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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
Photo Credit: Pamela Follett/Demand Media

Kale is a versatile leafy green that’s made its way onto countless superfood lists for good reason. A source of antioxidants, fiber, calcium, vitamins A, K and C 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.

1. Layer It in Lasagna
Photo Credit: Pamela Follett/Demand Media

1 Layer It in Lasagna

Kale can add flavor and nutritional bang to pasta dishes and casseroles. “I love kale in lasagna,” says Robyn L. Goldberg, a certified eating disorders 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-known perk of kale, adds Goldberg. 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.

Related: Your 10 Favorite Comfort Foods, Gone Light

2. Sneak It Into Sweets
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2 Sneak It Into Sweets

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 purée 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.

Related: Chocolate Kale Cake With Sea Salt Recipe

3. Work It Into Fish Patties
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3 Work It Into Fish Patties

One cup of cooked, chopped kale provides about 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," adds Marinaccio. "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. Next, mix in breadcrumbs and eggs for sumptuous texture and parsley for enhanced color and flavor.

4. Add Greens to Whole Grains
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4 Add Greens to Whole Grains

In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in October 2010, researchers analyzed the diets and brain function of more than 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: Sauteed Kale Onion Whole Wheat Pizza

5. Dunk Veggies in Kale Dip
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5 Dunk Veggies in Kale Dip

Many commercial dips contain unhealthy fat, hefty amounts of calories and artificial preservatives. Heather R. Mangieri, a registered dietitian in Pennsylvania, recommends making kale dip by blending together light mayo, cooked spinach, chopped kale leaves, chopped green onion and minced garlic and adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve the dip with fresh mixed vegetables of your choice. It also pairs well with whole-grain crackers or -- if you really want to up your kale intake -- baked kale chips.

Related: Spinach and Kale Greek Yogurt Dip Recipe

6. Make a Fruity Green Salad
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6 Make a Fruity Green Salad

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, says Barry Sears, a former researcher at the Boston University School of Medicine 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,” says Sears. 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

7. Power Up With a Veggie Omelet
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7 Power Up With a Veggie Omelet

Eating a healthy breakfast containing protein, a nutrient missing from many morning meals, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), is important for brain function and energy throughout the day -- particularly for kids and teens. One large egg supplies more than six grams of protein. Add chopped kale to eggs for folate, which plays 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 and then add egg whites. As it cooks, fold in crumbled feta cheese. For more brain-healthy nutrients, pair your omelet with a whole-grain toast.

Related: Sign Up to Receive the FREE LIVESTRONG.COM Weekly Health and Fitness Newsletter

8. Bake Your Own Kale Chips
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8 Bake Your Own Kale Chips

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,” says 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

9. Start Your Day With a Smoothie
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9 Start Your Day With a Smoothie

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. 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

10. Start Meals With Seasoned Kale
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10 Start Meals With Seasoned Kale

One cup of fresh kale provides only eight calories, making it useful for weight control. 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 something light and flavorful and stave 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: Sign Up to Receive the FREE LIVESTRONG.COM Weekly Health and Fitness Newsletter

11. Braise It for Tenderness
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11 Braise It for Tenderness

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. “My go-to method for preparing kale,” says Alex, “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: 10 Surprising Foods Nutritionists Eat

12. Cook It on Cast Iron
Photo Credit: Pamela Follett/Demand Media

12 Cook It on Cast Iron

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 seven percent of the daily value for iron for women (ages 14 to 50) and about 14 percent for all men and women over the age of 50. You can increase that amount 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 serve cooked kale with beans, lentils or tofu.

Related: Sign Up to Receive the FREE LIVESTRONG.COM Weekly Health and Fitness Newsletter

13. Sip Kale-Containing Soup
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13 Sip Kale-Containing Soup

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 soups.

Related: 14 Protein-Packed Breakfasts

Aim for Balance and Variety
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Aim for Balance and Variety

Depending on your caloric needs, which vary based on your activity level, gender and age, you probably need five to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (two-and-a-half to six-and-a-half cups), says Harvard School of Public Health. Routinely eat a variety of colors and types for maximum health benefits, emphasizing particularly nutritious varieties, such as kale, broccoli, berries and citrus fruits.

Related: 14 Foods to Keep You Lean

What Do YOU Think?
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What Do YOU Think?

Do you eat kale? If so, what’s your favorite way to prepare it? Which suggestion did you like best? Let us know in the comments below. We love hearing from you!

Related: 12 Health Trends That Are Not Healthy

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