What’s All This Wail About Kale?

Andrew Siegel, MD   Blog #121

Kale, kale, kale…it’s all we hear about lately.  Is this large, crisp, coarse-leaved, crinkly, intensely green cousin of cabbage the “super-food” that it is cranked up to be, or is this mere hype?  Is it the nutritional powerhouse that it supposed is or is it really just a pretty bed for shrimp cocktail?

In response to Burger King’s new line of low fat French fries announced on September 24, Eric Hirschhorn, chief marketing officer of the company stated: “You live in Manhattan and might be having a kale smoothie on your way to work this morning, but a lot of people don’t even know what kale is, and if they do, they don’t want to eat it. You have to give people what they want.”

Kale is certainly the hottest ticket on the veggie scene—the vegetable de jour—but apparently not so yet in the world capital of cuisine. On the front page of the Sunday, September 23rd New York Times was an article entitled, “Trendy Green Mystifies France. It’s a Job for the Kale Crusader!”  The article detailed the quest of an American woman, Kristen Beddard, to help kale gain traction as a potential staple of French cooking.   Although considered a menu staple and an eagerly pursued super-food in the United States, apparently the French do not understand or seem all that interested in this leafy green vegetable.  However, Ms. Beddard seems to be making headway in her mission. Alain Passard, owner of a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Paris, describes kale “not as a cabbage but a seaweed with the feel of an algae, personality, character, a power that unlocks creativity and touches on all the senses.”   Wow…sounds too good to be true!

Kale-like cabbages with prominent stalks were first cultivated in ancient Greece and Rome. Kale ultimately became a staple in northern Europe because it grew so nicely in the cold climates of that region. It was one of Europe’s most commonly grown and consumed vegetables during the Middle Ages. In England during World War II, kale was promoted as an easy-to-grow source of nutrients at a time when rationing was rampant.

Kale is a versatile vegetable and can be eaten raw, or cooked by a number of techniques including sautéing, steaming, boiling, frying, or baking. It can be served in pasta, soups, and stews. It makes for a very hearty side dish. The most readily available kale is the curly variety, which is ubiquitous in farmers markets and supermarkets—its pungent flavor and texture are ideal for making kale chips.  The next most popular variety is dinosaur kale, which has narrow, tall, dark leaves and a wrinkled texture–it’s slightly sweeter and more delicate than the curly variety.

In terms of nutrition, 2 cups of kale (70 calories) packs a great deal of nutrition and provides more than 2.5 times the daily requirement of vitamins A and C, 20% of vitamin B6, and plenty of vitamin K, carotenoids, calcium, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, iron, sulphur, and phosphorus.  It contains almost 50 antioxidants.  Kale contains the highest concentration of the anti-oxidant lutein of any source, and if you ask any ophthalmologist, this carotenoid is the most important defense against macular degeneration, the number one cause of blindness.

Kale is not solely used for dietary and nutritional purposes, as there are many types of flowering kale plants that are used for ornamental reasons.  They have leaves in a variety of colors including pink, red, blue, and lavender and it is the cold that is responsible for intensifying these rich hues. Although edible, these decorative kales are not as appealing to the taste buds as are the kales that are use for culinary purposes.

The following is a fabulous recipe for roasted kale chips with parmigiano-reggiano, courtesy of Whole Foods market.

Ingredients:

1 bunch kale

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon chili powder

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preparation:  Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Trim tough stems from kale and discard.  Cut leaves into 2 inch pieces, place in a large bowl, drizzle with oil and toss.  Add chili powder and salt and toss again. Arrange kale on sheets in single layer; bake until crispy and edges begin to brown, about 12 minutes or so.  Remove from oven and let cool for 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the cheese.  Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Bottom Line: Hail to kale: it is today’s new “super-food” that can be prepared in a variety of interesting and delicious ways. Mother’s advice was sound: “Eat your greens.”

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food: www.promiscuouseating.com

Available on Amazon in Kindle edition

Author of: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health, in press and will be available in e-book and paperback formats in the Autumn 2013.

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