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Botanically Speaking

Top 10 Healthiest Foods, #5 - Kale

Fresh Kale Greens - Source: capl@washjeff.eduYou've heard it. I've heard it. Everyone from time immemorial has heard it. Parents and grandparents have repeated it until they have turned blue in the face: "Eat Your Greens!" 

Well it turns out that parents don't come by that stubborn perversity due to their station in life. It's not as though a baby is born and parents suddenly know all of the answers--as if someone threw on a light switch. 

Eating greens is ancient wisdom, replete with tremendous health benefits. For some of us, however, it just takes a few decades for some of those wiser tidbits to emerge in the form of conscious choice and admonitions.

Nutrients in Kale

Kale is an important source of calcium, iron, and vitamins A, C and K.  It contains seven times more beta-carotene, and ten times more eye protecting lutein and zeaxanthin than does broccoli (another brassica).  These carotenoids are known to help protect against a major cause of blindness known as macular degeneration.             

Only two cups of kale contain a substantial 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber.  Being a brassica, kale also provides special phytochemicals such as cancer-fighting indoles which help to protect against breast, cervical and colon cancers.  A sulfur compound known as sulforaphane is formed when kale is chewed or chopped, and this compound aids detoxifying enzymes that trigger the removal of free radicals and other DNA damaging chemicals.  Sulforphane has even been shown to help stop breast cancer cell proliferation as reported in a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

Tips for Preparing Kale

Rinse kale leaves under cold running water to remove any grit or debris. Roll leaves tightly together and slice into into 1/2" wide portions. Stems are best chopped into 1/4" pieces. To obtain the greatest health benefits from kale, sprinkle with lemon juice and allow the chopped kale to rest for about 5 minutes before cooking. 

The Healthiest Way of Cooking Kale

One of the healthiest ways to cook kale is by steaming. This method retains the maximum amount of nutrition and flavor. Simply place 2 inches of water in a good-sized pot, place kale in a steamer basket or heat proof colander over the water, cover and steam for 5 minutes. For added flavor, whisk together:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • sea salt and pepper to taste

Drizzle over the kale, toss and serve. For a Mediterranean twist, combine kale with pine nuts and feta cheese, and serve on a bed of fresh whole grain pasta. 
For a traditionally southern method of cooking kale, try the authentically flavored recipe below. 

Southern Style Braised Kale Recipe

Southern Kale and Cornbread - Source: Huffington PostIngredients:

  • 1/2 pound sliced bacon, chopped
  • 3 cups chopped yellow onions
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch cayenne
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 6 bunches fresh kale, washed well and tough stems removed

Instructions:

  1. Brown bacon in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until slightly crisp. 
  2. Add onions and season with salt, black pepper, and cayenne. 
  3. Reduce heat slightly and cook, stirring, until the onions are golden, about 5 or 6 minutes. 
  4. Add brown sugar (if using) and stir to dissolve. 
  5. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, for a minute more. 
  6. Add water and vinegar, stirring well. 
  7. Begin adding kale to the pot, about a third at a time, pressing the greens down as they begin to wilt.  Continue in this way until all kale has been added.
  8. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered, until kale is tender, or about 1-1/2  hours. 
  9. Serve hot, accompanied by hot buttered grits, warm buttermilk biscuits or cornbread, and eggs over-easy for an authentic southern treat!



2 Comments to Top 10 Healthiest Foods, #5 - Kale:

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sonny12 on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 2:34 PM
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Bianca@alignehealth on Thursday, December 13, 2012 8:02 PM
You have made valid points about kale here. Where I live, the health ministry promotes health being our responsibility. They emphasize both physical and mental health and always try to make people aware of the ways in which they can care for themselves, including healthy eating. Too often, we do pass the responsibility for issues that we see as more complex on to others. We think of doctors as all knowing so we see it as the doctor's fault if we don't get better. There are many things that we can do to avoid illness in the first place and it is our responsibility to do these things, because only we can. Good post.
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