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11 November 2014

Rediscover humble kale

Inexpensive, easy to grow and oh-so healthy – kale is fast become a hero vegetable. Learn more.

Right now, kale is soaring to stardom. Yes, this humble vegetable is finding its way into the recipes of celebrity TV chefs and into the kitchens of health-conscious people the world over.

But what do we really know about kale, and do its properties warrant it a position among the other superfoods that have become all the rage?

It turns out that there’s quite a lot to kale and that it really does pack a health punch.

A retrospective glance
Kale (or collard) is part of the cabbage or brassica family and is native to Britain and the Mediterranean region.

Much like cauliflower and broccoli, this leafy green vegetable is a descendant of the cabbage and was popularised by the Romans all over Europe.

While kale has only recently grabbed the media’s attention, making it more popular around the world, it’s been known as a health food among many nutritionists around the world for several decades.

Nutritional facts
Kale is packed with nutrients. According to South African nutritionist Andrea Jenkins, its rich array of amino acids makes it a valuable plant protein source and a fantastic addition to a vegetarian diet.

Many people also specifically include kale in their diet for its high calcium level (kale contains even more calcium than milk), magnesium (seen in its rich, green chlorophyll pigments), sulphur and iron.

What’s more, the beta-carotenes, lutein and zeaxanthin (all powerful antioxidants) in kale help to keep eye function optimal. Kale’s bitter, sharp taste (some people find this off-putting) also makes it a powerful internal body cleanser that assists both the liver and the digestive system. The plant is also very alkalising.

Winter kale, with its crinkled leaves, tends to be sweeter, and therefore more palatable.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) agrees that leafy greens such as kale are a great source of the following:

- Fibre (good for keeping you regular)
- Folate, or folic acid (a type of B vitamin that’s particularly important if you’re trying to fall pregnant)
- Carotenoids (powerful antioxidants)
- Saponins (these may help to lower cholesterol)
- Flavonoids (powerful antioxidants)

In its research document entitled Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective, the AICR notes that “foods containing carotenoids protect against cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx.”

Furthermore, in a three-year study of vegetables belonging to the brassica group (of which kale is a member) cabbage vegetables were perceived as very valuable foods. “They have a very good nutritive value, high antioxidant activity and pro-healthy potential. Especially kale is characterised by good nutritional and pro-healthy properties,” the researchers noted in a 2012 issue of the ACTA Scientiarum Polonorum Technologia Alimentaria.

The researchers recommended eating or drinking kale raw, wherever possible, since cooking tends to reduce much of its nutritional value.

Get your daily fill
If you haven’t already been including kale in your daily diet, then you’re probably wondering what the best ways are to get your healthy share.

In addition to an array of delicious recipes you could find online, the following are a few of the ways in which you can incorporate this power-house leafy green vegetable into your diet:

- Kale chips are tasty, easy to make and even kids will enjoy them. They’re a healthy alternative to fat and salt-laden potato chips, or nutrient-poor crackers and rice cakes.
- Smoothies are great when you don’t have time for breakfast. In addition to adding kale and other green veggies, you can also add your favourite fruits to it.
- Salads are always good for you and kale makes a really great base for any salad. Always prepare your leaves by massaging them with some olive oil and lemon juice until they’re bright green.
- Juices are another good way to get all the benefits of kale. Add the leaves, along with your favourite freshly-squeezed fruit juice, to a blender and blend for a delicious green drink.

Take note: Kale and other leafy veggies have all come under scrutiny because of their ability to retain pesticides. So always by your vegetable from a reputable supplier and wash them thoroughly before eating.

- (Hayden Horner)

Sources:
- Andrea Jenkins, South African nutritional therapist
- American Institute for Cancer Research – Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=foodsthatfightcancer_leafy_vegetables
- Sikora E. and Bodziarczyk I. et al. (2012. Composition and antioxidant activity of kale (Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala) raw and cooked. Acta Sci Pol Technol Aliment. 2012 Jul-Sep;11(3):239-48. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22744944

 
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