May 7, 2014

Got kale?

It rarely happens that a vegetable goes from almost total obscurity to practically rock star status in a matter of a few years, but that’s exactly what happened to kale. When I was a waitress back in college, it was kale that covered the ice in salad bars to make it look pretty. Now it’s in the blenders and refrigerators of health conscious people everywhere.

So what’s all the excitement about? Is kale really that great? Well actually, yes, it is.

Kale is high in a variety of nutrients such as beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants), and sulforaphane (lowers your risk of cancer).  This explains why Dr. Joel Fuhrman, who created the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI), gave it a score of 1,000—his top rating. It is also the top veggie and a “super star” according to the Nutrition Action Healthletter, with a score of 1,389.

In addition, it’s a good source of bioavailable calcium. Only 1¾ of a cup of kale is equivalent to one glass of milk in terms of absorbable calcium. That’s good news for people like me who can’t drink milk, but want to avoid taking a lot of calcium supplements because of their possible link to heart disease.

So eat more kale! Try roasting or sautéing it, or use in salads, soups, or smoothies. However, there is one stipulation: buy organic if you can. Why? Because kale, as well as collard greens and hot peppers, are commonly contaminated with insecticides that are toxic to the nervous system according to the Environmental Working Group’s 2014 Shoppers Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Their “Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen” lists identify the fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticides, as well as those with the least.

There are also phone apps to make shopping easier. When you can, buy organic versions of the Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables and the Plus Category vegetables.

Need some help fitting kale into your diet? Try this Kale Caesar Salad recipe, for a fresh take on our new best friend.

Contributor: Carole Bartolotto, RD