Diet & Exercise: Kale — once overlooked, now in vogue

Published 8:00 am Friday, June 29, 2018

Today, I’d like to share information on a vegetable many folks overlook, but probably shouldn’t — kale.

Kale, or leaf cabbage, originated in the east Mediterranean and Asia Minor where it was cultivated beginning by 2000 B.C. Russian kale was introduced into Canada, and then into the United States by Russian traders in the 19th century.

During World War II, the cultivation of kale (and other vegetables) in the U.K. was encouraged by the “Dig For Victory” campaign. The modern word “kale” came from a Scottish name for the plant, “Kail.”

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It was once referred to as “poor man’s cabbage,” but is now all the rage in much of the world. The popularity of kale has increased especially since 2013, and this vegetable has found its way commercially into cookies, ice creams, soda drinks, dog treats and even nail polishes, hair tonics and facial masks.

Here are a few kale facts you might not know:

• Kale comes from the same plant as broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. All these vegetables are versions of a species of mustard plant called Brassicaoleracea. Over time, farmers used selective breeding to create these vegetables we know today.

• Kale detoxifies. Compounds in kale, known as isothiocyannates, formed from glucosinolates, and  promote detoxification of wastes from the body.

• Kale contains numerous cancer-fighting compounds. This includes sulforaphane, a substance that has been shown to fight the formation of cancer at the molecular level. Kale also contains indole-3-carbinol, a substance believed to prevent cancer.

• It’s rich in vitamin C. Just one cup of kale provides 80 mg of vitamin C (that’s more than an orange). That makes kale great for your skin, because vitamin C is an essential prerequisite for collagen synthesis, which helps support the health of skin and joints. Collagen is sort of the “glue” that holds skin and joint cells together. Also, the vitamin C found in kale assists iron absorption, which helps treat anemia.

• Kale is rich in vitamin K. Just one cup of kale produces 547 mcg of vitamin K — that’s 700 percent of the RDA (recommended daily allowance). Why’s that important? Well, vitamin K helps with blood clotting, improves calcium mineralization in bone, and can prevent heart disease and osteoporosis from occurring.

• Kale is great for diabetics, too, because, unlike many foods, it will not spike blood sugar levels. It is virtually sugar free, nutrient dense, and contains fiber which can help slow the speed of glucose absorption into the blood when consumed with other carbohydrate rich foods.

• Kale promotes bone health. This green vegetable is a rich source of calcium. One serving provides 10 percent RDA. That might not seem like much, but for those who don’t partake in dairy products, it’s significant.

• It’s great for weight watchers. Kale is very filling, but low in calories. Also, the fiber in kale helps you feel fuller, longer.

• Kale promotes eye health, because it is the highest source of lutein found in nature. Lutein and other carotenoid anti-oxidants play an essential role in eye protection, including preventing age-related macular degeneration, cataract development and vision deterioration. Kale, when consumed in addition to other carotenoid rich foods that contain zeaxanthin (spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens, turnip greens, collards, garden cress, dandelion greens and green peas), offers even stronger eye protection.

• Kale is high in beta-Carotene. Beta-Carotene is a precursor of vitamin A. In other words, the body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A as it needs it. Vitamin A keeps teeth, bones, eyes, skin and soft tissue healthy. It’s also necessary for white blood cell formation, and to keep the immune system strong.

• Kale helps lower cholesterol. One study showed steamed kale is actually 43 percent as potent as cholestyramine, a cholesterol- lowering drug that functions the same way.

Kale is usually cooked because raw kale can sometimes cause abdominal issues and bloating. Steamed kale is better for lowering cholesterol, while raw kale is more effective at lowering cancer risks. If you eat kale raw, first massage it to break down the plant’s cellulose  to save your body some work.

David Crocker, of Landrum, has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 30 years. Diet or exercise question? Email him at or text 864-494-6215.