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13 Ways to Add the Health Benefits of Kale to Your Diet

author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a health and sexuality writer with more than 10 years of experience as a nutritionist. Her work is featured in the Huffington Post, DAME Magazine, The Good Men Project and more. She specializes in eating disorders and loves connecting with readers and writers via her blog and social media.

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13 Ways to Add the Health Benefits of Kale to Your Diet
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Kale is a versatile leafy green vegetable that's made its way onto countless superfood lists for good reason. A source of antioxidants, fiber, calcium and even modest amounts of healthy fat, an attribute uncommon in vegetables, the cruciferous veggie can up the nutritional ante of practically any diet. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in July 2011 analyzed the health and diets of over 134,000 adults in China and showed a strong link between high intake of vegetables, particularly cruciferous varieties, and a reduced risk for death, especially from heart disease, which is a leading cause of death in the U.S. Read on for ways to add the health benefits of kale to your diet -- and potentially lengthen your life.

Bake Your Own Kale Chips
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In a study published in Annals of Oncology in February 2012, researchers analyzed the vegetable intake of thousands of people with or without various types of cancer and found that eating cruciferous vegetables at least once per week protects against several forms of cancer. Replace potato chips, which are high in the cancer-linked compound acrylamide, with baked kale chips. "The key to tasty, healthy homemade kale chips is to use something acidic or even slightly sweet, like fresh lemon, orange juice or balsamic vinegar," said Tina Marinaccio, a registered dietitian and personal trainer in Morristown, New Jersey. Then add a touch of sea salt and olive oil.

Related: Crispy Baked Kale Chip Recipe

Make a Fruity Green Salad
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Kale is a valuable source of flavonols -- a type of polyphenol, a compound in plants that may lower your risk for heart disease. These compounds give kale its bitter taste, said Barry Sears, a former researcher at the Boston University School of Medicine Technology and current president of the Inflammation Research Foundation. "People usually add blueberries to reduce kale's bitterness because [the berries] are rich in natural sugar," he added. For a simple salad, top fresh, washed kale leaves with blueberries and your favorite healthy dressing. Tina Marinaccio, registered dietitian, recommends adding apples for sweetness and walnuts, which supply heart-healthy omega-3s.

Related: Fall Kale Apple Salad

Start Your Day With a Smoothie
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Reducing bodily inflammation could be as simple as replacing your morning bagel with a kale smoothie. While most fruits and vegetables have anti-inflammatory properties, kale is particularly rich in antioxidants, which bolster immune function and lower inflammatory responses. Many illnesses involve inflammation, including arthritis, heart disease and sinusitis. One cup of chopped kale fulfills over 130 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, which is more than an orange provides. Kim McDevitt, a registered dietitian and national educator with Vega in the greater New York City area, recommends making a smoothie with kale, frozen peaches, ice, water and avocado, which adds fiber and healthy fat.

Related: Peaches and Greens Smoothie

Layer It in Lasagna
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Kale can add flavor and nutritional bang to pasta dishes and casseroles. "I love kale in lasagna," said Robyn L. Goldberg, a certified eating disorder registered dietitian in Beverly Hills, California, who recommends steaming kale leaves, then layering them between sauce and other fillings in your favorite lasagna recipe. "The lasagna will be very thick, but not as heavy as noodles, sauce and cheese alone." In doing so you'll reap eye-health benefits, which is a lesser discussed perk of kale, she added. Antioxidants known as carotenoids in kale may help slow the development of macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness, and cataracts. You can also add chopped fresh or frozen kale to shepherd's pie filling or marinara sauce while cooking.

Start Meals With Seasoned Kale
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One cup of fresh or cooked kale provides only about 35 calories along with over 2 grams of fiber, making it useful for weight control. Fiber helps keep you fuller longer between meals. To shed excess abdominal fat, which is strongly linked with heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, Dr. Rasa Kazlauskaite, an endocrinologist with the Rush University Prevention Center, recommends eating seasoned vegetables before other foods at your meals. This allows you to fill up on light, flavorful food, staving off overeating. For added wellness perks, stir-fry chopped kale with antioxidant-rich herbs, such as turmeric, oregano and garlic in a light amount of olive oil.

Related: Tips to Lose Belly Fat

Braise It for Tenderness
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Adding heat, fat, salt and a touch of acid, in the form of citrus juice or vinegar, enhances the flavor and texture of kale while minimizing its bitterness, according to Minh-Hai Alex, a registered dietitian and nutrition coach in Seattle, Washington. "My go-to method for preparing kale," she said, "is to saute it in olive oil and minced garlic and then add salt or tamari and a squeeze of lemon or a splash of apple cider vinegar to taste." For added color and nutrient variety, add chopped bell peppers, carrots or red Swiss chard. For crunch and visual appeal, garnish braised kale with slivered almonds.

Related: Becky's Braised Greens

Cook It on Cast Iron
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If you're pregnant, eat a restrictive diet, experience heavy menstruation or have a gastrointestinal disorder, you're at risk for iron deficiency. One cup of boiled kale fulfills 7 percent of the daily value for iron, an amount you can increase by choosing the proper pan. "Sauteeing or braising kale in a cast iron skillet will significantly increase its iron content," says Minh-Hai Alex, registered dietitian. Kale's rich vitamin C content enhances iron absorption. This is important because non-heme iron, the type in plants, isn't as easily absorbed by the body as heme, or animal-derived, iron. For even more iron, cook or serve cooked kale with beans, lentils or tofu.

Power Up With a Veggie Omelet
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Eating a healthy breakfast containing protein, a nutrient missing from many morning meals, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is important for brain function and energy throughout the day -- particularly for kids and teens. One large egg supplies over 6 grams of protein. Add chopped kale to eggs for fiber, which helps keep you satiated and energized, and antioxidants, which play an important role in brain function. For a nutritious breakfast, the AND recommends an egg-white omelet with kale, other desired veggies and feta cheese. Simply saute chopped veggies in a small amount of olive or canola oil, then add egg whites. As it cooks, fold in crumbled feta cheese. For more brain-healthy nutrients, pair your omelet with 100-percent whole-grain toast.

Add Greens to Whole Grains
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In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in October 2010, researchers analyzed the diets and brain function of over 2,000 elderly adults. Participants who consumed whole grains, fruits and vegetables -- particularly cruciferous varieties -- performed significantly better cognitively than participants who lacked the healthy foods. White bread, a major source of refined grains, was linked with reduced cognitive performance. Add fresh or cooked chopped kale to cooked brown rice for a whole-grain pilaf. Rachel Dickens, a registered dietitian in British Columbia, recommends topping whole-wheat pizza dough with sauteed kale and cheese for a savory entree. You can also pair kale with pearled barley, wild rice or quinoa.

Related: Winter Kale Pesto Whole Wheat Pizza and Sauteed Kale Onion Pizza

Sip Kale-Containing Soup
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Chicken soup as a valuable cold remedy is more than hearsay. Research conducted by Dr. Stephen Rennard, a pulmonary expert at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, shows that the soup reduces inflammation, which could help relieve symptoms of the common cold. Other medical experts believe that soup's steam clears nasal congestion and the fluid contained helps your body flush out harmful bacteria through urine. For more benefits while fighting a cold or other respiratory infection, add kale -- a prime source of antioxidants, which support your body's ability to fight infections -- to broth- or vegetable-based soup. Registered dietitian Suzanne Dixon recommends kale and carrot soup for nutritious wintertime fuel.

Dunk Veggies in Kale Dip
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Many commercial dips contain unhealthy fat, hefty amounts of calories and artificial preservatives. Typical homemade cheese sauce contains close to 250 calories per 1/2 cup -- which is more than the amount found in 7 cups of fresh, chopped kale. Heather R. Mangieri, a registered dietitian in Pennsylvania, recommends making kale dip by blending light mayo, cooked spinach, chopped kale leaves, chopped green onion and minced garlic together, then adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve the dip with fresh mixed vegetables of your choice. The dip also pairs well with whole-grain crackers or, if you really want to up your kale intake, baked kale chips.

Related: Reduced-Calorie, Low-Fat Spinach and Kale Greek Yogurt Dip

Work It Into Fish Patties
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One cup of raw, chopped kale fulfills 10 percent of the daily value for calcium, making it valuable for bone health, particularly if you don't consume dairy, says Tina Marinaccio, registered dietitian. "While most leafy greens contain calcium, they also have compounds called oxalates that can block calcium absorption," she added. "Kale is a low-oxalate green, so the calcium is more bioavailable." Your doctor may suggest limiting oxalates if you're prone to calcium oxalate kidney stones. Make patties out of kale, canned salmon -- a leading food source of vitamin D, which promotes calcium absorption -- and quinoa, mixing in bread crumbs and eggs for sumptuous texture and parsley for enhanced color and flavor.

Related: Kale, Salmon and Quinoa Patties

Hide It in Sweets
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Whether you adore or haven't acquired a taste for the cruciferous green, Trish A. Carney, a registered dietitian and nutrition therapist in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, recommends you "sneak kale into your desserts for a nutrition boost." While you shouldn't rely on desserts for most of your veggie intake, indulging occasionally allows you to eat your kale and enjoy sweets, too. Chop or puree kale, then mix it into cake or muffin batter before baking. Carney recommends making chocolate kale cake, using almond and rice flours, which contain more nutrients than white flour, and olive oil, which provides additional healthy fat. Kale only fulfills about 1 percent of the daily value for fat per serving.

Related: Chocolate Kale Cake With Sea Salt

Aim for Balance and Variety
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Depending on your calorie needs, which vary based on your activity level, gender and age, you probably need five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, says Harvard School of Public Health. This is equal to 2 cups of fruit and over 2 cups of vegetables per day within a 2,000-calorie diet. Routinely eat a variety of colors and types for maximum health benefits, emphasizing particularly nutritious varieties, such as kale, broccoli, berries and citrus fruits.


What's your favorite way to prepare kale? Which suggestion did you like best? Let us know in the comments below. We love hearing from you!

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