Super Powers & Health Benefits of Kale
- Cancer Fighting
- Heart and Stroke Protection
- Vision Enhancement and Protection
- Digestion Acceleration
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin – Kale is the richest known source of the antioxidant carotenoids called xanthophylls (ZAN-thuh-fills). These are yellow pigments that protect plants and vegetables from excess sunlight. They’re also found in high concentrations in the macula of the human eye. They protect the eye from macular degeneration!
- Sulforaphane – a potent compound that exhibits anti-cancer, anti-diabetic and anti-microbial properties.
- Indole-3-carbinol – powerful phytochemical that boosts DNA repair in cells and blocks the growth of cancer cells
- Beta Carotene – Kale is extremely high in beta-carotene with 100g containing 76% of your recommended daily allowance.
- Vitamin C – In 100g of Kale, you’ll find 49% of your recommended allowance of vitamin C. That’s nearly 50% more vitamin C than you’ll find in spinach!
- Vitamin K – There is over 1300% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin K in a single cup of kale! Seriously, more than 1300%. In fact, kale has the highest vitamin K content of any fruit or vegetable.
- Vitamin A – You get a colossal 272% of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin A in 100g of kale!
- Minerals - There are almost too many to list! Kale has generous quantities of calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese and zinc.
Kale: All Hail the King
While kale may not *yet* be a staple in your kitchen, it’s certainly not new!
This rising star of the vegetable (and superfood) world is quite primitive — it was gathered and eaten by tribes before the dawn of recorded history. Research suggests that this leafy green originated in either the eastern Mediterranean or in Asia Minor.
And, while kale may not be a regular part of your diet, some of its genetic relations definitely are. Cauliflower, brussel sprouts, broccoli and kale all trace their lineage back to wild cabbage’s cultivation by ancient humans! These veggies, while quite different in appearance and texture, are all part of the same species — Brassica oleracea.
Celtic traders and other wanderers brought kale to Europe around 600 BC. Kale then reigned as king of veggies until the Middle Ages. Loaded with nutrients, very frost-hardy and simple to grow, it’s easy to understand why kale was so highly-prized and eaten by millions. In Scotland, nearly every house had a “kail-yard” that they relied on to survive harsh winters. Unfortunately, cabbage and potatoes slowly orchestrated a coup and usurped the throne.
Europeans brought curly kale to the United States in the 17th century. Both ornamental (the pretty, colorful versions seen in flowerbeds) and dinosaur kale (discovered in Italy in the 19th century) are much more recent varieties. During WWII, kale was a recommended plant for Victory Gardens because it provided so many nutrients missing from the rationed food supply.
Today, as science reveals this nutritional powerhouse’s benefits, kale is taking back the throne — All Hail the King!
If you haven’t already incorporated kale into your diet, we strongly suggest you do — it’s a crazy potent source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and eye-protecting compounds — and it’s affordable, versatile and delicious when properly cooked.
Getting to Know Kale
With its frilly leaves and deep colors, kale is a pretty gorgeous plant. While officially a “dark leafy green,” it also comes in vibrant purple-pinks and bright whites. But there’s a lot more to kale than just another pretty face!
This superveggie provides more nutritional punch for fewer calories than almost any other food around. Although it can be found in markets throughout the year, it’s officially in season from mid-winter through the beginning of spring, when it has a sweeter taste and is more widely available. (Kale’s flavor is actually better if it’s been exposed to a light frost!)
There are 4 main varieties of kale:
- Curly - With green, frilly leaves, this is the most common kale found in grocery stores, and you can add it to just about anything! Choose bunches that have stems shorter than 12.” (In general, smaller kale leaves will be more tender.)
- Dinosaur (rawr!) – Also known as lacinto, black, cavolo nero or Tuscan kale, this variety has a long tradition in Italian cuisine. Its deep blue-green leaves have a rugged, embossed texture — like dinosaur skin! Despite that description, it tends to be the most tender and mellow kale. It’s great for braising and sautéing. Finely shred it for a salad or toss into stir-fries.
- Red Russian - Similar in texture and flavor to curly green kale, red varieties — which are actually more purple — add a bright splash of color, whether raw or cooked.
- Ornamental - It’s the prettiest! Also known as salad savoy, it’s popular in flower gardens and makes a great garnish. But it’s edible too, as long as it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides. It’s tastiest when still small and tender.
- For maximum nutrition and taste, buy kale in season. It’s good any time, but go wild in the winter!
- Choose kale from organic or responsible local growers when possible. Greens grown in better-managed soils will have more flavor and nutrition and less pesticides.
- Look for perky, deeply colored leaves (beware of bruising and yellow/brown patches) and moist, hardy stems.
- Buy lots of it because it cooks down dramatically.
The Nom-Nom Factor
Kale is very tasty when cooked properly, and it’s a cinch to work into virtually any style of cooking. You’ll find it in recipes for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Its earthy flavors can range from rich, nutty and meaty to herbaceous, peppery and slightly bitter. Below, you’ll find everything you need to know to create simple, tasty kale noms!
Washing. Avoid washing kale until just before use, since it will speed up wilting.
Cutting. Remove any thick stems (just hold the kale upside down by the stems and pull the leaves off), then stack large greens on top of one another. Roll them into tight bundles and slice into desired widths. The stems, finely chopped, can be used in soups.
Blanching. Blanching reduces bitterness and softens thick greens, which is great if you want to follow up with a quick sauté or freeze the greens for later use. To blanch kale, stir leaves into boiling water for a minute or two, drain, then run under cold water.
Braising. Braising tenderizes and adds flavor. Slow-cook a pound of greens in ½ to ¾ cup of seasoned cooking liquid (chicken or vegetable stock or wine) or water for about 20 minutes or until greens are tender and ready to eat.
Massaging. If you want to make a raw kale salad, don’t forget to massage it. No, seriously. Massage that kale! Just a couple of minutes of massaging, and you’ll be amazed at the difference. Those leaves that once seemed coarse and fibrous turn silky. Just add your dressing and massage.
Storing. Store loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge and the sooner you can eat it, the better. If your kale has gotten wilt-y, stand it upright in a pitcher of water to perk it up a bit.
Easy ways to incorporate kale into your diet
The possibilities are endless! Keep in mind: Steaming 9 kale delivers the most nutritional benefits. Chopping or mincing it also releases more sulforaphane, one of kale’s secret compounds.
- Toss a few chopped-up kale leaves into the blender when making fruit smoothies. It’s a great way to get more greens into the veggie-averse, especially kids.
- Chop, cook and mix kale into rice dishes to add extra oomph.
- Blanched and frozen kale is so nice to have on hand! It can be easily crumbled into soups, stews, beans and simmering sauces.
- Add kale to egg dishes. Try an omelet or frittata with caramelized onions and steamed kale — or a cheesy scramble made with diced tomatoes, bell peppers, green onion and kale.
- Sauté kale with a little bacon for flavor, then lightly braise it in vegetable stock to soften.
- Kale’s earthy flavor pairs well with hearty meats, beans and sausages.
But what if you don’t have a lot of time for massaging and experimenting with cooking kale?
Power Tip: Introducing Kale Chips!
Kale chips are a healthy, tasty snack which you can prepare in your own home. They are free from additives, coloring and monosodium glutamate and are easy to make.
Simply take some kale leaves, sprinkle a little olive oil and sea salt and toss them in the oven for about 15 minutes or until they’re crispy! (A food dehydrator is even better, if you have one.) That’s it! You can also buy these from your local health food store. They have a tasty, crispy texture not unlike potato chips — while being almost infinitely healthier.
Eating kale every once in a while isn’t enough, and this is a quick and easy way to make it a regular part of your diet.
Kick-Ass Kale Recipes
Okay….so you’re sold on kale now, right? If you haven’t already run out to the grocery store, here are some awesome recipes to get you going.
Kale Research from the Lab
Anti-Inflammatory. Omega 3′s which are typically abundant in fish oils are well known for reducing inflammation throughout the body, and kale contains a pretty generous amount. What’s more, the high bioavailability means that you can get up to 35% of your daily allowance per 100 calories. These anti-inflammatory properties have been shown to be effective in helping to manage conditions such as arthritis and gout which are inflammatory in nature2.
Cancer Fighting. A lot of research has gone into cruciferous vegetables’ (including kale) anticancer properties. Scientists have discovered that kale is rich in Sulforaphane1, a potent compound that exhibits anticancer3, anti-diabetic and antimicrobial properties. That’s not all. In kale, you’ll also find indole-3-carbinol, a derivative of a glucosinolate compound known as glucobrassicin that boosts DNA repair in cells and also blocks the growth of cancer cells. That’s not all. kale has 4 other glucosinolates, namely, glucoraphanin, gluconasturtiian, glucopaeolin and singrin which the body can convert into cancer preventive compounds known as isothiocyanates1. Glucoraphanin is particularly of interest as the body converts it into the previously mentioned isothiocyanate, sulforaphane.
Heart and Stroke Protection. Omega 3 essential fatty acids have been shown to prevent degenerative conditions like heart disease. They do this by breaking down the build up of fat in the arteries (atherosclerosis) while also slowing the development of blood clots. Blood clots in the brain are a major cause of stroke! A study confirmed kale’s cardio protective super powers by looking at isothiocyanates, namely the previously mentioned sulforaphane. The study showed that isothiocyanates such as sulforaphane reduced oxidative stress4 which is a cause of many health complications such as heart disease.
Vision Enhancing. Kale contains up to 76% of your recommend intake of beta carotene. This carotenoid plays a large part in maintaining eye health – particularly in improving night vision. Interestingly, carrots, the ëgo-to’ source of beta carotene, contain just 1% more beta carotene (77%)! Also, kale contains zeaxanthin, a carotenoid alcohol which has been shown to slow down age related degeneration of the macula5, a region in the retina responsible for central vision. Gastrointestinal Health. Of all health benefits that kale delivers, this is the most noticeable. Its high dietary fiber content assists with digestion and helps with easier bowel movements. It has also been linked with a lowered risk of colorectal6 and other lower gastrointestinal cancers7. A large portion of the population suffers from constipation, and it is almost always caused by a low fiber diet. Fiber also lowers blood-sugar levels while giving a sensation of fullness, which prevents over-eating and regulates weight8.
- Clarke JD, Dashwood RH, Ho E. Multi-targeted prevention of cancer by sulforaphane. Cancer Lett. 2008 Oct 8;269(2):291-304. 2008
- Simopoulos AP., Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune diseases. J Am Coll Nutr. 2002 Dec;21(6):495-505. Review.
- Ho E, Clarke JD, Dashwood RH. Dietary sulforaphane, a histone deacetylase inhibitor for cancer prevention. J Nutr. 2009 Dec;139(12):2393-6. 2009.
- Angeloni C, Leoncini E, Malaguti M, et al. Modulation of phase II enzymes by sulforaphane: implications for its cardioprotective potential. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Jun 24;57(12):5615-22. 2009
- Cho E, Hankinson SE, Rosner B, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Prospective study of lutein/zeaxanthin intake and risk of age-related macular degeneration. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Jun;87(6):1837-43. 2008.
- Aune D, Chan DS, Lau R, Vieira R, Greenwood DC, Kampman E, Norat T. Dietary fibre, whole grains, and risk of colorectal cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. BMJ. 2011 Nov 10;343:d6617. doi: 10.1136/bmj.d6617. Review.
- Schatzkin A, Park Y, Leitzmann MF, Hollenbeck AR, Cross AJ. Prospective study of dietary fiber, whole grain foods, and small intestinal cancer. 2008 Oct;135
- Howarth, N. C., Saltzman, E. and Roberts, S. B. (2001), Dietary Fiber and Weight Regulation. Nutrition Reviews, 59: 129-139. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2001.tb07001.x(4):1163-7. 2008.
- Kahlon TS, Chiu MC, and Chapman MH. Steam cooking significantly improves in vitro bile acid binding of collard greens, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, green bell pepper, and cabbage. Nutr Res. 2008 Jun;28(6):351-7. 2008.