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7 Things You Didn't Know About...Kale!

May 26, 2014

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Kale is America’s favorite leafy green right now, and for good reason. It’s a powerhouse of nutrients that has earned it the superfood title. At just 35 calories per cup, this ruffled green provides 134 percent of your daily vitamin C needs, over 200 percent of your vitamin A, and nearly 700 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin K.

This abundance of vitamins, plus plenty of antioxidants and glucosinolates, makes it a healthy addition to any diet—which helps explain why it’s everywhere these days. 

As popular as kale is right now, I bet you didn’t know these 7 fun facts about it:

1. Kale has a long history: The records of kale date back as far as 600 BC, when the Celts brought it to Europe from Asia Minor. Because of its resistance to frost, kale grew in popularity across the continent. The Ancient Greeks and Romans cultivated it, and the Scottish ate so much that their word kail literally just meant food. Despite being brought to the U.S. in the 17th century, kale didn’t make its way into mainstream American diets until the late 90s.

2. Kale is so in: These days, kale is a pop culture icon; it’s on T-shirts, bumper stickers, and even in books (50 Shades of Kale?!). What makes this leaf so cool? No doubt its nutritional profile plays a big role, so much so that liking kale is synonymous with being health-conscious. The green’s health benefits have earned it a bona fide fan club, and everybody wants in. But no one makes it into the spotlight without a little scandal. In 2001, Robert Muller-Moore wanted to boost crop sales for his kale-growing farmer friend in Vermont, and made stenciled shirts that said “Eat More Kale” on them. When Chick-Fil-A tried to sue him for coming a bit too close to their familiar slogan “Eat Mor Chikin,” Moore’s T-shirt sales flew through the roof.

3. Kale shortages are real: Now that kale is the green du jour, restaurants are huffing and puffing to keep up with the demand for this leafy green. USA Today reports a 400% increase in the use of kale on restaurant menus in the past five years! In New York City, kale is so popular, restaurants often sell out, and the increased demand has led to shortages and “kale runs.”

4. Not everyone loves kale: In the U.S., kale may have more groupies than Twilight does, but not everyone in the world sees eye-to-kale. In France, the crucifer evokes confused shrugs, and the word translates literally to the unappetizing “curly headless cabbage.” For the French, kale is an unpleasant reminder of the stark deprivation people suffered during World War II, when meals often consisted of only boiled cabbage. The absence of kale in France is so stark it spurred one woman to embark on a “kale crusade” to try and convince local farmers to grow it.

5. One kale, two kale…There are so many different types of kale, it’s impossible to keep track! All of them are deliciously edible, but some varieties are more popular than others. Curly kale, the most recognizable, is bright green in color with tightly ruffled leaves and thick stalks. Dinosaur kale has leaves that are almost blue-green in color and lightly wrinkled all over, with a slightly sweet flavor. Red Russian kale leaves are flat and fringed like arugula, with a red hue and a sweet and peppery flavor. Redbor kale looks very similar to curly kale, though it has a gorgeous dark purple color.

6. Kale is the king of leafy greens: The Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) ranks foods based on their micronutrient density per calorie. The scores range from 0-1,000, with 1,000 being the most nutrient-dense. And on the ANDI scale, kale comes out on top, with a perfect score of 1,000. It’s good to be King…

7. Kale causes controversy: Despite being a nutritional superstar, kale has come under fire recently for being a “goitrogenic food,” or a food that can cause the enlargement of the thyroid gland. Headlines like The Dark Side of Kale single out kale as being disruptive to the thyroid for this reason—however, these articles tend to leave out a few other facts. All other cruciferous veggies, as well as soy products, are also goitrogenic. Cooking these foods helps reduce their goitrogenic effects, and healthy individuals shouldn’t experience thyroid problems even if they eat these foods daily, as long as adequate iodine is present in the diet.

In this meta analysis of nearly 40 studies, researchers determined that there is no consistent association between high cruciferous veggie intake and higher incidence of thyroid problems. And while this study suggests that high cruciferous intake can negatively affect the thyroid, it is only when it is coupled with an iodine deficiency.

So, if you love your kale (and you should!) an insurance policy against developing thyroid problems would be to make sure you're consuming enough salt, sea vegetables (for example, nori and dulse), or even seafood. If you use an unprocessed salt, note that pink Himalayan salt does not contain iodine, and Celtic salt only contains a trace amount of iodine. The iodine found in regular table salt is chemically added, so I suggest relying on sea vegetables as your best source. Just ¼ teaspoon of granulated kelp powder will provide you with over 2,000% of the daily recommended value. It can be sprinkled on grain or veggie dishes for a salty-sea flavor. 

Do you love kale as much as we do? What are you favorite ways to eat it? Tell us in the comments below!