We all know kale is healthy – it’s even sometimes used as a standard against which to measure the health benefits of other veg. But not that many of us could pinpoint those benefits, so I’ll go over exactly what kale is doing for you, and share my favorite way to prepare it – the one way that really makes me want to eat it every day.
Most of my ‘health morsel’ posts include a full meal plan for the day. However, my favorite way to eat kale is not in a full meal, but see my Misr Wat recipe for an excellent lunch or dinner that includes kale.
Oxidative stress results from compromised oxygen metabolism. Among the key players in oxygen metabolism are antioxidants. Kale has an unusually high concentration of flavonoids & carotenoids – two types of antioxidants. Oxidative stress plays a role not only in cancer development, but also in the development of cataracts, glaucoma, atherosclerosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Setting aside only nasturtiums, kale has the highest lutein (an antioxidant) density of any food, meaning that it’s protective against light and oxygen damage to the eyes. Even less than one cup of kale per week has been shown to decrease the likelihood of developing glaucoma.
Another contributor to a number of health problems, including cancer, is chronic inflammation. Fighting inflammation is a job that kale does well due to its ridiculous amounts of Vitamin K, and its omega-3 fatty acids. One should also eliminate inflammation-causing foods (animal products, salt, refined sugar, etc.) to feel the full benefits.
Kale also helps to lower cholesterol: certain components of the fiber bind bile acids, causing them to get ‘stuck’ in the digestive tract, leading to excretion. The liver uses cholesterol to make bile acids, so the more are bound, the more cholesterol the body uses up. In a head-to-head study, kale and collard greens bound more bile acids than any of the other vegetables tested. By eliminating dietary sources of cholesterol (animal products) and eating a diet rich in kale & other cruciferous veggies, many people have been able to reduce or stop taking cholesterol-lowering medications (this should not be construed as medical advice).
Glucosinolate is a phytonutrient contained specifically in cruciferous vegetables, which is turned by your body into the strong cancer-fighting isothiocyanates. Like in other cruciferous veggies, these anti-cancer agents form from the combination of 2 elements released by cutting or breaking the plant tissue. To allow for the full effectiveness to develop, you can chop the greens 40 minutes before cooking them (since only one of the elements survives the heat of cooking) or you can add powdered mustard seed to your dish after cooking.
Isothiocyanates, along with sulfur compounds also found in kale, help in our bodies’ cellular detoxification processes. In the modern world, there are toxic agents, such as exhaust fumes from vehicles, everywhere. We really need all the help we can get in this respect.
So, which type of kale is best? As Dr. Greger often says – it’s the type that you’ll eat the most of. But for an extra edge, go with the curly-leafed varieties. They tend to have higher concentrations of glucosinolates than the broad-leafed varieties.
My favorite way to eat kale is kale chips, very simply prepared and oil-free. They can be eaten on the side or sprinkled on top of various meals, or by themselves as a snack. The beauty of kale is that it’s so hardy – I’ve found that I can freeze kale from my garden, and still turn it into crispy chips! That is amazing! If you don’t want to bake them, as I do, look up a recipe for making them in a dehydrator. I haven’t tried it yet, but I certainly will at some point.
Remove the stems and rip or cut the leaves into bite-sized pieces, and place in a mixing bowl. Add black pepper and nutritional yeast to taste. Now you have 3 choices –
- Add a very small amount of salt, and just enough lemon juice to coat the leaves, without leaving any liquid in the bowl.
- Blend lemon juice together with some miso paste so that it’s got enough fluidity to incorporate well with the kale. Then mix everything together. Again, you don’t want any fluid sitting at the bottom of the bowl.
- Use about 1/3 tamari and 2/3 lemon juice to coat the leaves, as described above.
Spread onto a baking sheet covered with a silicon mat or baking paper. Bake at 350°F/175°C for 10 – 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t start to burn around the edges.