Hail King Kale: Super Nutrient Dense

kale

This country has been on a kale-craze for a while, and with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow endorsing it, kale is more popular than ever. We even have a National Kale Day! But does kale really deserve that kind of acclaim? The hype may be over the top, but it does have a considerable amount of science behind it.

Kale is the king of a potent, disease-preventing group of vegetables – the cruciferous vegetables, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, cauliflower, and bok choy. The more we learn about these vegetables, the more we see their power to prevent chronic disease when eaten consistently over time. And of all these awesome vegetables, kale packs the greatest punch.

One cup of chopped kale contains 33 calories and an incredible 684% of daily vitamin K (vitamin K is a key nutrient for helping regulate the inflammatory process), 206% of vitamin A (but delivered in beta-carotene, its natural form, making it difficult to get too much), 134% of vitamin C, 27% of manganese, 22% of copper, 9% of daily calcium (highly bioavailable calcium, which is absorbed 25% better than that of milk), as well as B6 and potassium. It’s also a good source of folate, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc.

Every one cup of kale contains an exceptionally high amount of protein for any vegetable. But, even more impressive, is that like animal protein, kale contains all 9 essential amino acids that our body doesn’t make. The protein in kale is also easier to break down than animal protein. Even the half gram of fat in 1 cup of kale is high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). All of kale’s naturally-occurring, fat-soluble antioxidants protect these fragile fats from breaking down.

The phytonutrient content in kale has powerful health benefits. Kale is the best food source for at least four high-sulphur phytonutrients, like glucosinolates, which are widely accepted by researchers as helping to prevent cancer. The high level of these sulfur-type compounds in kale has also established kale as one of the top detoxifying foods available, and researchers are finding that it happens on a genetic level.

Impressed? Well, there’s more. Inflammation is a main contributor of chronic disease, but kale is loaded with important flavonoids (at least 45!), which help the body to squelch inflammation and prevent chronic diseases, including heart disease. Many research studies over the past decade have shown anthocyanins to be extremely important to human health, and kale has many of them. Kale is also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, which promote eye health.

kale with pinenuts and cranberriesKale’s fiber also helps the body defend against heart disease. One cup of cooked kale has almost 3 grams of fiber. This fiber (especially when kale is steamed) helps bind bile acids and in turn lowers blood cholesterol levels – another big win for kale!

At a minimum, we should eat cruciferous vegetables two to three times per week, with at least 1 1/2 cups per serving. 2 cups eaten four to five times a week is even better. However, those taking blood thinners, like Warfarin or similar medications, should not eat kale without consulting their doctor first, since it can counteract the medicine. Also, those with low thyroid function should avoid raw kale, as it may suppress thyroid function by inhibiting the absorption of iodine. There is no need to worry about eating kale if your thyroid does function properly – eating raw kale does not cause hypothyroidism, it only exacerbates the problem in those with thyroid disease.

Take February’s Healthy Challenge and add this royal vegetable to your meal plan. Kale is arguably one of the healthiest vegetables available – so many nutrients packed in one food! Kale is in season during the cold months, so improve your health this month with this amazing superfood!  What’s you favorite way to make kale?