Kale and spinach are two superfoods often used together or in place of the other. Many people wonder if there’s much of a difference between the two. Let’s examine, what is the difference between kale and spinach?
Kale is a leaf cabbage belonging to a group of cabbage cultivars while spinach is a leafy green belonging to the Amaranthaceae family. Kale’s leaves are harder and coarser than spinach. Spinach is a dark green while kale’s color can range from light green to a violet-green. Kale tastes more bitter and spinach provides more nutrients.
This article will examine both foods including a side-by-side nutrient comparison. In addition, I’ll take a close look at their tastes, textures, prices, glycemic index, health benefits and if one can substitute for the other.
The Difference Between Kale and Spinach
Kale and spinach are both nutritious, leafy greens often used interchangeably in recipes, but there are some key differences between the two. Kale is a member of the cabbage family, and its leaves are hard and have a slightly bitter taste.
In contrast, spinach is a member of the Amaranthaceae family, and its leaves are soft and have a milder taste but can be bitter also.
Kale vs Spinach Nutrients
The following table compares the nutrients contained in raw spinach and kale per 100 grams.
|Spinach, raw (100 g)||Kale, raw (100 g)|
|Protein||2.86 g||2.92 g|
|Carbohydrates||3.63 g||4.42 g|
|Fiber||2.2 g||4.1 g|
|Fat||0.39 g||1.49 g|
|Sugar||0.42 g||0.80 g|
|Vitamin A||9,380 IU||4,480 IU|
|Beta-carotene||5,630 mcg||2,870 mcg|
|Vitamin C||28.1 mg||93.4 mg|
|Vitamin K||483 mcg||390 mcg|
|Vitamin D||0 IU||0 IU|
|Vitamin B6||0.19 mg||0.15 mg|
|Vitamin B9 (Folate)||194 mcg||62 mcg|
|Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)||0.08 mg||0.11 mg|
|Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)||0.19 mg||0.35 mg|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin)||0.72 mg||1.18 mg|
|Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)||0.07 mg||0.37 mg|
|Magnesium||79 mg||33 mg|
|Phosphorous||49 mg||55 mg|
|Potassium||558 mg||348 mg|
|Iron||2.71 mg||1.60 mg|
|Copper||0.13 mg||0.05 mg|
|Calcium||99 mg||254 mg|
|Zinc||0.53 mg||0.39 mg|
Looking at the nutrient table above it’s difficult to determine if one is better than the other. Let’s examine which is healthier, kale or spinach.
Kale and spinach are nutrient dense and provide a similar number of nutrients. For this reason, they are equally healthy and both should be part of a well-rounded, healthy diet.
Kale provides a higher percentage of protein, fiber, vitamin C, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, B5, phosphorous and calcium.
Spinach provides a higher percentage of vitamin A, beta carotene, vitamin K, B6, folate, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper and zinc.
Check down further in the article to find out about the health benefits of these two superfoods and nutrients. Choosing one over the other may depend on your particular goals. Let’s examine some of those goals next.
When to Choose Kale or Spinach
Low-carb or Keto Diet
The number one thing to look at first while on a low-carb diet is the carbohydrates. Therefore, let’s examine the carbohydrates provided by kale and spinach.
Kale has 0.79 more carbohydrates than spinach per 100 grams. While this doesn’t sound like much of a difference, kale has 21% more carbohydrates. On a keto diet a small difference may mean a lot. Therefore, spinach is better than kale for low-carb diets.
If you’re counting calories to lose extra fat around the middle, you may be wondering if kale or spinach is better for weight loss.
Spinach contains 12 fewer calories than kale per 100 grams. While this doesn’t sound like much of a difference, it results in a 50% difference in calories. Therefore, spinach may be better than kale for weight loss if you’re counting calories.
If you’re consuming a gluten free diet or have celiac disease, this can make or break your choice between the two. Between kale and spinach, which is gluten free?
Kale and spinach are gluten free. Therefore, if you have celiac disease, both of them are good options.
If you’re trying to gain lean muscle mass, your carbohydrate and protein intake are important. The extra protein helps to repair and build new muscle after a workout. The extra carbohydrates help to fuel energy and increase exercise performance when lifting weights.
Let’s examine which is better for bodybuilding, kale or spinach.
Kale provides 0.6 more grams of protein per 100 grams, approximately 2% more than spinach. Kale provides 0.79 more carbohydrates per 100 grams, 21% more. It also provides a little more calories which can help when bulking up.
Therefore, kale is better for bodybuilding than spinach.
Kale vs Spinach: Taste and Texture
Sometimes the difference in nutrients or calories may not matter, and the decision to choose one of the foods comes down to how good it tastes. Therefore, let’s examine the difference in the taste and texture between kale and spinach.
Kale has a slightly bitter taste compared to the milder spinach. Spinach may taste bitter to some people but not as much as kale. Kale leaves are harder and chewier than the softer spinach leaf. When kale is cooked, it retains more of its tougher texture than spinach which becomes softer.
I wanted to conduct original research and find out what real people like you thought about the taste of kale and spinach. Therefore, I polled my clients, readers and people belonging to food groups and asked, what tastes better, kale or spinach?
- 59% said they preferred the taste of spinach.
- 34% said they preferred the taste of kale.
- 7% said they had no preference.
Spinach was the clearcut winner in the battle of taste.
For many different reasons, you may want to use one of the two foods in a recipe calling for the other food. For these reasons, you’ll need to know if kale or spinach can substitute for each other.
Kale and spinach can substitute for each other although the texture will be different due to the coarser kale. When substituting in salads use a one to one ratio. When cooking use more spinach than kale due to how spinach breaks down while cooked.
Substitute kale or spinach in the following dishes:
- When using kale in salads, massaging the kale leaves can make them more tender and less hard. In addition, always destem the kale.
- Kale can be cut up finer than spinach so it cooks thoroughly and to soften up quicker if desired.
- To achieve a softer texture from kale, cook it longer than you would for spinach.
You may want to use both of them together in the same salad or dish. Some of the food manufacturers have made this easy for you by selling them together in the same container or bag in the produce section.
Kale and Spinach Prices
How much food cost is important to most people. Lately, it seems the price of grocery items keeps getting higher. Therefore, let’s take a close look the prices of kale and spinach.
Fresh kale costs more money per ounce than spinach. The cost for fresh kale averages $0.24 per ounce and spinach averages $0.16 per ounce.
To conduct some original research, I visited some local supermarkets and checked the prices of kale and spinach. Here are my findings.
First I checked a Walmart Supercenter:
- Marketside bagged fresh spinach
- 10 ounce bag for $1.98. Equals $0.20 per ounce
- Marketside fresh kale
- 16 ounce container for $4.84. Equals $0.30 per ounce
I then checked my local Shoprite supermarket:
- Bowl and basket chopped spinach
- 10 ounce bag for $1.29. Equals $0.13 per ounce
- Bowl and basket kale
- 16 ounce bag for $2.99. Equals $0.18 per ounce
Blood sugar spikes may lead to health complications over time 5. For this reason, avoiding blood sugar spikes as often as possible is an important part of a healthy diet.
The glycemic index measures how fast food raises blood sugar levels 6. Foods on the GI scale are categorized as:
- Low-GI foods: 55 or under
- Medium-GI foods: 56-69
- High-GI foods: 70 or over
How blood sugars levels are affected:
- Foods with a glycemic index 70 or more cause a quicker spike in blood sugar levels.
- Foods with a glycemic index 56 to 69 cause a moderate spike in blood sugar levels.
- Foods with a glycemic index 55 or less cause a slow spike in blood sugar levels.
Kale and spinach are both low glycemic foods and shouldn’t cause any spikes in blood sugar. Besides the two, all leafy greens have a low glycemic index, almost unmeasurable in some varieties.
Kale and Spinach Health Benefits
- Raw kale contains 4.1 grams of fiber per 100 grams.
- Raw spinach contains 2.2 grams of fiber per 100 grams.
Kale provides 86% more fiber than spinach per 100 grams.
Soluble fiber is helpful for many reasons 7. What makes fiber soluble is it dissolves in water.
Soluble fiber is known for the following:
- Help overall digestion.
- Helps to have a more regular stool and avoid constipation.
- Manage the blood glucose levels which helps decrease the risk of diabetes.
- Aids greatly in weight management because it allows you to feel full faster and eat less.
Find out if collard greens have more nutrients in my article, Collard Greens vs Spinach: Which is Better? A Comparison.
- Raw kale contains 2.92 grams of protein per 100 grams.
- Raw spinach contains 2.86 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Kale provides 2% more protein than spinach per 100 grams.
Protein is helpful for many reasons 8. Protein is known for the following:
- Helps to build, repair and maintain muscle.
- Aids in weight management because it allows you to feel full eat less later.
- Can help increase metabolism.
Low levels of protein may result in the following:
- Impaired immunity
- Physical weakness
- Vascular dysfunction
Spinach provides a higher percentage of five of the seven minerals listed in the nutrient table above. The difference in minerals between the two is significant. Therefore, let’s take a close look at the minerals and discuss how they may benefit health.
- Raw spinach contains 79 mg of magnesium per 100 grams.
- Raw kale contains 33 mg of magnesium per 100 grams.
Spinach provides 140% more magnesium than kale per 100 grams.
Magnesium helps the body control the following:
- Blood sugar
- Systolic and diastolic blood pressure
- Nerve function
- Muscle function
In the heart and muscles, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat 9.
One reason many people supplement with magnesium in the evening is because it helps calm the whole body including blood vessels.
Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels stable and balanced. Recent scientific research examined previous studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure 10.
Find out if spinach or Swiss chard have more nutrients in my article, Spinach vs Swiss Chard: Which is Better? Complete Comparison.
- Raw spinach contains 558 mg of potassium per 100 grams.
- Raw kale contains 348 mg of potassium per 100 grams.
Spinach provides 60% more potassium than kale per 100 grams.
Some medical experts recommend the potassium to sodium ratio of 4:1. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 11.
Potassium helps the body reduce excess fluid and blood pressure 12.
According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and high blood pressure 13. The more potassium, the more sodium your body will lose.
- Raw spinach contains 2.71 mg of iron per 100 grams.
- Raw kale contains 1.60 mg of iron per 100 grams.
Spinach provides 102% more iron than kale per 100 grams.
Iron is a necessary part of any healthy diet 14. Iron may help with the following:
- Is essential the creation of red blood cells.
- Vital for growth and development.
- Help some hormones remain balanced.
- Help the immune system.
- Raw kale contains 55 mg of phosphorus per 100 grams.
- Raw spinach contains 49 mg of phosphorus per 100 grams.
Kale provides 12% more phosphorus than spinach per 100 grams.
Phosphorus has been shown in scientific studies to help with the following:
- Promote healthy nerve conduction.
- Help the body manage and store energy.
- Help the kidneys remove waste.
- Muscle contraction and recovery.
- Promote bone and teeth health.
- Raw kale contains 254 mg of calcium per 100 grams.
- Raw spinach contains 99 mg of calcium per 100 grams.
Kale provides 156% more calcium than spinach per 100 grams.
Calcium helps the following:
- Help the muscles to function properly.
- Helps nerve function.
- Maintain and build strong bones.
In addition, calcium is important for the heart and blood pressure. Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure by helping in the controlling of the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 15.
Find out the differences between baby spinach and spinach in my article, Baby Spinach vs Spinach: Which is Better? A Comparison.
- Raw kale contains 93.4 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams.
- Raw spinach contains 28.1 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams.
Kale provides 233% more vitamin C than spinach per 100 grams.
Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and helps with the following:
- Prevent cell damage.
- Increases iron absorption.
- Help maintain health gums.
- Collagen production.
- May help boost the immune system.
- Help heal wounds.
Vitamin A & Beta Carotene
- Raw spinach contains 9,380 IU of vitamin A per 100 grams.
- Raw kale contains 4,480 IU of vitamin A per 100 grams.
Spinach provides 109% more vitamin A than kale per 100 grams.
- Raw spinach contains 5,630 mcg of beta carotene per 100 grams.
- Raw kale contains 2,870 mcg of beta carotene per 100 grams.
Spinach provides 96% more beta carotene than kale per 100 grams.
Beta-carotene is a compound present in arugula and spinach. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce cellular damage by controlling the negative effects of free radicals 16.
An increased number of vitamin A has been shown to fight and prevent cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States 17.
According to scientific studies, vitamin A helps the eyes when it comes to dim light vision and dry eyes 18.
Find out if raw or cooked spinach has more nutrients in my article, Raw Spinach vs Cooked Spinach: Which is Better? A Comparison.
Spinach provides a higher percentage of B6 and folate. Kale provides a higher percentage of niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and B5.
The B vitamins provided include the following:
- B1 (thiamin)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B9 (folate)
B vitamins help support the following:
- Nerve function.
- Brain function.
- Red blood cells.
- Energy levels.
- Cardiovascular disease.
Find out if spinach or romaine is healthier in my article, Spinach vs Romaine: Which is Better? An Ultimate Comparison.
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- Wikipedia: Spinach
- USDA: Spinach, raw
- USDA: Kale, raw
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