Kale is considered to be one of the modern “superfoods”, as it is incredibly versatile and healthy. This popular vegetable features green or purple leaves and it is similar in form to a wild cabbage, rather than most modern domesticated vegetables. It belongs to the species Brassica Oleacea, which is the family that includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and collard greens.

 

The History of Kale

The name borecole is thought to come from the Dutch term boerenkool, and the term kale relates to the Swedish term kal, as well as the German kohl, which is a generic term used to refer to cabbage in general. This vegetable was, until the late Middle Ages, one of the most common vegetables in Europe. The Romans and ancient Greeks used the vegetable, and it remained popular for many centuries. It spread from Russia to Canada in the 19th century, and from there earned popularity in other parts of the world. During World War II, the British were encouraged to grow their own vegetables, and kale’s hardiness made it a popular choice during the era of rationing. Today, however, it has fallen by the wayside as a day-to-day vegetable, except among those who are particularly health-conscious.

 

Farming

There are many different kinds of cultivars of this vegetable, including the curly leaved, plane leaved, the cavolo nero, the leaf and spear, and the rape kale. Some of these varieties can be grown well into the winter, and as such they are popular choices for the period when few other vegetables will grow well.

 

Health Benefits

One of the most interesting health benefits of kale is that it can help to lower your cholesterol levels. The best way to enjoy this effect is to steam the vegetable before eating it, because doing this helps the fibre to bind better with the bile in your digestive tract. If you consume the leaves raw, then you will not get the full effect of the fibre.

In addition to lowering cholesterol levels, this vegetable can also help to reduce the risk of several different kinds of cancer. The anti-cancer benefits of isothiocyanates can apply to bladder, breast, prostate, colon and ovary cancer. In addition, the isothiocyanates can also help with general detoxification.

There are more than 45 different flavanoids to be found in kale. Two of the most important are quercetin and kaempferol. These flavanoids offer a range of benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that can help to slow down the effects of aging, boost your immune system and much more.

One cup of this vegetable includes more than ten times your RDA of vitamin K, as well as 98% of the RDA of vitamin A, 71% of the RDA of vitamin C, and just over a quarter of your recommended daily dose of manganese. It also contains some copper, vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, vitamin E, vitamin B2, iron, magnesium, vitamin B1, phosphorous, protein, folate, vitamin B3 and omega-3 fats. This means that it is a diverse and useful source of nutrients and a good choice for vegetarians, who may otherwise find themselves deficient in certain nutrients. It has a low glycemic index, and is very low in calories compared to its nutritional density.

The cholesterol-lowering effects, combined with the healthy fats and moderate fibre content, mean that this vegetable offers good cardiovascular support. Some cholesterol is essential for hormone production and heart health, but too much can be a bad thing and elevated levels of blood cholesterol can increase your risk of suffering from a stroke or heart disease.

 

Common Uses

Today, most people consume kale in smoothies. The vegetable blends well and can be used to add fibre and nutrients to almost any drink. It is also often pureed for use in soups and other dishes. In Denmark, it is frequently stewed and used as a side dish for a main meal including meat and other vegetables.

 

Pesticides

One issue that people who use a lot of kale should be aware of is the risk of pesticide exposure. According to the 2014 report produced by the Environmental Working Group, this vegetable can absorb a lot of organophosphates from pesticides. While it was not on the original Dirty Dozen list (the twelve varieties of vegetable that are most problematic when it comes to pesticide residues), several vegetables from this family ended up on the expanded Dirty Dozen Plus list. Therefore, if you are concerned about the safety of pesticides, it is a good idea to choose only organic vegetables.

 

The Paleo Diet

Kale makes a great addition to the Paleo diet, especially if it is sourced from organic farms and prepared by steaming. This vegetable can be used in smoothies and juices, added to soups or eaten as a part of a salad. It can also be boiled or steamed (steaming preserves more nutrients) and eaten as a part of a hot main meal.

The Paleo diet is a diet which encourages followers to “eat like a caveman”. This means eating vegetables, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and other ethically raised meats, as well as nuts, berries and some fruits. Paleo diet followers avoid grains, out-of-season fruits, highly processed foods and anything else that their caveman ancestors would not have had access to. The idea behind this diet is that it encourages you to eat only foods that your digestive system is designed to work with. Lactose intolerance, celiac and other dietary intolerances are signs that our bodies are not meant to consume certain foods. By avoiding those foods, many people find that they have more energy, feel less hungry, are generally healthier and are better able to cope with the challenges of day-to-day life.

The Paleo lifestyle is also quite conducive to weight loss and is a good choice for anyone wrestling with lethargy, allergies, migraines, impending metabolic disorders and weight gain. Making long-lasting changes to your lifestyle makes more sense than simply trying to cut calories in the short term for rapid weight (and fat) loss.
photo credit: Steamed Kale via photopin (license)

 

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