:

Are you a kale fan? Share your favorite ways to enjoy this superfood in the comments below or by tagging @TheHealthyToast_RD on Instagram!

Kale pinterest graphic

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About Kelli McGrane Headshot

I’m Kelli MS, RD, and my mission is to prove that eating healthier doesn’t have to be complicated or restrictive. Follow along to learn more about food and cooking, with an emphasis on breakfast and sweet treats!

About Kelli McGrane Headshot

Welcome to The Healthy Toast!

Here you’ll find healthy breakfast recipes designed by a registered dietitian with your health goals in mind.

As a dietitian I understand that a healthy breakfast is essential for giving you the fuel you need to power through your day. Which is why on TheHealthyToast, you’ll find nutrition guides plus the best healthy breakfast recipes for every diet and lifestyle.

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