Beyond the Smoothie: The Benefits of Kale

Dr. Christopher McGowan
July 21, 2021

There are plenty of superfoods out there, but probably none of them have a more polarizing reputation than kale. Incredibly nutritious, this leafy vegetable also has a stigma of being the bitter end to a life of tasty food when you finally go on a diet. 

Sitting down to a bowl of raw kale may not make your mouth water, but it is hard to deny the health benefits of this king of the superfoods. If you are serious about getting in shape and eating right, finding a way to get this member of the cabbage family into your diet is one of the smartest moves you can make. 

What are the Health Benefits of Kale?

As a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, kale is a relative of broccoli, collard greens, and cauliflower. These leafy greens are packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals like calcium and manganese. Adding kale to your diet can help lower cholesterol, improve blood sugar levels, protect against macular degeneration, improve heart health, and even help keep thyroid levels regulated. Bone health and brain function are even on the list of potential benefits of eating kale. 

As a good source of antioxidants, kale is high in vitamins A, C, and E, but low in sugar and carbohydrates. As a consequence, if you are on any sort of specialized diet, be it for weight loss, diabetes, or heart disease, kale leaves will be almost guaranteed to be safe to put on the menu. 

There are many different foods that provide the most common types of nutrients we are looking for such as calcium or vitamin C. Where kale shines is not only in providing many of these common nutrients without a prohibitive amount of carbs or natural sugars, but also in providing some important nutrients that are harder to come by. This can be especially helpful if you are on a low-carb or no-carb diet. Some of the less common nutrients found in kale include:

  • glucosinolates 
  • magnesium
  • phosphorus
  • sulforaphane
  • zeaxanthin

Common Types of Kale

If you mention kale to most Americans, they will likely picture the curly, green variety found most often in American supermarkets and restaurants. Curly kale, as it is appropriately known, is by no means the only variety on offer, though. Below is a listing of some of the most common types of kale:

  • Red Russian: a less common, flat-leaved variety
  • dinosaur kale: narrow, wrinkled leaves and heavy stems
  • Redbor: ruffled red or purple leaves
  • curly kale: the most common type of kale in the U.S.

Is it Better to Eat Kale Raw or Cooked?

Like most veggies, kale provides the most nutritional benefits when eaten raw. If raw kale leaves are not to your liking, though, much of the nutritional potency can still be had from cooked kale. Some people prefer to sauté kale with extra virgin olive oil and other vegetables. Steaming is also a gentle preparation that can help preserve as much nutritional value as possible. 

If the taste of kale is really not to your liking, kale chips are a popular option. These can be bought pre-made, but this nutritious snack can also be made by lightly spraying olive oil on kale leaves and sprinkling them with garlic, chili powder, and other spices to taste before baking them in the oven at 275º for 15 minutes, or until they reach your desired level of crispness. 

If none of these preparations suit your fancy, there is always the much-touted kale smoothie. Though sometimes lampooned as the stereotypical go-to drink for health nuts, the kale smoothie is hard to beat when it comes to giving your diet a jolt of nutritious goodness. When paired with other tasty fruits, vegetables, and a base like yogurt, kale will not add much flavor to a smoothie, but will still bring the nutritional benefits you are looking for. 

Are There Any Risks in Eating Kale?

Kale may be touted as a superfood, but you should still be careful including it in your diet if you have not been eating it regularly. There are very few risks, but the high levels of vitamin K and potassium can interfere with certain medications. You should consult your doctor or a registered dietitian if you are taking beta-blockers, blood thinners, or have kidney disease. Certain kidney conditions can prevent your body from processing potassium, which could make eating kale lethal. Similarly, if you are on blood thinners such as warfarin, the vitamin K in kale that promotes blood clotting could interfere with the proper function of your medication. 

One other potential list of risks to eating kale is contaminants on the leaves. With their broad surface area, kale leaves are susceptible to becoming coated with contaminants or pesticides in the same way other leafy vegetables like spinach or lettuce can be. For this reason, it is important to thoroughly wash kale before eating it. 

Kale and the Bigger Picture of Weight Loss

There is no nutritional silver bullet, and even the impressive nutritional credentials of kale can’t guarantee you will lose weight or avoid the dangers of heart disease. Kale could be an important part of a balanced, nutritious diet, but maintaining an active lifestyle, drinking lots of water, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and cutting down on carbs and sugary treats are all components that are essential to living well, especially if you are looking to drop a few pounds. 

Even with the right diet and exercise, there are still some people who find themselves unable to achieve the weight loss goals they choose or their doctor recommends. For these people, all the kale in the world isn’t going to tip the scale in favor of lasting health and wellness. 

If you are one of these people who feel like they are running out of options to lose weight, it is important to know all the options you have available to you. Historically, people who were unable to lose weight were told that weight loss surgery such as a gastric bypass was the only option left. Thankfully, medical advances now mean there are more options to help you lose weight with less of the risk that comes with a drastic, irreversible procedure like bariatric surgery. 

At True You Weight Loss, we offer a range of services and procedures to help people find the freedom they are seeking from excess body weight. Not everyone is a good candidate for bariatric surgery, which is why we offer minimally invasive and reversible procedures such as the ORBERA® Managed Weight Loss System. We also specialize in performing endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty, an incisionless, minimally invasive procedure that can reduce the size of the stomach without some of the risks of traditional gastric bypass. 

For some people, hitting the gym or going ahead and adding some kale to that breakfast smoothie may be the next step down the path to better health. For others, it may be time to consider taking more decisive steps. If you want to learn more about what we do at True You Weight Loss, request a consultation with us today.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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