Crouching Garnish, Hidden SuperFood: The Secret Life of Kale

Crouching Garnish, Hidden SuperFood: The Secret Life of Kale

Could kale, a less domesticated, disheveled form of cabbage, really be one of the most potent healing foods in existence today? 

Few foods commonly available at the produce stand are as beneficial to your health as kale.  And yet, sadly, it is more commonly found dressing up something not as healthy in a display case as a decoration than on someone's plate where it belongs.

Kale is actually a form of cabbage that evaded domestication, sharing many of the same traits as wilder plant relatives unafraid of holding on to their bitter principle, and relatively unruly appearance.

Kale is perfectly content letting its luscious green leafy hair down, being the 'hippie' member of a family that includes the more tightly wound broccoli, cauliflower and the Brussel sprout, whose greater respectability as far as most restaurant menus go means kale is more likely to be found forgotten, shriveling up somewhere on the bottom shelf of someone's refrigerator, no doubt possessed by someone with every intention (but not the time and appetite enough) to eat it.

But please do not underestimate this formidable plant, which grows as high as six to seven feet in the right conditions, casting a shadow as long as the impressive list of beneficial nutritional components it contains. Its nutritional density, in fact, is virtually unparalleled among green leafy vegetables. Consider too that during World War II, with rationing in full effect, the U.K. encouraged the backyard cultivation of this hearty, easy to grow plant for the Dig for Victory campaign that likely saved many from sickness and starvation. Over a half century later, kale's status as a former cultural nutritional hero has faded into near oblivion ... until now, we hope!

So, let's get a better sense of all that kale has to offer by looking at the nutrition facts basics of only one cup of raw kale.

Kale Nutrition Facts

You will notice that it contains less than 1 gram of fat (.3 grams to be exact), 2 grams of protein, and subtracting the 1 gram of fiber from the total carbohydrate content (7), an effective carb content of 6 grams per serving, which is almost entirely complex carbohydrate, i.e. "starch." This means it has a 3:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio – an exceptionally high amount of protein for any vegetable, and one reason why it has recently been acclaimed as the "new beef."

Kale Contains ALL The Essential Amino Acids and 9 Non-Essential Ones

Indeed, like meat, kale contains all 9 essential amino acids needed to form the proteins within the human body: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, valine – plus, 9 other non-essential ones for a total of 18:

Kale Protein and Amino Acids

Consider too that compared to meat, the amino acids in kale are easier to extract.  When consuming a steak, for instance, the body has to expend great metabolic resources to break down the massive, highly complex, and intricately folded protein structures within mammalian flesh back down into their constituent amino acids; and then, later, these extracted amino acids must be reassembled back into the same, highly complex, intricately folded and refolded human proteins from which our body is made. This is a time-consuming, energy-intensive process, with many metabolic waste products released in the process.

For the same reason that massive mammalian herbivores like cows, for instance, eat grass -- not other animals -- kale can be considered anabolic, "meaty," and worthy of being considered as a main course in any meal. The nice thing, too, is that less is needed to fulfill the body's protein requirements.  Also, kale is so much lower on the food chain than beef, that it doesn't bio-accumulate as many, and as much, of the toxins in our increasingly polluted environment. And this, of course, doesn't even touch on the great "moral debate" concerning avoiding unnecessary harm to sentient beings, i.e. eating kale is morally superior than eating/killing animals.

Kale Contains Omega-3

Kale is an Omega-3 Diamond In the Rough

While it is considered a "fat free" vegetable, it does contain biologically significant quantities of essential fatty acids – you know, the one's your body is not designed to create and must get from the things we eat or suffer dire consequences.

Kale Fatty Acid Composition

In fact, you will notice it contains more omega-3 than omega-6, which is almost unheard of in nature. It is a general rule that you will find a 40:1 or higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 found in most grains, seeds, nuts and beans. Peanuts, for instance, have 1,800 times higher omega-6 fat levels than omega-3, which (taken in isolation) is a pro-inflammatory and unhealthy ratio. Kale, therefore, is a superstar as far as essential fatty acids go, and especially considering that all of its naturally occurring fat-soluble antioxidants protect these fragile unsaturated fats from oxidizing.

Kale's Vitamin Content More Pays For Itself Many Times Over

Now to the vitamins.  Kale is a king of carotenoids. Its vitamin A activity is astounding. One cup contains over 10,000 IU's, or the equivalent of over 200% the daily value. Also, consider that most of this vitamin A (retinol) is delivered the form of beta-carotene, which in its natural form is the perfect delivery system for retinol (two retinol molecules attached to one another), as it is exceedingly difficult to get too much. If you compare it to the synthetic vitamin A used in many mass market foods and vitamins, it is an order of magnitude or higher safer.

Kale Vitamin Facts

Kale Is An Eye-Saving Super Food Rich In Vitamins

Kale has a few more surprises left in the "vitamin" department. It turns out that it is loaded with both lutein and zeaxanthin at over 26 mg combined, per serving.

Lutein comes from the Latin word luteus meaning "yellow," and is one of the best known carotenoids in a family containing at least 600. In the human eye it is concentrated in the retina in an oval-shaped yellow spot near its center known as the macula (from Latin macula, "spot" + lutea, "yellow"). This "yellow spot" acts as a natural sunblock, which is why adequate consumption of lutein and zeaxanthin may prevent macular degeneration and other retinal diseases associated with ultraviolet light-induced oxidative stress.

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I joined a local garden / food "co-op" to eat more veggies. It is working! I eat more greens than I ever have, I feel healthier, and I crave them. I have been eating swiss chard, mustard greens, different cabbages and KALE! I just made stuffed bell peppers tonight (red yellow and orange) stuffed with sauteed kale and swiss chard (seasoned) mixed with quinoa! delish

Anti-Cancer because...

FYI: The compound responsible for Kale's anti-cancer properties is known as glucobrassicin. It repairs DNA and also blocks cancer cell growth. Four other glucosinates convert into cancer-preventing compounds in the body, known as isothiocyanates.

Love some Kale

as a health coach we love that the public can be better informed to make better food choices. i love introducing people to the wonderful world of kale!

Kale wonderful Kale

My daughter introduced me to kale,I liked it so much i now grow my own.

Dulse Lightly

Great post. I put kale in my salads. Dino kale and others that aren't too tough work well. Kale is somewhat bitter but I solve this problem by mixing the kale with lettuces, and often, with arugula and other greens. There are important reason to eat some of it raw and some cooked. The following is from post I wrote for a local orgaic farm. Freshness counts because fresh crucifers will contain more of the myrosinase enzyme needed to turn the phyto-chemicals, glucosinolates, into the active health promoting anti cancer chemicals, isothiocyanates. When we chop or chew crucifers we release the enzyme that catalyzes the chemical conversion. Cooking method is important because high heat can denature the necessary enzyme. Still, cooked (steamed and quickly stir fried) crucifers may have some myrosinase (always let the chopped crucifers sit for 5 minutes before cooking to allow chemical conversion). Even if they don’t have much enzyme left , they still will retain many other nutrients. Consider that when crucifers and other vegetables rich in carotenoids are cooked and eaten with a fat source, the carotenes become more bioavailable; some of the cooked glucosinolates that reach the intestinal bacteria of your colon will be converted to the health promoting chemical metabolites (isothiocynates); and cooked crucifers but not raw crucifers lower cholesterol by binding to bile. Bile contains contains cholesterol. Cruciferous veggie consumption can positively affect our inflammation, antioxidant, detoxification, cardiovascular, hormonal and digestive systems. If you would like the specifics on these effects, I can send the whole write-up and you can post it. A word of caution. The suggestion to sprinkle the dulse flakes that come in a pepper shaker on crucifers for the added iodine may seem logical and benign but go lightly on the dulse. It can contain quite a bit of iodine. I faithfully sprinkled this product on my salads for about a year before I became hyperthyroid. Subsequent research taught me that iodine supplementation higher than 250mcg per day can unmask a autoimmune thyroid condition in genetically predisposed individuals. Yes, kale and other cruciferous vegetables contain goitrogens but you would probably have to eat an impractical amount before you would inhibit thyroid metabolism. Cooking denatures most of the goitrogens.

You and Kale Rock!!!

LOVE how you write Sayer! Thanks for a great article. Having lived on Kauai for the last 4 years... have loved that Kale is so plentiful everywhere....and massaging it raw with a little oil and salt makes an addicting salad base! Now that I live in France it is IMPOSSIBLE to find! No one has ever heard of it...may just have to do something about that!

Is kale "morally superior"?

The assumption that animals are "sentient" and plants are not is totally inaccurate. I suggest you read the book, The Secret Life of Plants, which records in detail, the sentience of plants. The sooner the human family learns that we are all one, including plants, animals and rocks, and stops judging others, in order to feel superior in any way, the sooner we will live on a peaceful planet. Not all people do well on a vegetarian diet. Dr. Mercola can confirm that for you. I am an organic gardener, and I have learned that it is extraordinarily difficult to grow healthy plants without animal products. A balance, of plants and animals, on a farm, creates the fertility crops need in order to produce the type of vitamin and mineral content you would like to see.

Green Juice

You can mega-dose kale. Juice bars, juice trucks and kiosks are springing up and provide great job opportunities...even featured on Bloomberg's entrepreneurs...dieters have it for lunch...Carrot, apple, raw cane juice, sea salt, etc.etc. can be added to improve flavor. Kale is one of the easiest things to grow, wherever you drop a seed, kale happens...and it's a standard subsistence crop. I add a little fat and vinegar or lemon juice to improve availability of nutrients when cooked quickly.

Great article on kale

Thanks for this great summary of the amazing benefits of kale, Sayer. I knew it was tops in nutrition but this was a real inspiration for getting more in my diet. I particularly liked the tip on dulse because the thyroid impact was one reason I was hesitating to eat it more often.

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