Kale has been a hot topic among the blogosphere and health conscious community for several years now. Although touted as one of the most beneficial foods one could eat, the actual specifics of why kale is good for you are hardly mentioned. With all the disinformation and fake news out there, how can we truly know if kale has as many health benefits as we’ve been led to believe?
Let's explore some of the peer-reviewed scientific research involving kale and the exact benefits it has been proven to provide. Plant foods contain not only a range of different micronutrients (vitamins/minerals), but they also contain an unmeasured symphony of different phytochemicals. The interactions and benefits of these compounds on the human body is not yet fully understood. With this in mind, it is important to understand that it is usually not just one compound providing a specific benefit, but many compounds working together.
Kale Nutrition Facts
To start with a birds eye view, we’ll first look at the macro- and micronutrient content of raw and cooked kale.
As you can see, 100g and 50 calories of raw kale contains 670% RDA of Vitamin K, 145% RDA Vitamin C, 63% Vitamin A, and various other nutrients like folate and B6. However, cooking kale seems to slightly reduce the nutritional content except for Vitamin A and Vitamin K.
At face value, it is clear that both raw and cooked kale are some of the most nutritionally dense foods we can eat. While it may seem now that raw kale is superior to cooked, we will explore why this likely isn’t true.
Kale and Antibody Production
To start, a study was conducted in Japan that involved dripping kale extract on human white blood cells in a petri dish and giving the same kale extract to mice. They found that kale was able to significantly improve the white blood cells’ ability to produce antibodies. The mice they studied also saw a significant improvement in antibody production.
While not studied directly inside the human body, there is a high likelihood that similar effects occur when kale is ingested. What was most surprising was: cooked kale even had a stronger impact than raw!
Kale and the Cardiovascular System
Another study was conducted in Japan where participants drank 3-4 shots of kale juice a day for 12 weeks. After the 3 months, participants had drastically lowered their LDL (bad) cholesterol and raised their HDL (good) cholesterol. Bad cholesterol had dropped an average of 30 points and good cholesterol was raised by the same amount you’d expect from an hour of exercise every single day.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with high cholesterol level being a serious risk factor for the disease. Total cholesterol reduction through simply taking shots of kale juice could potentially save thousands, if not millions of lives each year. This is, however, a complex topic which requires its own discussion.
Kale and Free Radicals
Participants also had a noticeable increase in antioxidant levels. Circling back to the previous study, antioxidants play an important role in neutralizing free radicals, which can cause inflammation and put strain on the immune system.
Unfortunately, the smokers who participated in the kale juice study did not see a large increase in antioxidant levels. So, unless you’re smoking kale, we don’t recommend this. (Please don’t go and smoke kale).
Kale and Cancer Prevention
If kale is shown to reduce the risk factor of our leading killer, how does it stack up against cancer prevention?
In this very brief discussion we are only going to talk about one simple mechanism through which cancer can develop and a possible way to neutralize this mechanism. As much as we’d like to say kale cures cancer and sell you a wonderful kale extract supplement, there simply isn’t enough evidence to prove this claim.
Bile acids are created by the liver and help us remove excess cholesterol from the body. Although they play an essential role in our physiology, bile acids can be reabsorbed back into the system and become carcinogenic in too high of concentrations.
To help flush them out of the body, it is important we eat foods that can bind to bile acids. It was originally thought that fiber was the main factor for bile acid binding. However, this has been proven false. All plant foods contain a unique biochemical cocktail which produce different effects on the body.
When 16 different vegetables were put to the test to see which had the most powerful bile-binding effect, cooked kale came in the top 3 only behind okra and beets.
But how much kale is too much?
Well, we don’t know exactly. What we do know is that raw kale contains goitrogens, which can interfere with thyroid function. By simply cooking your kale you can neutralize these negative effects and still get all the amazing benefits.
So don’t be afraid to chow down on a bunch of cooked kale!
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