Why Kale Is the Coolest Vegetable

mbg Contributor By Abby Phon
mbg Contributor
Abby Phon is a certified holistic health & wellness coach, author and public speaker. She received her training at The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City.

It's no secret. I love kale. I have received phone calls, emails, texts and messages from friends and family saying that they just cooked kale for the first time and thought of me; last week a friend called from the grocery store, just because she saw kale and was reminded of me. This is probably a good indication of how I feel about kale.

During the winter months when other leafy greens are out of season, kale is in full bloom, in season, and richest in flavor. This leafy green, cruciferous vegetable is versatile to cook with and can be prepared just like spinach or any other greens.

As one of the most nutritionally dense foods, Kale scores a perfect 1,000 on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. The ANDI score is a food rating system that measures nutrients per calorie. One cup of kale has only 36 calories but it’s chock full of Vitamins K (1328% RDA), A (192%), C (90%), and E (6%). Kale also has calcium (9%), iron (6%), manganese, copper, calcium, fiber (10%), vitamin B6, potassium, iron, phytochemicals and even Omega 3 Fatty Acids (10%).

Here’s what Kale's nutrients do for YOU!:

Fiber: Kale keeps you fuller longer. That will help keep your snacking and over eating at bay, which keeps your weight down (so kale helps you stay fit and trim!). Diets high in fiber-rich leafy greens, like kale, show decreased risks of cancers (such as colon, breast, prostate, ovarian, bladder and lung), as well as heart disease and osteoporosis.

Phytochemicals: Kale lowers the risk of cataract and macular degeneration because it’s an excellent source of phytochemicals (lutein and zeaxanthin). For optimal eye health, the daily suggested dose of lutein and zeaxanthin is 6 to 15 milligrams. One half cup of cooked kale meets the recommended daily dose of these 2 phytochemicals. Along with lutein and zeaxanthin, Kale also has 45 other flavonoids—powerful antioxidants—linked to the protection against cancer.

Vitamin A: An effective antioxidant, it boosts immunity and maintains healthy bones and teeth.

Vitamin K: Necessary to produce osteocalcin, a protein that strengthens the composition of our bones. Studies show that women with diets low in Vitamin K have significantly lower bone density. Vitamin K also prevents calcium build-up in our tissue that can lead to cardiovascular disease and stroke and is a key nutrient that regulates inflammation in the body.

Vitamin E: Acts as an antioxidant in brain cells, protecting them from free radicals. This will help keep your mind sharp!

Kale Preparation:

Kale is not fussy. It doesn’t require much prep at all so it’s a really great food friend to have, especially if you’re a busy person on the go (and let’s face it, who isn’t!?). As with all veggies (and especially dark green leafy ones), make sure you wash each leaf in cold water thoroughly. While they are dripping dry, cut out the big stem in the middle. Or what I do is grab hold of the bottom stem and pull, tearing that stalk out! Viola! Your kale is ready to go! Here are some things to do with it, once you’ve got it in your hands.

Kale Salad: If you’re a raw food purist or just in a warm climate and want something fresh, chop kale finely (amount is up to you!) . I recommend this lemon/tahini dressing: olive oil, a spoonful of tahini paste and fresh lemon juice; pour over the finely chopped green leaves and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes. The dressing will ‘marinade’ the leaves, softening them and soaking up the sunny goodness. Top with whatever veggies you like! Some of my favorites are yellow peppers, shaved fennel, avocado, pomegranate seeds and sliced cucumbers!

Sautéing/Braising: My favorite way to make kale is to sauté it with garlic and coconut oil (great as a side dish or as part of a main dish!). I use 2-3 cloves of garlic and about 1 tbsp coconut oil to one big bunch of kale. Gently heat the garlic then add the washed and chopped kale to your frying pan. You want to cook it over a medium-low heat until the leaves soften and wilt. How long you sauté is a personal preference, but I like my kale to keep some of its bright vibrant green color and health benefits so I don’t cook it for more than five minutes (remember, even if you turn off the heat, food keeps cooking!). If you want to go without oil, try braising: simmer in three-quarters of a cup of veggie broth for 20 minutes to soften up the leaves , drain and serve.

Steaming: Cover with a little water and cook until soft. Super healthy.

Kale Chips: I made this for a holiday party. I put out an entire bowl, made someone a cocktail, turned around and the bowl was empty! It is a great alternative for grownups, in place of potato chips. Kids love it too! And it’s super easy. Make sure your kale pieces are thoroughly dried (otherwise you’ll wind up with steamed kale instead!). Toss with olive oil, put in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes. Flip the leaves halfway through. (And check them often; you don’t want the leaves to turn brown because they will become bitter.) When the leaves are crispy, sprinkle with sea salt and invite me over. J

Also: I add chopped kale to soups, stews, grains (like millet and quinoa), mashed potatoes and pasta (about a cup but the amount is up to you!). Last year when I was on vacation in the Caribbean, I had the chef add it to my omelet (delish!) and at home on the weekends I often use it as a bed for poached eggs or toss it in a smoothie.

Some tips:

  • Avoid washing kale until just before use, since it will hasten spoilage.
  • Kale will shrink during cooking, like spinach does but not as drastically.
  • As with any fruit or vegetable, it’s best to buy kale in season. A light frost sweetens kale, so here in NYC, fall or winter is the perfect time to enjoy it.
  • Fresh kale should have a bright green color. Avoid kale with yellow or brown leaves—that means it’s getting old.

Varieties of kale:

  • Green kale – the most common variety in the grocery store, has a firm texture and curly leaves.
  • Red kale – similar in taste and texture to green kale, but adds a splash of red or purple to your plate.
  • Dinosaur kale (also called Tuscan or Lacinato) – the leaves are flatter and more tender than the other types.
  • Ornamental kale – tougher than other kinds, and available in green, purple, pink and white.  Often sold as decoration for a garden or window box, it’s still edible and makes a great garnish. (I’ve been caught eating the “garnish” off of platters at family functions! They make fun of me but I’m the one feeling awesome the next day!)

Have fun with kale. Eating more of this good green stuff will make you feel better, more vibrant and have increased energy. Now you have no reason, not to eat your greens!

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