Kale vs Spinach: Which one is better for your body?
Whether we like it or not, we all think that eating kale and spinach is good for us. There are even mixed bags of kale and spinach that get sold as “power greens” or “superfood.” These two leafy greens are packed with vitamins and minerals. Which is better, though, kale or spinach?
To get a sense of how to choose between kale vs spinach, it makes sense to look beyond which one tastes best to us. We all have our preferences, but we should also consider which is healthier of the two.
One of the difficulties with kale and spinach is that they are quite similar, but there are important differences between kale and spinach beyond flavor and texture. The kale vs spinach question ultimately comes down to nutrition and your specific health and fitness goals.
So how do we choose between kale vs spinach? What makes one better than the other? What are the benefits of kale vs spinach? This guide will give you the facts about kale and spinach. We will give you the information you need to understand which is better for you: kale vs spinach.
What's the Difference Between Kale and Spinach?
While kale and spinach appear quite similar and even share some similarities in their flavor profiles, they are distinctly different plants from different plant families.
Kale is sometimes referred to as leaf cabbage. It is from the family of plants called Brassica oleracea. The leaves are edible however some varieties of kale are strictly ornamental. Kale is more closely related to wild cabbage than many of the more common varieties of domesticated cabbage.
Spinach is a leafy flowering plant native to central and western Asia. It is from the order of plants called Caryophyllales. Spinach can be eaten raw, and it holds up well to canning, freezing, and even dehydration, although steaming spinach does reduce some of its nutritional content. Spinach is part of the amaranth family of plants and is related to beets and quinoa.
There are several small differences in the nutritional content and health benefits of kale and spinach. Still, both are incredibly nutrient-dense and can be enjoyed as part of a well-rounded, healthy diet.
Ideally, try incorporating a few servings of each into your weekly meals, along with an assortment of other leafy greens, such as romaine, Swiss chard, collard greens, and cabbage. Not only do each of these ingredients bring a different set of nutrients to the table, but they can also add a bit of variety and new flavors to your diet.
Kale is often referred to as a super-food. It is one of those vegetables that pack so many vitamins and nutrients that it is thought of as a powerhouse for health. Some of the benefits of kale include:
Loaded with antioxidants
Kale contains beta-carotene and vitamin C. It also has numerous flavonoids and polyphenols. These are all powerful antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress in the body that leads to inflammation.
Antioxidants bind with and eliminate free radicals, chemicals that can cause damage at the cellular level and lead to a variety of serious conditions and illnesses, including cancer.
These same antioxidant compounds can protect the heat and lower blood pressure along with protecting you from the damage of oxidative stress brought on by the presence of free radicals.
Great source of vitamin C
We tend to think of orange juice when we think of vitamin C, but kale is also an excellent source. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, and it serves multiple functions in body cells. For example, vitamin C is essential for the synthesis of collagen which keeps your skin healthy.
Kale contains far more vitamin C than most other vegetables, and it is about 4.5 times higher in vitamin C than spinach. One cup of kale contains more vitamin C than a whole orange.
Lowers cholesterol and reduces your risk of heart disease
Cholesterol serves some important functions in the body. It is part of the production of bile acids that digest fats, for instance. These bile acids help convert fats into nutrients that can be used by the body. When cholesterol levels are too high it gets reabsorbed into the bloodstream and presents a danger to your arteries and your heart.
Kale contains compounds that operate like bile acids. These compounds prevent cholesterol from being reabsorbed into the bloodstream. This reduces the total level of cholesterol in the body, and this significantly reduces your risk of heart disease.
Studies have shown that a diet that includes large amounts of kale lowered cholesterol levels by as much as 27 percent. These studies showed that steamed kale is nearly half as potent as a bile acid as those naturally produced by the body.
Great source of vitamin K
Kale is one of the best sources of vitamin K, and this is an essential nutrient. Vitamin K is critical for blood clotting. It activates enzymes that are necessary for your blood to clot properly.
Spinach is also loaded with health benefits, and many of them overlap with kale. Some of the health benefits of spinach include:
Spinach contains many antioxidants that prevent oxidative stress which leads to dangerous levels of inflammation.
The free radicals that come from metabolic processes can lead to a variety of serious health conditions. Osteoarthritis, diabetes, and even cancer have been linked to the presence of free radicals in the body.
Spinach is one of the best sources of antioxidants that fight these free radicals.
Great for your eyes
Spinach contains high levels of zeaxanthin and lutein. These are compounds called carotenoids which are responsible for the color of many vegetables. These same compounds also happen to be ideal for protecting your eyes from the damage that can come from sunlight.
Scientists have also found that zeaxanthin and lutein can prevent macular degeneration and cataracts, both are major causes of blindness. Some studies have found that zeaxanthin and lutein can even reverse existing eye damage.
Spinach is high in two important compounds, MGDG and SQDG, which can slow the progress of cancer. Studies have found that these two compounds can decrease the size of cancerous tumors in both cervical and prostate cancer.
The presence of these two compounds can suppress the development of cancer. These properties combined with the antioxidants make spinach a powerful anticancer food.
Helps regulate blood pressure
Spinach contains high amounts of nitrates, which have been shown to help moderate blood pressure levels and decrease your risk of heart disease.
Kale vs Spinach nutrition
The reason kale and spinach are both considered superfoods is because both are packed with vitamins and minerals. They both also contain numerous other healthy components. The basic nutrition information for each is below.
A single cup of raw kale (about 67 grams or 2.4 ounces) contains (DV= Daily Value):
- Vitamin A: 206% of the DV (from beta-carotene)
- Vitamin K: 684% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 134% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 9% of the DV
- Manganese: 26% of the DV
- Calcium: 9% of the DV
- Copper: 10% of the DV
- Potassium: 9% of the DV
- Magnesium: 6% of the DV
- It also contains 3% or more of the DV for vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), iron, and phosphorus
Spinach is likewise packed with nutrition.
- Vitamin A: Spinach is high in carotenoids, which your body can turn into vitamin A.
- Vitamin C: This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that promotes skin health and immune function.
- Vitamin K1: This vitamin is essential for blood clotting. Notably, one spinach leaf contains over half of your daily needs.
- Folic acid: Also known as folate or vitamin B9, this compound is vital for pregnant women and essential for normal cellular function and tissue growth.
- Iron: Spinach is an excellent source of this essential mineral. Iron helps create hemoglobin, which brings oxygen to your body’s tissues.
- Calcium: This mineral is essential for bone health and a crucial signaling molecule for your nervous system, heart, and muscles.
Spinach also contains several other vitamins and minerals, including potassium, magnesium, and vitamins B6, B9, and E.
Kale vs Spinach risks
Kale and spinach are simply vegetables and pose little risk. It is not possible to consume too much kale or spinach. However, both spinach and kale contain chemical compounds that can pose problems.
Kale, as with all other cruciferous vegetables, contains a compound called goitrin. This has been shown to interfere with thyroid function by decreasing the uptake of iodine which is necessary for thyroid function.
Any disruption to the thyroid can cause problems with your metabolism and may lead to symptoms like fatigue, sensitivity to cold, and changes in your weight. However, more recent research shows that eating kale in moderate amounts poses no significant risk to thyroid function.
Spinach is high in a chemical called oxalate which binds with calcium in the body. This prevents calcium from being properly absorbed by the bones. Eating foods that are high in oxalate also leads to the excretion of oxalate through urine and can cause calcium oxalate kidney stones. Approximately 80 percent of kidney stones are composed of calcium oxalate.
You can reduce the risks posed by oxalate simply by boiling spinach. This reduces the oxalate content by as much as 87 percent.
Kale and Spinach FAQS
What is kale?
Kale is sometimes referred to as leaf cabbage. It is from the family of plants called Brassica oleracea. The leaves are edible, however, some varieties of kale are strictly ornamental. Kale is more closely related to wild cabbage than many of the more common varieties of domesticated cabbage.
What is spinach?
A leafy flowering plant native to central and western Asia. It is from the order of plants called Caryophyllales. Spinach can be eaten raw, and it holds up well to canning, freezing, and even dehydration, although steaming spinach does reduce some of its nutritional content. Spinach is part of the amaranth family of plants and is related to beets and quinoa.
What are the benefits of kale?
Kale is loaded with antioxidants. It helps prevent cancer. And kale is great for the health of your heart. Kale is filled with vitamins and minerals.
What are the benefits of spinach?
Spinach is also high in antioxidants. Spinach helps promote eye health. And spinach can help prevent cancer. Spinach is also loaded with vitamins and minerals.
Are there any dangers to kale and spinach?
There are generally no dangers associated with kale or spinach. Both contain specific compounds that can cause some problems, but by and large, both are completely safe.
Both kale and spinach have become much more popular in the past several years. Restaurant menus now feature kale and spinach in new ways. There are good reasons for the rising popularity of kale and spinach.
Kale and spinach are filled with vitamins and minerals. They carry nutritional loads that, in some cases, exceed the daily recommended amounts. Also, they have powerful chemical compounds that provide all kinds of benefits.
Some things that kale and spinach have in common is that both are loaded with powerful antioxidants. Kale and spinach can actively fight cancer and a host of other serious illnesses.
Good chefs and diligent home cooks have found great ways of cooking and preparing kale and spinach. Gone are the days in which the only way to stomach kale and spinach was after they had been steamed. Sauteed, cooked into other great dishes, or simply raw as a salad, kale, and spinach rightly deserve their designations as superfoods.
When it comes to choosing between kale vs spinach, the decision may simply come down to your tastes. As we can see, both kale and spinach provide many of the same benefits. Perhaps the best decision is to eat a little kale and a little spinach.