Kale: History, Benefits, and Risks
Kale is an ancient vegetable that has been cultivated and eaten by humans for centuries.
As many people are becoming more nutritionally aware, the dark, leafy green is maing a come-back in home gardens, farmer's markets and on kitchen tables.
Find out the history of kale, the health benefits of a diet rich in kale and any risks associated with its consumption.
History of Kale
Kale is a part of the cabbage family.
There is evidence that the Ancient Greeks and Romans grew the vegetable along with collards.
The word kale, according to Texas A&M Agriculture Extension, comes from the Latin coles which is the Latin word for all vegetables that fall into the cabbage family.
Kale was brough to America in the 1600's by European settlers.
It is very adaptable at cooler climates and wild evolutions of the domestic plant can be found in parts of Europe and Asia.
Health Benefits of Kale
According to WebMD, kale provides unsurpassed nutrition. It is rich in antioxidants and studies have linked kale consumption to a decreased cancer risk and lower cholesterol numbers.
The vegetable is low calorie and versatile.
Another benefit of kale is that it is a plant the thrives in the colder winter months. So it provides the nutrients of fresh vegetables when other sources of fresh produce are more scarce.
The Washington Post points out that kale contains an astronomical amount of flavonoids which are known for their anti-inflammatory effects.
Anti-inflammatory properties may lead to a reduction of heart disease risks and complications.
However, there are some risks associated with consuming too much kale, particularly too much raw kale.
Risks From Kale Consumption
Overall, eating a normal amount of kale as part of a balanced diet is beneficial. However, some diets that prescribe eating all kale may actually be causing followers of the diet some problems.
- Vitamin K
Kale is high in Vitamin K, a wonderful vitamin. But too much Vitamin K can cause blood clots. If someone is on dialysis or is taking blood thinners, Vitamin K's clotting properties may interfere.
Vitamin K can also be hard on already-compromised kidneys.
Also those who have liver disease may find that it is worsened by Vitamin K.
Kale contains oxalate in varying numbers, depending on the type of plant being consumed.
High oxalate have been linked to kidney stones, a painful condition caused by calcium build-up.
Oxalate can also keep the body from absorbing calcium because they naturally bind to calcium and magnesium, making them impossible for the body to digest.
So a straight kale diet may end up depleting the body of necessary nutrients for overall health or cause painful kidney stones.
- Other Issues
Kale may also cause thyroid issues and gall stones in people that are sensitive or have already experienced problems in this area.
Unless, however, you are eating a straight kale diet or drinking only green smoothies made predominantly of kale, there is likely very little room for you to worry.
Adding kale to your diet is way to get healthy vitamins and antioxidants.
Where To Buy Kale
Kale can be bought at your local grocery store or farmer's market.
Kale is best from late fall into early spring although it may be shipped from cooler climates even during summer months.
Look for kale grown locally or pick the one that is harvested closest to your home.
This way you can insure freshness and the highest nutrional value.
Should You Look for Organic Kale?
According to The Daily Green, Kale is one of those food that is best if you can find it as an organic.
Unlike some thicker skin fruits and vegetables such as bananas, the leaves and stalks are exposed when pesticides are used.
Since this is the part that the consumer eats, your risk of being exposed to toxins is increased.
It is very hard to wash all chemical residues off the leaf.
Plus, some of the residue is naturally absorbed by the plant.
Kale is a plant that has it's own natural pesticides (part of the reason it has been around since ancient times) so chemicals are really not needed in order to protect the plant from invaders.
Look for kale in the organic section of your grocery store or from a trusted source at a farmer's market or a local organic farm.
It's always better to avoid pesticide consumption if and when you can.
Growing Your Own Kale
According to Alisa Rutherford-Fortunati of Gentle World, kale is an easy vegetable for a home gardener to grow.
It can actually be grown in containers if you are limited on space or just have a roof, balcony or small lot or sidewalk for growing.
Kale can be grown from seeds or from small seedling transplants.
Although it thrives in cooler times of the year, some home growers claim that they grow kale for consumption most of the year.
It can be picked nearly any time during the process with the smaller leaves being more tender and the larger ones good for cooking or making fun items like kale chips.
- Kale is an ancient vegetable that has been around for a long time.
- Kale consumption may lower cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease and cancer.
- You can consume too much kale.
- Organic kale is a better choice.
- Growing kale at home is relatively easy.
Kale is a fantastic vegetable that is making a comeback. Adding some of this wonder-food to your diet may have lasting, tangible health benefits.
Do you eat kale?
References and Further Reading
- Greeks and Romans Grew Kale and Collards | Archives | Aggie Horticulture
- Kale: An Easy Beginner’s Guide to Growing
This easy guide to growing kale will show you how to grow, care for and harvest kale.
- Kale: Good nutrition for you, just don't overdo - HT Health
Kale packs a wide variety of nutrition benefits, but can be hard for the body to digest
- The Truth About Kale: Nutrition, Recipe Ideas, and More
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, describes the many nutritional perks of kale.