Kale: The New "It" Vegetable

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Curly Kale

Kale, a dark green, leafy vegetable in the cabbage family, is all the rage these days. Is it the gorgeous frilly leaves? The stellar nutritional profile? Its versatility in the kitchen? Check “all of the above.” Then start getting to know this star-quality veggie.

Powerful Health Benefits

Kale is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K. It provides healthy doses of calcium, copper, iron, manganese, and potassium, too. But its real claim to fame is its array of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals give plants their unique colors, flavors, and odors, and they bring powerful health benefits. Here are a few that are found in kale.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin for Healthy Eyes

Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants in the carotenoid family. They help prevent eye diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, these compounds may help ward off cancer and boost immunity, too.

A cup of cooked kale provides 24 milligrams of lutein and zeaxanthin. That’s twice the daily amount shown to have benefits in medical studies.

Glucosinolates to Fight Cancer

Kale is a rich source of sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates. These antioxidants help block cancer-causing substances. They also slow down hormones involved in cancer and prevent the growth of tumors. One cup of raw, chopped kale has a healthy 89 milligrams of glucosinolates.

Another Cancer Foe: Isothiocyanates

Isothiocyanates seem to work in several ways to ward off cancer. Research shows they detoxify substances that trigger cancer, protect cells from damage, and slow cancer growth.  Like other members of the cabbage family, kale is especially rich in isothiocyanates. How well these compounds can prevent cancer in humans is still being studied.

Know Your Kale

You may find several varieties of kale in the grocery store and farmer’s market, and they’re all equally nutritious. Green kale has frilly leaves and a sweet flavor. Dino kale is also known as Tuscan, lacinato, and black kale. It has narrow, textured leaves and a delicate flavor. Red kale has sturdy leaves and a slightly peppery taste.

Fresh Ideas for Cooking with Kale

  • Add kale to soups, stews, and stir-fry dishes.

  • For a simple vegetable side dish, steam kale and sprinkle it with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

  • For a quick noodle dish, add chopped kale to a pot of soba noodles five minutes before the noodles are done. Drain. Toss noodles and kale with toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, and sliced green onions.

  • Make a classic Tuscan soup of white beans, kale, other vegetables, and seasonings.

  • Crispy kale chips are a trendy snack and couldn’t be simpler to make. Toss 1½-inch pieces of kale with olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Spread on a baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes at 275° until crisp, turning the chips once during baking.  

Key Takeaways:

  • Kale is a dark green leafy vegetable that’s a good source of calcium, iron, and vitamins A, C, and K.

  • It also boasts phytochemicals that help ward off cancer and protect eyesight.

  • There are several varieties of kale to choose from. Try adding kale to soups, stews, and stir-fries.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 14

  1. Development of a Food Composition Database for the Estimation of Dietary Intakes of Glucosinolates, the Biologically Active Constituents of Cruciferous Vegetables. S.A. McNaughton et al. British Journal of Nutrition, 2003, vol. 90, pp. 687-97.

  2. Effect of Different Cooking Methods on Color, Phytochemical Concentration, and Antioxidant Capacity of Raw and Frozen Brassica Vegetables. N. Pellegrin. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2010, vol. 58, pp. 4310-21.

  3. Lancinato [Kale]. Produce Marketing Association. http://legacy.pma.com/producedb/variety.cfm?commodityID=5872&varietyId=2571

  4. Nutrient Data for 11236, Kale, Frozen, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Without Salt. USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/2971

  5. Phytochemicals: The Cancer Fighters in the Foods We Eat. American Institute for Cancer Research. http://www.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=elements_phytochemicals

  6. Lutein and Zeaxanthin, American Optometric Association. http://www.aoa.org/x11815.xml

  7. Cruciferous Vegetables and Cancer Prevention. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/diet/cruciferous-vegetables

  8. Foods that Fight Cancer: Dark Green Leafy Vegetables. American Institute for Cancer Research. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/complementaryandalternativemedicine/herbsvi...

  9.  Kale. Earthbound Farm. http://www.ebfarm.com/products/vegetables/kale

  10. Top Ten Ways to Enjoy Kale. Fruit and Veggies More Matters. http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/top-10-ways-to-enjoy-kale

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