Why Kale is King When it Comes to Nutrition

Why Kale is King When it Comes to Nutrition

There is an ancient Turkish saying that says, every leaf of kale you eat adds another stem to your tree of life. Kale is believed to be the oldest known form of cabbage and has been in recorded use since 2000 BC.  In Scotland, when someone says "come to kale" they are politely asking you to sup with them. When it comes to a full range of valuable nutrients at high density with low caloric count, kale is the big daddy of good food, the so-called king of greens.

A member of the health-boosting cruciferous family of vegetables, it is incredibly rich with important vitamins like A (beta-carotene), C, K, and E, manganese, magnesium, copper, selenium, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, and a whole host of other crucial nutrients. Kale has more calcium than milk, more vitamin C than an orange, and more iron per gram than beef (great for vegetarians!)

Kale is full of fiber, which means it is good for digestion, for detoxifying the blood, for blood glucose control, heart health, and can help lower cholestrol by binding bile acid (Talwinder Singh Kahlon, Mei-Chen M. Chiu, Mary H. Chapman (2008). "Steam cooking significantly improves in vitro bile acid binding of collard greens, kale ...")

Kale contains the highest levels of some of the most valuable antioxidants, which means it protects against free radicals (which cause irreparable damage to cells and are linked to heart disease and even cancer), oxidative stress, and chronic diseases.

Kale is rich in anti-inflammatory content like omega-3 (alpha-linoleic acid) and omega-6 fatty acids, which help fight against arthritis, asthma and auto-immune disorders, as well as support brain and heart health, and reduce Type 2 diabetes risk. Phytonutrients in kale such as quercetin help combat inflammation and prevent arterial plaque formation.

Kale has anti-cancer nutrients in the form of glucosinolates and sulforaphane. Isothiocyanates made from glucosinolates in kale are at the core of its cancer risk-lowering benefits. Indole-3- carbinol, a nutrient in kale that boosts DNA repair in cells and seems to be involved in how estrogen is metabolized in the body, may play a protective role against breast cancer (Yuesheng Zhang; Callaway, Eileen C. (May 2002). "High cellular accumulation of sulphoraphane, a dietary anticarcinogen, is followed by rapid transporter-mediated export as a glutathione conjugate". The Biochemical journal 364.)

As for the healthiest method for consuming kale, it depends on your requirements. If you are primarily looking for heart and cholestrol benefits, you should eat it cooked, lightly steamed or lightly pan-fried. If you are more interested in anti-cancer benefits, studies suggest that eating it raw is more effective. Most likely the best approach is a combination of both, especially if you are just looking for flavor and general good health. 

When it comes to preparation, start by washing them thoroughly (they can be sprayed with chemicals, so look for organic) and then sprinkling them with baking soda or baking powder to tenderize them. Cut the center stem out (that's what makes it really tough) and slice the leaves into strips. One of my favorite ways to eat kale is as a ceasar salad, it holds up well to the dressing and the robust flavors. Growing up, we used to have it Greek-style, sauteed in a pan with olive oil, garlic and lemon. So delicious! Don't let anyone tell you kale is inedible.

I also use it in my go-to recipe for ease and nutritiousness -- an asian sesame noodle kale stir-fry. I chop up my ginger, garlic, quickly heat it in sesame oil, soy sauce, a little sriracha, a little honey, then throw in diced carrots, mushrooms, onions, kale, peppers, and pepper flakes, and flash stir-fry them all. I toss in some cooked rice or sesame noodles at the end and in no time, I have a meal bursting with phytonutrient goodness. Just remember not to overcook it.

Kale also holds up well to drying and powdering, so if prepared carefully, with low-heat drying methods, it is very useful in high quality greens supplements, particularly as it is common for people to have difficulty digesting it.

So be creative with kale and find what appeals to you. Give it a place on your plate and it will reward you with good health.

Just bear in mind that anyone taking beta-blockers, or anticoagulants such as warfarin, should avoid kale because the high level of vitamin K and potassium may interfere with the drugs. Consult your doctor before adding kale to your diet.

Related Posts: 
The Importance of Being Alkaline - Know Your pH ! 
For the Love of Food, What We Eat Can Heal

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The opinions expressed in this article are of the author. Content and other information presented on the site are not meant to be medical advice or any substitute for professional advice, counseling, diagnosis, or treatment. Never delay or disregard professional medical or mental health advice from your physician or other qualified health provider.


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