Eat Kale: Be Happy

By - Zonya Foco, RD, CHFI, CSP

zonya foco in gardenUnless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve been hearing about kale. Its the super-powered, cancer fighting, waist-whittling, brain-enhancing leafy green that is super easy to grow (even my husband’s garden has 17 thriving organic plants) or yes, even easier to buy at the store.

Why kale?Quite simply, it tops the charts in nutrient density and fights every disease our country is currently ravaged with: think Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression, arthritis, osteoporosis, obesity, (I could go on). Plus the fact that it’s really quite tasty, versatile, (and did I mention easy to grow), you simply can’t ignore this mighty leaf any more.

Here are just a few of kale’s amazing features that make even broccoli and spinach jealous:

  • A cup of raw kale has just 33 calories, yet you get a huge dose of vitamin C (134 percent RDA) and pro-vitamin A (206 percent RDA).
  • Its vitamin K is off the charts (684 percent RDA). Long associated with blood clotting, vitamin K is a powerful anti-oxidant and bone builder.
  • Even though it’s a leafy green, it’s a member of the cabbage, or “cruciferous” family (think broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage) and contains even more cancer-fighters, including sulfurophane and glucosinolates. These nutrients travel from your kale smoothie (see recipe) to your liver, where they amp up your body’s natural detox power.
  • It is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA) which are an acclaimed anti-inflammatory agent, great for dousing the flames of inflammation, which is the base of many diseases (think dementia, arthritis and heart disease).
  • Studies have shown that calcium absorption from kale is superior to that of milk! That’s because, unlike many other greens such as spinach, kale has almost no oxalates that impair calcium absorption. Combined with its abundance of vitamin K, this seals the deal for healthy bones.
  • Kale also has a lot of protein for a leafy green.
  • Add to this iron, folate, and vitamin B6, which are all needed to make brain molecules like serotonin and dopamine, and it is clear that kale is a brain and body food!

But how does it taste? Wonderful! Its flavor is mild, (compared to broccoli) and it holds its shape better than spinach when cooked into soups and stews. Here are some tips to get started:

  • how to remove kale stemDe-vein (the center rib is rather tough), and chop fine to add to salads.
  • By tossing in an acidic “dressing” and allowing it to sit overnight, it will tenderize the sturdy leaves and make the flavors amazing.
  • Add to any fruit smoothie (or juicer) to boost the nutrition exponentially.
  • Saute a mountain of it in a giant wok with garlic, onion, peppers, sesame oil, and salt and pepper, then garnish with sesame seeds, peanuts and tahini.
  • Make “Kale Chips” by tearing into bite-sized pieces, tossing lightly with oil and a bit of salt, and baking on an oiled cookie sheet at 350 degrees until lightly browned.
  • For use over the winter, de-vein, wash, and shake dry, then stuff the giant leaves into ziplock bags and freeze. No chopping is necessary, just tap the frozen bag to chop to your preference. Perfect for cooking or adding to smoothies.

Another great tip:Once kale endures a frost, the leaves become slightly sweeter. The hardy plant yields fresh greens late into November. By freezing off your bounty, you’ll have kale all year long. With so many health benefits and so many ways to prepare it, it is no wonder kale is a staple around the world.

*If you take a blood thinner or have an issue with blood clotting, contact your physician before increasing your kale intake, as it can interfere with anti-clotting medications like warfarin.

Green Smoothie

You would never dream that this tastes GOOD but it DOES!
It’s a beautiful shade of green and surprisingly, kids love this too!

  1. 1 cup of orange juice
  2. 1 banana
  3. 1 apple, cored
  4. 2 cups of raw kale (or spinach)
  5. 2 cups of ice

Place all ingredients in the blender in the order listed above. The higher powered blender you have, the better. The Vita-Mix brand is ideal for producing a truly smooth (liquefied whole fruit and vegetable) smoothie.

Blend for 35-40 seconds until completely smooth. May take 1-2 minutes with lower powered blenders. Pour into four 10-oz glasses.

Fresh Kale Salad

recipe for kale saladMy dear friend, Rita Adams from Loch Erin turned me on to this salad. Thanks to her, you will now be the one getting so many compliments on this salad!

  1. 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  2. 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  3. 2 teaspoons of honey
  4. 1 Tablespoon minced shallot
  5. 1 small garlic clove, finely grated
  6. 1/8 teaspoon salt (optional)
  7. Freshly ground black pepper
  8. 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  9. 1 large bunch of kale (about 1 1/2 lb. total), center stem discarded, leaves finely chopped
  10. 1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  11. 1/3 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Day before: stir together the first 8 ingredients. Combine with kale and cheese and allow to sit in the refrigerator overnight. Garnish with almonds before serving.

Option: Rita’s recipe uses a bit less kale, and calls for about 10 fresh Brussels sprouts, shredded. And it is also amazing! But I omitted it, because we didn’t grow any in our garden this year!