New Year’s Resolution: Eat More Kale

a bowl of kaleAMES, Iowa – Want to be trendy in 2014? Then eat more kale. This dark leafy green vegetable is considered to be a “nutritional powerhouse” and is high on the list of nutrition trends for the new year, said Sarah Francis, an Iowa State University assistant professor and ISU Extension and Outreach nutrition specialist.

All fruits and vegetables are healthy and provide a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, the compounds that protect cells from damage. However, kale is marketed as one of the healthiest vegetables for humans. It’s part of the Brassica family, which includes other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

“MyPlate recommends that we eat 1 ½ cups to 2 cups of dark green vegetables each week,” Francis said.

About kale’s “powerhouse” status, Francis said one cup of chopped kale provides 684 percent of the daily value of vitamin K, 206 percent of vitamin A and 134 percent of vitamin C.

“Kale’s health benefits are attributed to its off-the-chart levels of these vitamins and antioxidants. Vitamin K is known for its role in blood clotting, but it also helps with bone health and acts as an antioxidant. Vitamin K has been shown to help lower the overall risk of getting or dying from cancer, as well,” Francis said.

However, the vitamin K content of kale can interfere with blood thinning medications, such as warfarin. Francis cautioned that anyone taking a blood thinner should talk with his or her health care professional before eating kale.

Kale’s eye health and anticancer benefits are linked to its concentration of two antioxidants: carotenoids and flavonoids. Two of the carotenoids found in kale, lutein and zeaxanthin, help promote eye health, including protecting against macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults. In addition, kale contains more than 45 flavonoids. This broad variety of flavonoids likely contributes to kale’s cancer preventive benefits, Francis noted.

Eating kale also helps to lower blood cholesterol levels, which in turn lowers the risk of heart disease, Francis added.

“Despite its many health benefits, kale has oxalates, which can interfere with calcium absorption. So it’s important to eat calcium-rich foods at different times than when eating kale,” Francis said.

“Try including kale in your diet by adding it to recipes,” Francis said. The recipe for vegetable soup with kale and lentils is available from SpendSmart, EatSmart on the ISU Extension and Outreach website,

Tips for Buying, Storing and Preparing Kale

  • Kale is available throughout the year. Its peak time is from the middle of winter through the beginning of spring.
  • Look for kale with firm, deeply colored leaves and moist hardy stems.
  • The leaves should look fresh, be unwilted, and be free from signs of discoloration, such as yellowing. Choose kale with smaller-sized leaves. These are more tender and have a milder flavor than kale with large leaves.
  • To store, place kale in a plastic storage bag, removing as much of the air from the bag as possible. Store kale in the refrigerator; it will keep for five days. The longer it is stored, the more bitter its flavor becomes. Do not wash kale before storing, because exposure to water encourages spoilage. Before using, rinse kale leaves under warm running water.
  • Chop the leaves into 1/2" slices and the stems into 1/4" lengths for quick and even cooking.

Live Healthy Iowa

Another trend for better health is to join the Live Healthy Iowa 10-Week Challenge. The annual team-based weight loss and physical activity program begins Jan. 27 and helps Iowans make positive changes that lead to a healthier lifestyle. To learn more or register, visit Live Healthy Iowa is a partnership of the Iowa Department of Public Health, Iowa Sports Foundation and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

For more information on nutrition and health, visit