Kale Nutrition Facts and How to Incorporate This Powerhouse Food into Your Diet
What is the glycemic index?
I’ve heard glycemic index before, and haven’t spent the time looking into it because it sounded complicated, and frankly irrelevant to me as someone who just eats with balance in mind. But, it is actually a very helpful tool for people for everyone to understand how our body processes food.
The glycemic index (GI) helps you compare how quickly your body digests different kinds of carbohydrates. The GI index was invented by Dr. Thomas Wolever and Dr. David Jenkins at the University of Toronto to help people with type 1 diabetes manage their blood sugar.
The GI index works by ranking foods on a scale from 0 to 100. The faster that food item raises your blood glucose levels, the higher the GI number will be.
Why is it important to watch your blood glucose levels? Your body needs glucose in order to function every day! High glucose levels are a tell-tale sign that your body isn’t producing enough insulin, which can lead to diabetes. Insulin is key for ensuring that glucose can get into your muscle, fat, and liver cells. When left unchecked, high blood glucose levels can lead to a whole range of complications, including eye, kidney, or nerve damage.
High glycemic foods have a score of 70 or higher, and include white bread, baked potatoes, and doughnuts (really yummy comfort foods). Foods with a GI score of 55-69 are considered medium glycemic, and include bananas, pineapple, and certain kinds of ice cream. Low glycemic foods have a GI of less than 55, and examples include skim milk, kidney beans, and raw carrots.
Fruits and vegetables are both necessary for a well-rounded diet. Vegetables tend to have low GI values, and should feature prominently in your diet! Great GI conscious vegetables to include in your grocery planning include carrots, green peas, yams, parsnips, and kale!
Fruits generally have higher GIs than vegetables, but they also are high in fiber which helps slow down digestion. Eating fruit can help with appetite control, delay hunger cues, and help with weight management. Low GI fruits include apples, prunes, grapefruits, pears, and oranges.
Don’t confuse the glycemic index with the glycemic load! Glycemic load looks at the quantity and quality of carbohydrates in foods, with the ultimate goal of comparing blood glucose values.
GL can be calculated by multiplying the glycemic index by the amount of carbohydrate per potion and dividing by 100. But don’t put too much weight on the glycemic load! While it’s very helpful for scientific research, the glycemic index is more helpful for the average person.
Why should I follow a GI diet?
You might want to follow a GI diet if you’d like help with the following:
- Wanting to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight
- Planning and eating healthier meals
- Maintaining blood sugar levels as part of a diabetes treatment plan
But, as every diet does, the glycemic value does have some limitations. Single food items can impact blood sugar differently than combinations of foods (like 99% of all meals). The glycemic index also doesn’t consider all variables that can impact blood sugar, like how food is prepared or how much you eat. It only contains foods that contain carbohydrates (ignoring most meat and seafood, for example), and doesn’t rank foods based on nutrient content. Foods with a low GI ranking may be high in calories, sugar, or saturated fat.
Does the GI value ever change?
Absolutely! Fat, fiber, and acid (like lemon juice or vinegar) lower the glycemic index. And the longer you cook starches, like pasta, the higher their glycemic index will be. If you want to enjoy a high-glycemic index food like a baked potato, combine with a lower GI food like salsa, or a kale salad, to bring down the meal’s overall GI score.
Wait, kale? Why is kale a great GI food?
Kale is trendy for a reason, it is the king of super healthy greens!
Kale is the ultimate multi-tasker for your overall health. It provides more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamins A and K. Kale also contains chemicals called glucosinolates, which help neutralize cancer-causing substances. Kale is also a good source of potassium, and has even been shown to help manage blood pressure!
Kale is a low-calorie food; rich in vitamins and minerals like fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, lutein (commonly referred to as “the eye vitamin”), and important antioxidants like beta carotene (which is converted to vitamin A), zeaxanthin (helps your vision), and manganese (which helps bone health). Studies have shown that diets rich in lutein and beta carotene may help support eye health, and people who have diabetes may be more susceptible to certain eye conditions).
Kale is a member of the cruciferous (that’s a good one for Scrabble!) vegetable family, along with broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, arugula, Brussels sprouts, collards, watercress, and radishes. These vegetables are also rich in vitamins A, C, and K; and phytonutrients which may help to lower inflammation and reduce the risk of developing cancer. Adults should aim for at least 2 ½ cups of these vegetables per day.
There are 4 main types of kale: curly, lacinto, redbor, and Russian (Siberian). Curly kale is definitely the most common, but each variety is appealing to the eye and stomach!
Kale and Oxidative Stress
Kale is also great at relieving oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is an imbalance between free radicals (molecules with oxygen and an uneven number of electrons) and antioxidants (molecules that can donate an electron to a free radical without making themselves unstable) in your body.
Under oxidative stress, free radicals can begin damaging fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins in your body. This damage can lead to a vast number of diseases over time, including: diabetes, atherosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessels), inflammatory conditions, high blood pressure/hypertension, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, and cancer. Oxidative stress can also contribute to aging!
Free radicals are naturally produced in your body through exercise or inflammation. This is completely normal! You are also exposed to free radicals in the environment, through sources like: ozone, certain pesticides and cleaners, cigarette smoke, radiation, and pollution. Free radical production is also influenced by consuming too much sugar, fat, or alcohol.
Kale and Weight Loss
Kale is an incredibly nutrient-dense vegetable, and can be a great component of any healthy lifestyle. Instead of potato chips or other fried snacks, try kale chips baked with garlic. Kale is also a great addition to many soups, stews, or sauces to make them more filling, while keeping the calorie count low. Did you know that kale contains tons of dietary fiber--about 10% of the average daily value?
How can I eat kale?
I get it, kale is good for me. But it taste's, you know, good for me.
Kale’s unique taste and texture surprises even the most seasoned food veterans. But, kale makes a delicious backdrop in many recipes; so don’t worry if you’re a little bit intimidated by raw kale.
Many of kale’s top health-promoting compounds are even more effective when combined with other food. Kale goes great paired with healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, or Parmesan cheese to make carotenoids--which help deactivate free radicals!
Cooked kale, in particular, has been misunderstood for many years! For better-cooked kale, remember to use plenty of seasonings (garlic, for example, has lots of health benefits!) or try sauteing with plenty of olive oil.
A leafy green salad can be taken to new heights by adding kale (make sure to remove the stem!) and a lemon based dressing, like this one from The Garlic Diaries. Kale chips are an easy snack to bring on road trips or to work, and are still packed with great health benefits. You can even add kale to smoothies! I’m partial to our Mountain Beef Stew or our BBQ Beef bars.
But I thought Mountain Beef Stew had sweet potatoes?!
If you’re a longtime Mountain Beef Stew fan, welcome to the club! And also, you might have noticed that this meal used to include sweet potatoes, but now includes kale. With our Paleo Meals to Go, we’re focused on jam-packing as many nutrients as possible. Adding kale allows us to accomplish this goal! This change also helps lower the sodium for others who are salt-conscious.
Zora Tabin (Founder, Mom & Healthy Snack Enthusiast)