When it comes to the part of the produce section that’s full of all that luscious green roughage, healthy eaters have very strong opinions. Some are Team Kale all the way (remember that kale shortage?), saying it’s better for you. Others take after Popeye and go for spinach, saying that it’s just as healthy as kale without the bitter aftertaste. (Sorry, collard greens fans, but no one cares what you think.)
But should we actually be pitting these leafy greens against each other, or are they just two sides of the same nutritional coin? I enlisted the help of registered dietitian Lindsey Joe, RD for a little compare and contrasting. Let’s get right down to the great kale vs spinach showdown.
Curious about green juice, too? Here’s what an RD has to say about the trendy drink:
1. They’re both healthy—although spinach has more vitamins and minerals overall
When it comes to health benefits, comparing kale and spinach has a Venn diagram-like effect: each green has its own unique health traits, but they also have overlapping ones.
Here’s what they have in common: Both greens are anti-inflammatory, linked to helping protect against heart disease and cancer. Both kale and spinach also have about the same about of fiber per serving (one gram per cup, uncooked). Fiber of course is linked to a whole host of benefits, including better digestion and healthy weight management. They both have the same amount of protein as well.
However, there are some nutrients kale is higher in, and some spinach is higher in. “Kale has slightly more calcium and vitamin C than spinach,” Joe points out. “But spinach outdoes kale on iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, folate, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K.”
With this in mind, when it comes to the “healthier” choice, it depends on what your health goals are, and what the rest of your diet looks like. They’re both…well, really, really good for you.
2. They have very different tastes and textures
Kale has a slightly more bitter taste than spinach, so as far as a flavor profile goes, Joe says it really comes down to personal preference. “If you like really creamy and smooth dishes, you might go with spinach as it easily wilts and doesn’t have a strong flavor. If you like a little bite or chew to your food, kale is your pick.”
To the texture point, spinach can be a bit more user-friendly than kale. “Spinach is a quick cook versus kale, which needs more time to tenderize its tougher fibers,” Joe adds. Kale usually requires being stemmed and massaged in order to make it chewable whereas spinach is generally just requires a quick wash.
3. They’re equally versatile, so use what you like
When it comes to finding ways to use the two greens, Joe says kale and spinach can be used interchangeably; it just depends on what you like more. “Spinach and kale are both very versatile greens, so I always encourage my clients to enjoy the foods they like,” Joe says. “Food is just like any other healthy habit; the more we enjoy it, the more we’ll engage in—or eat—it. Can you imagine hating barre yet forcing yourself to do it daily? That’s not a formula for a long-lasting exercise routine. And the same goes for food.”
Both are obviously popular picks for eating raw in salads, but because of its slightly bitter taste, kale pairs well in smoothies with lemon and other citrus fruits. But if you’re making pasta or a casserole and want to add a serving of greens to mix in, to Joe’s point, spinach works a bit better because it doesn’t have as strong of a flavor profile and the texture is smooth, which works well in creamy pasta dishes.
What’s the verdict?
Because both greens are so nutrient dense, the winning green for you comes down to what nutrients you want to prioritize, as well as your eating habits. If you like to start off each day with a refreshing green smoothie a la Kimberly Snyder, CN, and are trying to get more calcium in your life, kale is your number one. If you don’t actually like the taste of any greens but you know you should get more of them, spinach will give you the versatility you need to add them to dishes you’re already making (without it tasting overtly…you know, green).
Again, the most important takeaway here is that both are healthy. Chances are if you’re so health-conscious that you’re comparing greens, you’re already doing a stellar job of nourishing your body.
Here’s what to pair with your favorite healthy foods to make them even healthier. And here are some other foods that help fight inflammation.