Kale: from "Ugh!" to "Ahhhhh!"

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

July 2007

OK, so it's hard to believe that kale can taste good. On the it-makes-my-mouth-water scale most people would probably rate it somewhere between okra and Swiss chard. But bear with me.

Kale has been around for a long time. Those picky ancient Romans liked it, so could we be missing something?

It's a member of the cabbage family and most of us have no great liking for that either, except in coleslaw. Like collard greens and broccoli, to which it is also related, kale is loaded with the kinds of nutrients that Americans seem to go out of their way to avoid.

Kale happens to be one of the most nutritious green leafy vegetables around. It's really low in carbs but high in vitamin A and has moderately high quantities of vitamin C and K. (Some physicians caution that patients on blood-thinning medication should not eat large amounts of kale and other green leafy vegetables because of their vitamin K, which could interfere with the effectiveness of the drug. An occasional normal serving is unlikely to cause a problem. Consult with your physician.)

The amount of vitamin A in a half cup of cooked kale is about twice as much as most of us need on a daily basis but all of it is in the form of beta-carotene. Beta carotene has gotten a bad rap because research on long-term smokers showed that supplements of this nutrient seemed to increase the death rate from lung cancer. That does not appear to be the case with foods containing beta-carotene. In fact, plant foods that are rich in beta carotene and similar compounds are likely to reduce the risk of cancer. Taking a supplement without the other nutrients that accompany it in the natural state doesn't make sense from a biological point of view. We shouldn't be surprised at the poor results.

There is solid evidence that lutein and zeaxanthin, nutrients that are abundant in kale, protect our eyes from the two conditions that are responsible for most vision problems, cataracts and AMD (Age-related Macular Degeneration).

A one-cup serving of kale will give you generous amounts of several B vitamins and vitamin E. One serving provides about 10 percent of the recommended intake of fiber and calcium. And it all comes with about half the calories of a single Oreo cookie.

So what? None of that matters if nobody will eat it. Here's a recipe, courtesy of my wife Pat that will change your mind about the taste of kale.

Start with fresh kale and make sure it has a rich, green color. After rinsing, cut out the spine and coarsely chop the leaves. Pop it in the microwave for 5-7 minutes then spray it with olive oil and garlic sprays. Toss and serve. Prepared this way it has a sweet, nutty flavor without the bitterness.

Kale will probably never become the American Idol of the vegetable family but it has a lot going for it. Do what you tell your kids to do with a new food: try it just once.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.