Kale looks similar to the lettuce leaves you know and love (although it’s in the same family as cabbage, collards and Brussels sprouts) but the vegetable’s dark, textured leaves pack an even bigger punch of vitamin A and C, calcium and cancer-fighting phytonutrients. “Kale is off the charts when it comes to nutrients,” says Ruth Frechman, RD, a Burbank-based spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “It’s the best green in terms of antioxidants on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) chart—scoring 1,770 units while spinach clocks in at less than 1,500.” Not surprisingly, kale has been linked to preventing cancer in thec.
Kale is high in carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been proven to prevent macular degeneration. “When I think of kale, I really think of your eyes.” Frechman says. It also has tons of fiber—a cup of kale packs 90 mg of fiber while a cup of spinach only has 30 mg. In addition, kale delivers Vitamin B6, which helps maintain healthy nervous and immune systems, as well as iron and calcium. And it helps regulate liver enzymes that assist in the clearing of toxins. “Kale is getting popular in small circles but I really recommend that more people find a way to add it to their diets,” Frechman suggests.
This low-calorie vegetable (just 36 calories in one cup of cooked kale) has a mild cabbagey taste and a hint of bitterness (more or less depending on who you ask). There are several varieties including curly kale, ornamental kale and dinosaur kale, all of which differ in taste, texture and appearance. Find kale in the produce section—although it’s available in markets all year, kale peaks in the winter, which is ideal considering cold weather produces sweeter kale. Choose stalks with firm, deep-green small leaves and avoid any that are wilted or have yellow spots. Store kale in the coldest part of your refrigerator loosely wrapped in plastic (when kale starts to go bad, it gets even more bitter). Before cooking, rinse kale leaves under cold water, cut the leaves from the stem and cut into half-inch pieces or smaller. Because of high amounts of vitamin K, people taking blood thinners should not eat kale.
Try these simple ideas to get cooking with kale:
A kale smoothie is a great idea for newbies who aren’t quite used to the veggie’s texture (everything tastes better blended up!). In a blender, throw in two bananas, a handful of kale leaves, 1/2 cup of water and two ice cubes. Blend it up and taste. You can play with the ingredients, adding more or less of each, as you figure out what you like best.
Better Than Lettuce
Mixed greens are healthier option than romaine lettuce and kale is even healthier still. To adjust to the flavor and texture, start off lacing your normal salad with a handful of kale. Then, as you get used to it, use more kale and less lettuce. Prepare your leafy green bed like so: Separate the leaves from the thick stems and chop. In a large bowl, mix kale with lemon juice, a drizzle of oil and a pinch of kosher salt. Massage for two to three minutes until the kale starts to soften and wilt (for a softer texture). Then toss in your extras and dress according to taste.
Some studies find that kale offers cholesterol-lowering benefits if it’s steamed before eaten. First, separate the leaves from the thick stems and chop finely. Put the kale in a steamer basket above a pot of water. Add a garlic clove (finely minced), bring the water to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to steam the kale for about 10 minutes or until the leaves are tender. Plate the kale and dress with a dash of oil, salt and pepper.
Potato Chip Alternative
Greasy—and salty—potato chips are bad for you but these kale chips are good for you and will help satisfy your junk food craving. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Wash and dry kale. Then, use kitchen shears to cut the leaves into bite size pieces. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt. Spread the kale out on the parchment paper and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the edges brown but are not burnt.
To get the most health benefits from kale, let sit for a minimum of 5 minutes before cooking. Sprinkling with lemon juice before letting them sit can further enhance its beneficial phytonutrient concentration.