The Foodie Physician: Ingredient 911: Kale, a Superfood

Ingredient 911: Kale, a Superfood

Curly Kale

There’s been a lot of buzz about kale in the food world recently and it’s because people are discovering that it’s one of the healthiest foods around.  Although it’s not a staple in most American households, kale is gaining a lot of popularity because of its numerous health benefits- and it tastes pretty good too!

Kale is a leafy green vegetable that belongs to the Brassica family which also includes veggies like cabbage, broccoli and brussel sprouts.  There are many different varieties of kale including curly, Tuscan (also known as lacinato or dinosaur kale), and Redbor.  The leaves have an earthy taste and some varieties are slightly bitter.  Other varieties such as Tuscan kale have a milder, sweeter flavor.  Kale is at its best in the fall and winter and actually tastes sweeter after it has been exposed to a frost. 

Tuscan aka Lacinato or Dinosaur kale

Kale is considered a superfood because it’s a great source of vitamins and minerals and it also contains several other compounds that are beneficial for your health.  It has very high levels of Vitamins A, C and K-one cup of chopped kale provides well more than your recommended daily allowance of these vitamins.  It also is a good source of Vitamin B6, calcium, thiamine, folate, iron and several other nutrients.  It is low in calories, fat and cholesterol and is a good source of fiber and protein. 

Kale also contains many phytochemicals that have beneficial effects on one's health.  One type, the glucosinates, are broken down in the body into organosulphur compounds that have cancer-preventive properties.1-3 Other phytochemicals such as flavonoids and carotenoids (which include beta-carotene and lutein), have anti-inflammatory properties and are also strong antioxidants which protect our cells against oxidative damage and reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer.4-6  For these reasons, kale is often included in many cancer-prevention diet regimens.  These phytochemicals are also very important for eye health as they protect our eyes from UV light and may help prevent cataracts.7  Kale is also good for heart health and helps to lower cholesterol, especially when steamed.8 

Kale has a sturdy texture which makes it a good addition to soups and stews.  It also can be sautéed, steamed or baked.  It can even be eaten raw- in general, the smaller, younger leaves are more tender.  Try some of these ideas:

     - Sauté kale with some olive oil, shallots, garlic, and a pinch of red pepper flakes- finish with a squeeze of  lemon or balsamic vinegar
     - Add it to your stir fries instead of broccoli- it tastes great with Asian flavors like ginger, garlic and soy sauce
     - Mix up your salad greens- try using raw kale in your next salad instead of lettuce or spinach
     - Blend raw kale with bananas, apples or other fruits and vegetables for a tasty and nutritious smoothie
     - Stir chopped kale into soups, lentils, and chili
     - Braise kale with apples and a dash of cider vinegar
    - Add sautéed kale to your omelettes, frittatas, pasta or pizza  
   - Bake kale leaves in the oven for a crispy, healthy snack (see recipe below)

Crispy Kale Chips

The next time you’re craving potato chips, try these crispy kale chips instead.  These chips are light, nutritious and a cinch to make.  Roasting the kale leaves gives them a nice nutty flavor- they’re a great way to get kids and picky eaters to eat their leafy vegetables!  This recipe simply calls for salt but you can sprinkle on whatever spices you like to add different flavors.

Crispy Kale Chips
Makes 10-12 appetizer servings

1 bunch curly or Tuscan kale (10-12 ounces)
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Rinse and dry the kale leaves.  Make sure the kale leaves are completely dry so that they crisp up nicely in the oven.  Remove the stems and ribs, then cut or tear the leaves into large pieces.  Toss the kale pieces in a large bowl with the olive oil and mix with your hands to make sure all of the pieces are coated.  Season them with salt. 

Transfer the kale to 2 baking sheets, arranging the pieces in a single layer.  Bake in the oven until crispy, about 10 minutes.  Watch them carefully during the last few minutes as they can burn quickly.  Remove the tray from the oven and let the chips cool before serving.  Enjoy!


1. Srinibas Das, Amrish Kumar Tyagi and Harjit Kaur "Cancer modulation by glucosinolates: A review". Current Science 2000; 79 (12): 1665.
2. Hayes, JD; Kelleher, MO; Eggleston, IM "The cancer chemopreventive actions of phytochemicals derived from glucosinolates.". European Journal of Nutrition 2008;47 Suppl 2: 73–88.
3. Cornblatt BS et al. "Preclinical and clinical evaluation of sulforaphane for chemoprevention in the breast". Carcinogenesis 2007;28 (7): 1485.

4. Birt DF, Hendrich S, Wang W. “Dietary agents in cancer prevention: flavonoids and isoflavonoids.” Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2001;90(2-3):157-77.
5. Liu R. “Potential Synergy of Phytochemicals in Cancer Prevention: Mechanism of Action” Journal of Nutrition. 2004;134:3479S-3485S.
6. Ommen, G. S., Goodman, G. E., Thomquist, M. D., Barnes, J. & Cullen, M. R. (1996) Effects of a combination of ß-carotene and vitamin A on lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. New England Journal of Medicine. 334:1150-1155.
7. Christen WG, Liu S, Glynn RJ, et al. "Dietary Carotenoids, Vitamins C and E, and Risk of Cataract in Women - A Prospective Study." Archives of Ophthalmology. 2008;126(1):102-109.
8. Kahlon TS, Chiu MC, Chapman MH. “Steam cooking significantly improves in vitro bile acid binding of collard greens,kale, mustard greens, broccoli, green bell pepper, and cabbage.” Nutrition Research. 2008;28(6):351-7. 2008.


  1. Wow.. only a physician would put full references in appropriate format. Definitely going to try it in Stir-Fry, sounds like a great idea!

  2. I am a huge fan of kale. Kale chips are one way I am sure that my entire family will enjoy it with me. Great blog!

  3. Luv it. Great post. Am so craving them now..

  4. Who knew it was a superfood! Great nibble, especially for a health conscious vegetarian.

  5. I discovered Kale chips a few weeks ago and absolutely adore them! Great and informative post..thanks!

  6. Hi Sonali,

    I just discovered your blog this evening. Wow! I can't wait to try some of your recipes. About the kale chips, I made these the other day for the family, and while they were tasty and we all felt good about the fact we were eating kale as if it were potato chips, just how much nutrition is left when the kale is baked. Do you think all the good phytochemicals and whatnot are baked out?

    1. Thanks Anna! That's a great question with a complicated answer. There's a lot of debate as to whether vegetables are healthier raw or cooked. Here's a link to a good summary:
      I think the take home point is that many vegetables, including kale, have important nutrients and phytochemicals in the raw state. But they also have other beneficial compounds that are formed with cooking. So you should eat a mixture of both raw and cooked forms. Heat can destroy many nutrients so keep cooking time to a minimum, and in general avoid boiling your veggies for a long time because this cooking method seems to lead to the greatest loss of nutrients.

  7. I love having Kale in my garden, Sonali. It is wonderful in smoothies and I LOVE Kale chips!!! Thank you for sharing all this great Kale info on Fit and Fabulous Fridays!! :)

  8. Love this! What a great articles on the benefits of kale! We're going to feature this on our Facebook page and link here so people can read it themselves and get your kale chip recipe. If you wish, come LIKE us on Facebook for more recipes and tips on greens like kale, chard, beet, mustard, turnip, collard, escarole, dandelion and other green leafies.

    --Your friendly Southern California farmers at Cut `n Clean Greens

  9. I just shared this on Katherine Martinelli's Leafy Green Blog Hop:

  10. I have been using kale in salads more often than any kinds of lettuce.I also do the crispy kale for company. They love the change. Yum!




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