The Health Benefits of Kale

Dark leafy greens are widely known to be the most nutritious of vegetables, but even among the greens, kale may stand alone as the single most nutritious vegetable! In recent years, kale has gained tremendous popularity as a go-to vegetable for its outstanding nutritional profile, versatility in dishes, and delicious flavor.

As with most vegetables, kale is grown in a number of varieties: leafy green, dinosaur, curly, and even ornamental for your garden. Kale belongs to the Brassica family of vegetables, which includes other cruciferous vegetables known to be nutrition all-stars, such as asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. Among vegetables, cruciferous vegetables are widely touted for their anti-cancer properties. Numerous studies have been conducted and repeated showing a strong correlation between the consumption of eating cruciferous vegetables and a lower risk of all forms of cancer. This lowered risk is regularly attributed to the phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables, of which kale is especially abundant.

The health benefits of kale are attributed to its large concentration of various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Kale is incredibly rich in Vitamin K, an important fat-soluble vitamin that can dramatically reduce of your chances of developing cancer, but is also important for numerous bodily functions, including helping to regulate blood clotting and reduce blood pressure. A single cup of cooked kale can contain as much as 1300% of your recommended daily intake! Kale is also abound with beta-carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, another important nutrient connected to reducing your risk for cancer, as well as nearly all other age-related and degenerative diseases. That single cup of cooked kale can contain as much as 350% of your recommended daily intake! Kale is also a nutritional powerhouse when it comes to Vitamin C, manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. Potassium and magnesium are crucial minerals for optimum bodily function, especially when it comes to regulating blood pressure and lowering your risk for heart disease. Recent studies suggest that the calcium contained within kale is easily absorbed by the human body, making it an ideal food for those looking to maintain bone health.

Dark leafy greens, including kale, have been revered throughout history for their medicinal properties. They are frequently considered to be ‘liver cleansing foods,’ perhaps in part to their large concentrations of folate, a vitamin known to strengthen your liver, which in turns helps to cleanse and detoxify your body as a whole. Dark leafy greens are also widely known for their anti-inflammatory properties, helping to reduce all degenerative diseases, but also help remedy conditions such as arthritis and pain, and reduce your chances of heart disease and high blood pressure.

Kale can be prepared in a variety of ways. One of the most common methods of preparation is the lightly steam it, perhaps alone or accompanied by other vegetables. Likewise, you can also saute it lightly in a vegetable medley. A method of preparation that is gaining popularity is to create ‘kale chips.’ These ‘chips’ are created by wetting your kale and coating it in various ingredients, such as other vegetable powders (onion, garlic, carrot, bell pepper, etc.), ground seeds or nuts (sunflower seeds and cashews being the most popular), and nutritional yeast. After coating, the kale is then either dehydrated or cooked at a low temperature as to not burn. This is a unique, delicious, and nutritious method for eating kale. While you can make your own kale chips, they are now more easily located at numerous health food stores. You may find you like them more than potato chips!

Food Spotlight: Asparagus

Asparagus was once considered to be a member of the lily family of plants, and while it is now considered to be in its own family, it is still remarkably similar to other lilies such as garlic and onions. When we consume asparagus as a vegetable, we eat the young shoot of the plant. Once the bud at the end of the spear we consume opens, the plant creates a fern-like structure that would be too hard or ‘woody’ to eat. The exact origin of asparagus is unknown. We do know that it originates somewhere in the Mediterranean, where it has been consumed for thousands and thousands of years. It may have been consumed and cultivated to some degree as early as 20,000 BP in Egypt. It is depicted in ancient Egyptian friezes dating to approximately 3000 BC, and was consumed and cultivated extensively in Greece, Rome, Syria, and Spain. The vegetable was so prized by Emperor Augustus of Rome that he created an ‘Asparagus Fleet,’ whose sole duty was to haul the vegetable from the fields for the wealthy. The oldest surviving cookbook, De Re Coquinaria by Apiucius, which hails from Rome during the 4th or 5th century AD, contains a recipe for delicately cooking asparagus.

Fresh, young, growing shoots of plants are some of the most nutrient dense foods, and asparagus is no exception. Asparagus is abound with the nutrient Vitamin K, an essential fat-soluble nutrient that helps your blood to clot properly, prevents calcification of your arteries, prevents bones from fracturing, aids bruising, and aids in preventing bone-loss. A single cup of uncooked asparagus contains approximately 70% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin K! Asparagus is also rich in beta carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, folate, iron, thiamin, copper, and manganese. One cup of uncooked asparagus contains only 27 calories, while containing 3 grams of protein, as well as 3 grams of dietary fiber!Asparagus has been so revered throughout the ages largely because of its medicinal properties. It is known as an excellent plant for detoxifying your system for numerous reasons. It contains large amounts of the amino acid glutathione, an important amino acid utilized by the liver as an anti-oxidant for cleaning up free radicals (toxins that create damage in your system). The large amounts of folate contained in asparagus have anti-inflammatory properties, helping to reduce pain and arthritis, as well as reduces your chances of heart disease and is essential for preventing birth defects for pregnant women. Additionally, asparagus has many diuretic properties, which help to aid constipation and keep you regular, as well as cleanse your liver and kidneys. Finally, asparagus contains inulin, a special form of fiber/oligosaccharide that help to feed beneficial bacteria in your intestines.

Asparagus can usually be found year-round with so many vegetables being imported from different localities and regions of the world. However, truly delectable and fresh asparagus is available only in the spring, when it is most abundant and thus also cheapest. Asparagus doesn’t face as many threats from pests as do some other plants, so it’s not absolutely necessary to get organic asparagus. That being said, the most nutritious and tasty asparagus can often be found only at a local farmer’s market because of freshness (where they tend to be less sprayed, anyway).

Asparagus is delectable simply steamed or baked, and is the perfect accompaniment to numerous dishes! Be sure to try Orange Roasted Tofu and Asparagus!