Daily Burn Face-Off: Kale vs. Spinach

Kale vs. Spinach Leafy Greens
Photos: Pond5 (top); Pond5 (bottom)

From green juice to salads, spinach and kale are the workhorses of the produce section, acting as the base of healthy dishes you’re used to (like this chicken, strawberry and spinach salad), along with less traditional ones (hello, cauliflower-kale pasta). And they’ve earned their place on your plate thanks to some serious health benefits: Leafy greens are rich in nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E and K, yet also have a low calorie count. Plus, because they’re fiber-rich, they’ll keep you fuller, longer. But since produce doesn’t stay fresh forever (spinach will last only 3-5 short days!), you can’t exactly keep a fridge stocked full of leafy greens. So, we’re pitting kale against spinach in this Daily Burn Face-Off to decide: Which packs more nutritional bang per bite?

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While there’s no wrong choice, we asked two nutritionists — Erin Paterson, Culinary Nutritionist for Go2Go, a meal delivery service, and Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, founder of Foodtrainers, a nutrition practice in NYC — to weigh in on which is best for you.

The Benefits of Leafy Greens

Real talk: Both veggies offer a slew of benefits. “From cardiovascular health and bone health to immune support and cancer prevention, leafy greens help with it all,” says Paterson. And since they’re especially rich in vitamins C, you’ll get a surprising beauty boost from eating them, too. Paterson adds, “The vitamin C in leafy greens is as good as any anti-aging cream.” Science confirms this, too: According to Oregon State University, vitamin C may help counter UV damage to skin.

Yet despite both being nutritional powerhouses, there are key differences between the two. Most importantly is the taste: In comparison, kale is bitterer than spinach. (Interestingly, that bitter flavor is caused by the very same compounds in kale that are actually good for you, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.) It also maintains its shape and volume better after cooking.

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Interestingly, kale is higher in calories and carbohydrates (49 calories per 100 g of raw kale, versus 23 calories per 100 g of spinach). Additionally, it’s also a bit richer in those essential nutrients, says Paterson. “In addition to vitamins A and K, it’s high in calcium, which is not only beneficial for your bone health, but aids in proper blood clotting, too.”

Spinach, on the other hand, is higher in folate, a B vitamin especially essential during infancy, pregnancy and for women whom are breastfeeding. It’s also higher in iron, another nutrient particularly particularly important for women who are or plan to become pregnant, according to research published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences. (Iron’s also key for those who battle with anemia.) And with six times the magnesium as kale, spinach can help you get in some good zzz’s. says Slayton. And anyone can benefit from more of this nutrient. “Magnesium is important for restful sleep and muscle relaxation,” says Slayton.

Does How I Eat It Matter?

While both kale and spinach are seemingly everywhere, we’re not just seeing them in their traditional leaf form: These veggies can both be eaten raw, cooked or juiced. But if you’re worried that how you consume them matters, don’t fret. “There are always slight differences in the nutrition of raw versus cooked versus juiced vegetables,” says Paterson. “But are they of enough significance to worry about eating it one way versus the other? No. Consuming more vegetables and leafy greens, no matter how you eat them provides a host of benefits.” So go for the smoothie or the salad — you’re eating well regardless.

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Kale vs. Spinach: The Bottom Line

When it comes down to the final answer in the battle of kale vs. spinach, it’s definitely not black and white: Which leafy green you choose depends on several factors, including what your own individual needs are at any given time. For example, women of childbearing age may find that spinach offers more nutrients that they need, like folate and iron, whereas those who don’t get calcium from other sources (vegans, for example) may choose kale in support of their bone health. Regardless, leafy greens are an amazing addition to any diet — whether you choose kale or spinach.

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