The Holy Kale: A Tale of Rags to Riches

The 'Kale King of Holland' (I kid you not) literally walking on ice with his wheelbarrow of kale.

Photo credit: ANP/KOEN SUYK

What images do you conjure up at the word 'Kale'? Skinny girls in yoga-pants with an expensive green smoothie in hand? Piles of deep green, gorgeously curled leaves in one of those artisan farmers market stalls? Or a steaming mound of off-coloured mush with awkward bits of shiny sausage poking out? If you are Dutch, I guarantee you it would have been the latter.

Stamppot met boerenkool (kale and potato mash) has been a winter staple in the kitchens of Holland for centuries. It's one of those iconic Dutch meals that, unfortunately, reinforces the stereotype that the country has a rather unrefined palate. The only tasty part of this bland meal is the electric coloured sausage (why are additives so deceptively delicious?!); the mush of overcooked kale and potatoes served no purpose other than to fill reluctant stomachs.

You would be hard pressed to find a child as happy as her at the table if Boerenkool was being served!

Photo credit: Unilever

It's amusing then, that this paupers vegetable has ascended to superfood status across America in the last 5 years, with the UK and the rest of Europe catching on to the veggie's rampant popularity shortly after. Kale is officially trending. First it was the health mammas on Pinterest and the organically obsessed, then celebrities jumped on the Kale bandwagon, and now everyone is doing it. Starbucks is launching their own (overpriced) take on green kale smoothies this year. There is even a book called 50 shades of Kale. Yes, Kevin Bacon, we are in the Age of Kale.

Kale has had one of those all-out reinvention makeovers. If you're not eating it raw, in a smoothie, baked into crisps, or even massaged, you are, like, so doing it wrong. The enormous surge of this humble green in the media was partly due to the huge health claims (one of the biggest being that sulforaphane, a compound in cruciferous vegetables like kale, has anti-cancer and anti-microbial properties) and partly due to a wildly successful ad campaign by a clever New York marketing maven. Kale became the it-vegetable in the coolest NYC restaurants, and the rest of the newly health-conscious west was eager to cash in on the trend. Brassicas were officially big business.  

A low-calorie bowl packed with goodies: Vitamins A, C, and K, iron, (a lot of!) fibre, calcium and antioxidants.

Photo credit: Pinterest

However, with every craze there is the inevitable backlash. It turns out that people with thyroid or digestive issues need to be careful with eating kale, especially when it is raw. Cruciferous vegetables have a lot of indigestible fibre and raffinose (a natural sugar responsible for that unpleasant bloating and gassiness associated with these vegetables), which means it's hard for our bodies to process in large quantities, especially if left raw. Cooking- or even better, steaming- your kale before consumption will help.

According to Dr. Leung; “Juicing kale concentrates the vegetable and thus potentially poses a greater risk toward iodine deficiency and hypothyroidism if ingested in large amounts on a very frequent basis.” The message, then, is clear: As with anything in nutrition (and life), moderation is key. Perhaps a month long raw juice cleanse isn't the best idea, but neither is eating any food repetitively day in day out.

Go easy on those raw green smoothies and all will be well.

Photo credit: ModernMom

The media thrives on confrontational headliners (who can resist the clearly Awesome Alliteration of 'Caped Crusader or Thyroid Threat'?!), but the truth is Kale is neither going to kill you nor be the spectacular cure-all it's touted to be. The best advice is to buy organic, mix up your diet, keep eating your greens and listen to your body.