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Kale: A Certain Superfood

Kale is a dark leafy green vegetable that belongs to the brassica family, a group that includes Brussels sprouts, collards, and cabbage.

Kale is a nutritional powerhouse, and its rich antioxidant content and anti-inflammatory compounds make it a potent health-promoter.

Research indicates that eating kale regularly may help to protect against certain cancers and to lower cholesterol (a risk factor for heart disease), as well as supporting the body’s natural detoxification system.

According to the George Mateljan Foundation (2012), Kale is an excellent source of vitamins K, A, and C; a very good source of fiber, calcium*, and potassium; and a good source of iron, magnesium, vitamin E, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and folate.

There are several types of kale, including curly, dinosaur, and ornamental. Curly kale is deep green with ruffled leaves and a strong, faintly peppery flavor. Dinosaur kale, also known as Italian kale or Tuscan kale, has blue-green leaves with an embossed texture and a slightly more delicate and sweeter flavor. Ornamental kale, also known as salad savoy, comes in purple, pink, lavender, blue, white, or green coalescing stalks that form loosely knit heads (the color usually fills the center of the head, which is surrounded by a ring of green leaves). Ornamental kale leaves are more tender and their flavor milder than that of curly kale.

Purchasing organic kale is recommended, as the Environmental Working Group’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide warned that kale is frequently contaminated with a particularly nasty pesticide. For those with a yard or even just a driveway or patio large enough for a container or two, kale is very easy to grow. It’s also a nice winter vegetable because it prefers cold weather (hot weather turns kale plants bitter).

Although many people eat kale raw in salads or juices, some suffer bloating, gas, or other digestive upsets, so those with more sensitive stomachs may wish to cook it. Lightly steaming and sautéing are popular options.**

Trimming out kale stems before cooking is recommended, because they tend to be tough and chewy.

*Kale contains oxalates, which can interfere with calcium absorption, though research indicates that this effect is very small (The George Mateljan Foundation, 2012)

**Studies suggest that raw kale is better for cancer prevention and steamed kale for cholesterol reduction (Butler, 2012).

Sources
Butler, C., “Eat Your Kale,” The Washington Post, 24 September 2012.
Canberra Organic Growers Society, “Growing Kale,” 2009.
Environmental Working Group, “EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™,” 2012.
The George Mateljan Foundation, “Kale,” World’s Healthiest Foods, 2012.

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