The Diet Detective: The Health Benefits of Kale

Kale is packed with disease-fighting compounds. For instance, kale has twice as much vitamin C as an orange (120 milligrams per 100 grams verses 59 milligrams per 100 grams).

Like broccoli and cabbage, kale is a cruciferous vegetable. One cup has more than 200 percent of the daily value (DV) for vitamin A, including sought-after lutein and zeaxanthin (for healthy eyes) and beta carotene (for healthy skin and eyes), 5 percent of the DV for fiber and 684 percent of DV for vitamin K, which helps bone hold onto the calcium it has.

The Key Health Benefits of Kale

One of the key benefits is the abundance of antioxidants—chemicals that slow down the aging process and help prevent heart disease and certain kinds of cancer by blocking the cellular and arterial damage caused by oxidation.

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According to researchers from the Department of Human Nutrition at the Agricultural University of Krakow in Poland, brassica vegetables contain a lot of valuable antioxidants, including vitamins C and E, carotenoids and antioxidant enzymes such as catalase, superoxide dismutase (SOD) and peroxidase, which help to prevent cancer.

Additionally, kale is rich in glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are phytonutrients that remove free radicals from the body by stimulating the body's own natural antioxidant systems. This cascade of antioxidant activity—unlike the one-shot, finite amount you get from most direct antioxidants—actually cycles over and over within the physiology, continuing to protect your system for as long as 3 to 4 days after they've been consumed.

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However, glucosinolates and S-methylcysteine sulfoxide also account for what some consider kale's bitter and unpleasant flavor. Many cooks recommend giving the kale a massage, which reduces bitterness. Also, adding sweet (e.g., honey, fruit) and salt can really enhance the flavor.

In addition, kale has high levels of the flavonoids kaempferol and quercetin, which help reduce inflammation, keep blood vessels healthy and prevent DNA damage that can lead to cancer. Finally, it has good amounts of calcium and is loaded with magnesium.

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