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Kale seems to be all the rage these days.  People are eating it in smoothies, juicing it, adding it to soups, steaming it, eating it in salads, even adding it to brownies.  Honestly, the creative ways that people use kale in meals for every time of day just keep growing and they continue to inspire us.  Of course, kale has been around forever, and people in the healthy-food know, have been loyal to it for years, but in just the last couple of years, kale’s popularity has taken a boost.  Why?  Because, as the country increasingly turns toward more healthy foods (organics, natural products instead of artificial sweeteners and preservatives, etc.), people have also looked to get more out of every meal, and when you add kale to any meal, you get a powerhouse of nutrition.

Kale truly is a super food.  We all know we should be eating more dark green veggies,  but even among it’s dark green brethren, kale stands above the crowd.  Kale is currently being studied in relation to cancer because it contains antioxidant nutrients, anti-inflammatory nutrients and anti-cancer nutrients (glucosinolates)–all important in fighting cancers.  In all, 45 different antioxidant flavonoids can be found and measured in kale, and it’s anti-inflammatory qualities are off the charts.  Need another plus?  Kale contains omega-3s (good for your heart and an anti-inflammatory) in great quantities.  In fact, just 100 calories of kale provides over 350 milligrams of the most basic omega-3s (ALA).  It also has boatloads of vitamin K and a type of vitamin E that is heart healthy, and it’s been shown to lower cholesterol.  As if that wasn’t enough, kale contains fiber and aids in digestion, AND can help the body detox naturally.

So far as its anti-cancer claims-to-fame, it contains a nutrient (indole-3- carbinol) that scientists believe plays a role in the way estrogen is metabolized in the body and thus may play a protective role against breast cancer.  A recent study also found that kale extract inhibits the production of existing colon cancer cells.  Kale just keeps getting better.

Even though kale is a garden gift that keeps on giving, there are a couple of drawbacks to be aware of, especially people with specific medical conditions.  If you take blood thinners, for example, you’ll need to watch your kale intake because of its high concentration of vitamin K, which can promote clotting in the blood.  Also, it contains oxalates, which in some tests, have been associated with kidney stones and gall stones.  Kale also contains a compound that can suppress thyroid function in some people (though the risk is low ), but only if eaten raw.  Some dieticians recommend eating kale raw (or in juices and smoothies) only once or twice a week.  Apparently, this is not an issue if you cook your kale, so if that’s your preferred method of kale consumption, please continue.:)  One last downside: Kale is on the Dirty Dozen list, so if you buy it, buy organic.  The pesticide residue on leafy greens, like kale, is very high.

If you’re wondering about the best way to eat kale, opinions vary.  Some people swear by cooking it only, as some of its bitterness is lost and it gets sweeter; while others sing the praises of raw kale and kale chips.  So far as health benefits go, it’s a mixed bag.  For cancer-fighting nutrients, eat your kale raw.  Studies show that it’s health qualities are more beneficial in this capacity.  If you’re looking to lower your cholesterol, studies point to steamed kale as your best alternative so far as cooking.  Whatever you do, try not to overcook your kale; it loses nutrients and enzymes when you cook it too long or with too much water or broth.  If you do go overboard with your cook time, try to sip up that broth and save what you lost.

Brown Bag is all about getting the most of out of your food–both in flavor and nutrition–so how about giving kale a try?  You might be surprised by what a little extra green can do for you.