Is It Better to Eat Kale Raw or Cooked? (2024)

Key Takeaways

  • Kale is a nutrient-dense superfood that contains vitamins K, C, A, fiber, and antioxidants.
  • Raw kale can be hard to digest. Kale's fibrous cell walls may prevent your body from absorbing nutrients, but cooking kale can reduce its antioxidant content.
  • Nutrition experts say steaming kale is a good way to make it easier to digest while preserving most of the nutrients.

Kale earned its superfood status over a decade ago, and it’s still considered one of the healthiest vegetables since it’s full of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. But should you cook it or eat it raw to maximize your nutritional intake?

Raw kale is extremely nutrient-dense. One cup of kale has 94% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting and bone formation.

However, some of these nutrients are wrapped inside fibrous cell walls, which means your gut has to work harder to absorb them, according to Heather Anita Garcia, MS, RD, a registered dietitian based in Los Angeles.

“When eaten raw, some of the nutrients stay hidden behind the unbroken cell walls and pass through our gut without being absorbed,” Garcia told Verywell in an email.

You could give raw kale a quick massage to help break down the fibrous walls, she said. Massaging kale can also reduce its bitter flavor.

Does Cooking Kale Reduce Its Nutritional Content?

Cooking kale might make the vegetable more palatable and easier to digest. The downside is that cooking can reduce the antioxidant and mineral content in kale, but some cooking methods are worse than others.

“If you were to boil kale, you’re going to have heat, and heat will denature the antioxidants, so vitamin C will get destroyed. Basically, it will leach into the water,” Sherry Gray, MPH, RD, a registered dietitian and extension educator at the University of Connecticut, told Verywell.

Steaming is a better option than boiling because you don’t lose as many nutrients with this cooking method, according to Gray.

“You’re not giving it heat treatment for very long, so it’s closest to raw that you can get and you still are cooking it to some degree,” she said.

Some social media users say that steaming kale can help reduce oxalate content. Sometimes called “anti-nutrients,” oxalates are naturally occurring molecules in vegetables that can prevent calcium absorption and cause kidney stones in some people. However, oxalates in kale are considerably lower than in other leafy greens, such as spinach and chard.

“For most people without preexisting kidney issues, the oxalate levels found in kale aren’t alarming at all. In fact, diets high in ultra-processed foods pose a much greater risk for kidney stones,” John Wesley McWhorter, DrPH, MS, RDN, director of lifestyle medicine at Suvida Healthcare, told Verywell in an email.

While steaming kale might reduce its oxalate content, the difference between raw and cooked kale mostly comes down to flavor preference, McWhorter added.

Which Is Better: Raw or Cooked Kale?

Nutrition science hasn’t determined the best way to prepare kale, but if you prefer raw kale, you might be getting some protection against certain types of cancer. According to a 2021 study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, raw cruciferous vegetables were found to have a stronger association with reduced risk of pancreatic cancer than cooked vegetables.

That doesn’t mean cooked kale isn’t worth eating. Fruit and vegetable consumption is associated with a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.

Cooked kale might be a more appetizing option for some people, but Garcia recommends using the cooking water as a nutrient-rich vegetable broth to get the nutrients that leached into the water.

Eating kale in any form adds vegetable intake to your diet. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults eat two to three cups of vegetables each day, but only 10% of U.S. adults currently meet this guideline.

With this in mind, nutrition experts say that most people should focus on adding more vegetables, like kale, to their diet instead of worrying if raw or cooked kale is better.

“Though most cooking methods result in loss of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, kale is still worth eating in whichever form you prefer. The benefits outweigh the nutrient loss,” Garcia said.

These 9 Fall Fruits and Vegetables Are Healthy for Your Heart, According to Dietitians

What This Means For You

Kale is a nutrient-dense vegetable that offers benefits whether it’s eaten raw or cooked. However, oxalates in kale could interfere with calcium absorption and cause kidney stones in some people.

9 Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Kale.

  2. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin K: fact sheet for health professionals.

  3. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Vitamin K.

  4. Armesto J, Gómez-Limia L, Carballo J, Martínez S. Effects of different cooking methods on the antioxidant capacity and flavonoid, organic acid and mineral contents of Galega Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala cv. Galega).Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2019;70(2):136-149. doi:10.1080/09637486.2018.1482530

  5. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. Are anti-nutrients harmful?.

  6. Salgado N, Silva MA, Figueira ME, Costa HS, Albuquerque TG. Oxalate in foods: extraction conditions, analytical methods, occurrence, and health implications. Foods. 2023;12(17):3201. doi:10.3390/foods12173201

  7. Morrison MEW, Hobika EG, Joseph JM, et al. Cruciferous vegetable consumption and pancreatic cancer: a case-control study.Cancer Epidemiol. 2021;72:101924. doi:10.1016/j.canep.2021.101924

  8. National Cancer Institute. Fruit and vegetable consumption.

  9. Lee SH, Moore LV, Park S, Harris DM, Blanck HM. Adults meeting fruit and vegetable intake recommendations - United States, 2019. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71(1):1-9. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7101a1

Is It Better to Eat Kale Raw or Cooked? (1)

By Stephanie Brown
Brown is a nutrition writer who received her Didactic Program in Dietetics certification from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. Previously, she worked as a nutrition educator and culinary instructor in New York City.

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Is It Better to Eat Kale Raw or Cooked? (2024)


Is It Better to Eat Kale Raw or Cooked? ›

While raw kale may boast the highest nutrient content, the study found that steaming retained the most antioxidants and minerals, compared with other cooking methods ( 7 ).

What is the healthiest way to eat kale? ›

While raw kale may boast the highest nutrient content, the study found that steaming retained the most antioxidants and minerals, compared with other cooking methods ( 7 ).

Why can't you eat kale every day? ›

Consumption of kale in excess can lead to constipation and stomach irritation. Due to the presence of oxalates, kale can increase the risk of kidney stones. Kale contains goitrogens, substances that inhibit the synthesis of thyroid hormone. So, its intake can increase the risk of iodine deficiency.

How much kale should you eat a day? ›

“You can get plenty of nutrients in just 1-2 cups of raw kale,” Giles says. “There's not really a limit. However, it's best to get a variety of veggies throughout the day.” If you're on blood thinners or anticoagulant medication, you can still enjoy kale, but do it in a consistent manner.

What is the best way to absorb nutrients from kale? ›

Based on these results, it's clear that eating veggies with fat has benefits. For example, to absorb the most nutrients from kale, a rich source of both vitamin K and provitamin A, consider dressing your leaves with extra virgin olive oil or tahini dressing. You can also add avocado or a handful of seeds to your salad.

Is kale healthier for you than spinach? ›

Both spinach and kale have plenty of nutrients to offer, but they do differ slightly. Kale, for example, has more calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin K than spinach, while spinach has more vitamin A, vitamin E, iron, potassium, zinc, folate, and magnesium.

What is the dark side of kale? ›

Kale and other greens (such as swiss chard, arugula, spinach, etc) are also loaded with oxalates, a compound that can promote kidney stones and severe pain in the body organs and tissues.

Why is kale bad for your stomach? ›

Let's start with digestive issues. Kale is loaded with soluble fiber that can cause nausea and insoluble fiber that can cause diarrhea. It also belongs to a complex sugar family — called the raffinose family of oligosaccharides (RFOs) — that can cause bloating.

Who should avoid eating kale? ›

These vegetables offer health benefits, including supporting the immune system, regulating blood pressure and potentially reducing the risk of various types of cancer. People who may need to avoid or limit kale intake are those who form oxalate-containing kidney stones or take the blood thinners Coumadin or warfarin.

Is 4 cups of kale a day too much? ›

Manganiello says you can eat kale every day, just don't overdo it. She recommends one to two servings maximum of kale per day, leaving room for other healthy foods that provide an assortment of nutrients.

Is kale anti-inflammatory? ›

Kale contains phytochemicals, sulfur-containing indolic glucosinolates, and aliphatic glucosinolates that have demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity [18].

Does kale detox your body? ›

Kale is probably the most popular green leafy vegetable out there. Not only does kale help aid in detoxification, it also helps your body maintain a healthy heart and blood sugar levels .

Is it better to cook kale or eat it raw? ›

Raw kale can be hard to digest. Kale's fibrous cell walls may prevent your body from absorbing nutrients, but cooking kale can reduce its antioxidant content. Nutrition experts say steaming kale is a good way to make it easier to digest while preserving most of the nutrients.

How long does kale last in the fridge? ›

Typical shelf life: Generally, kale can last in the fridge for about five to seven days. The key is to store it correctly to maintain its crispness and nutrients. Impact of temperature and humidity: Kale prefers a cool and slightly humid environment, so the crisper drawer in your fridge is ideal.

Do you just eat the leaves of kale? ›

Kale is a nitrogen-thirsty leaf with a strong structure and thick stem that, without proper preparation, is often tough and stringy.

Is kale healthier, raw or cooked? ›

“Cancer studies seem to show that raw kale is more beneficial than cooked, while cholesterol studies seem to show that steamed kale is more beneficial than raw,” says Harris, who recommends a bit of both in your diet. But whatever you do, don't boil, saute or stir-fry the veggie too long or with too much added liquid.

How to make kale more digestible? ›

Massage your kale — or otherwise change its texture

“This enhances nutrient absorption and helps break down the dense fibers.” So you will likely experience less bloating or stomach distention after massaging it.

How to digest kale better? ›

Slice the leaves, add them to a bowl with a dash of your favorite dressing, and use your hands to gently massage them together. This helps tenderize the fibers and makes it easier for your stomach to process. Cook it: Cooking kale helps ease its bitterness and softens tough fibers that can hamper digestion.

What part of kale is most nutritious? ›

And those thick stems don't help their cause, which is why many recipes recommend de-stemming before eating. But it's not because the stems are inedible. In fact, they offer the same nutrients as their beloved leaves. Just like massaging those kale leaves makes them more palatable (and tasty!)

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