Kale has become an increasingly popular leafy green in recent years, prized for its nutritional benefits. But with the rising concern over sugar and carbohydrate consumption, many health-conscious consumers wonder: does fresh kale have sugar? Let’s take a look at the carbohydrate and sugar content of kale and what it means for your health.
The Basics of Kale’s Carbohydrate Content
Kale contains a modest amount of carbohydrates, with approximately 7 grams of carbs per 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of kale. The majority of these carbohydrates come from fiber, with kale containing nearly 2 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams. Fiber does not raise blood sugar levels and provides many health benefits, such as supporting digestive health.
The remaining carbohydrates in kale come from sugar. Fresh kale contains about 1.4 grams of natural sugar per 100 grams. The sugar in kale includes:
These are all simple sugars that are naturally found in plants. The exact sugar content can vary slightly depending on the specific variety of kale.
Kale’s Sugar Content vs. Other Foods
To put kale’s natural sugar content into context, here’s how it compares to some other common foods:
|Food||Total Sugar per 100g|
As you can see, fresh kale is very low in sugar compared to sweet fruits like apples and bananas, as well as processed foods like chocolate bars. Among common vegetables, it has less sugar than carrots and only slightly more than broccoli.
Sugar Content of Cooked vs. Raw Kale
Keep in mind that cooking kale can change its sugar content. Raw fresh kale has about 1.4g sugar per 100g, while cooked boiled kale contains around 2.2g sugar for the same serving size. The amount increases because some of the water cooks off, concentrating the sugars.
Cooking kale also breaks down some of the plant’s cell walls, allowing more of the sugars to be released. However, the increase is small and cooked kale still remains low in sugar compared to many other foods.
Does the Sugar in Kale Impact Blood Sugar?
For most people, the small amount of sugar in kale has a negligible effect on blood sugar levels. Even cooked kale is considered a low glycemic food, meaning it does not cause significant spikes in blood glucose.
There are a few exceptions, however. People with diabetes or prediabetes should be aware of a few things:
- The sugars in kale can impact blood sugar for those who are insulin resistant. Monitor glucose carefully when incorporating kale.
- Cooked kale may raise blood sugar more than raw due to the higher sugar concentration. Enjoy raw kale when possible.
- Watch portion sizes. Large servings of kale can contribute to blood sugar rise due to the total carbohydrate amount.
Overall though, kale is a diabetes-friendly food that can be part of a healthy meal plan. The fiber and nutrients it provides are beneficial for blood sugar regulation in the long run.
Does Kale Have Fructose?
Fructose is one type of simple sugar found in many fruits and some vegetables. Fresh kale contains a small amount of fructose.
The exact fructose quantity can range from 0.2 – 0.5g per 100g serving. So in a typical 1-2 cup serving of raw chopped kale, you would get around 0.5 – 1g of fructose.
For comparison, an apple contains around 5-7g fructose per 100g serving. So kale provides only a fraction of the fructose you’d get from fruit.
Is Kale High in Natural Sugars?
No, kale is low in natural sugars. Pound for pound, kale contains far less sugar than most fruits and many starchy vegetables like potatoes or sweet potatoes.
Leafy greens like kale have lower carbohydrate and sugar levels than roots, tubers, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and milk products. They are one of the lowest sugar options among all plant foods.
Does Kale Have Starch?
Kale does not contain significant amounts of starch. Starch is the stored form of carbohydrates in plants and is found mainly in seeds, grains, legumes, corn, and starchy root vegetables and tubers.
The leaves of plants like kale contain very little starch. Instead, kale provides carbohydrates mainly from sugars and fiber.
Health Benefits of Kale
Due to its stellar nutritional profile, kale provides many benefits:
- Antioxidants – Kale is loaded with antioxidants like quercetin, kaempferol and vitamin C to help fight inflammation and oxidative damage.
- Vitamin K – A single cup of kale contains over 500% of your daily vitamin K needs for strong bones and blood clotting.
- Eye health – The antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin found in kale promote eye health and help prevent macular degeneration.
- Heart health – Kale contains bile acid sequestrants that help lower cholesterol levels and reduce heart disease risk.
- Cancer prevention – Studies show kale’s sulforaphane, fiber, and antioxidants may help prevent certain cancers like colon, prostate and breast cancer.
Kale is also an excellent source of vitamin C, calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and vitamin A. The fiber it provides feeds the good bacteria in your gut microbiome as well.
Should You Avoid Kale for a Low Sugar Diet?
For most people following a low sugar diet, kale can be safely enjoyed as part of healthy meals and snacks. The small amount of natural sugars it provides is usually a negligible source of sugar.
However, those on very strict ketogenic or low carb diets may want to limit higher carb vegetables including kale. Low carb diets often restrict carb sources to under 20-50g daily, so vegetables like kale would account for a larger proportion of allotted carbs.
You don’t necessarily have to avoid kale entirely though. Watch your portions, stick to raw kale when possible, and balance it out with lower carb options. For example, use kale sparingly in salads heavy on low carb greens like spinach, arugula, lettuce, celery and cucumbers.
Tips for Enjoying Low Sugar Kale
Here are some ways to keep kale low in sugar and carbs:
- Consume kale raw instead of cooked – this avoids concentrating the natural sugars.
- Stick to reasonable portion sizes – 1-2 cups raw or 1/2-1 cup cooked.
- Pair kale with lower carb ingredients like seeds, olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and spices.
- Balance it in meals with low carb proteins, healthy fats, and low sugar veggies.
- Opt for baby kale which is lower in fiber and carbs than mature kale leaves.
- If on a strict low carb diet, limit kale to 1-2 times per week.
The Bottom Line
Kale is very low in sugar, especially when eaten raw. The small amount of natural sugars it provides are outweighed by the powerful nutrients and health benefits. Enjoy kale as part of a healthy low sugar, high fiber diet while paying attention to your personal carb limits.