The Secret about Kale
Increasingly, I hear conversations that go something like this:
Fred: I don’t eat carbs any more — they make me feel so bloated.
Ginger: I know! I have a kale smoothie every morning; it’s so much better than all those carbs.
Fred: Oh, that sounds good. I had this great kale salad for lunch yesterday — I feel so much better when I don’t have carbs at lunch.
Just so we’re all clear on this . . . KALE IS A CARBOHYDRATE! There are three categories of macronutrients that we humans consume: protein, fats and carbohydrates. Most food has a complement of these nutrients, as well as water, fiber and splatterings of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals and such). Kale is no exception — there are small amounts of protein and some trace fatty acids in kale, plus vitamins and minerals, but it is primarily a carbohydrate. In fact, most fruits and vegetables are primarily carbohydrates. If you are eating lettuce and radishes, you are eating carbs. If you are eating blueberries and Brussels sprouts (not together, I hope), you are eating carbohydrates. Swiss chard, collards and spinach? All carbs. Have I made my point? I hope so, and I hope that you will continue to eat a range of these wonderfully healthy plant-based foods.
The carbs we want are filled with fiber and micronutrients — which is why kale is so popular these days. It’s a carbohydrate that is absolutely crammed with nutritional value. Ounce for ounce, no other vegetable beats it. However, while I’m up on my kale soapbox, I want to mention that, for some people, there may be such a thing as too much kale. Too much of anything is not good, whether it be cookies or kale. There are some reports that too much kale can affect thyroid function — often an area of concern, especially for women of a certain age. If you are having a kale smoothie for breakfast, kale salad for lunch and steamed kale for dinner, you might want to make some adjustments. Similarly, living on nothing but brown rice may be problematic as well, causing a buildup of phytic acid, which can inhibit the absorption of key vitamins and minerals. Spinach every day? Yup, you guessed it — that, too, can be a problem.
The point is, we humans thrive on a diverse and varied diet. Whether you are a carnivore or a vegan, a pescatarian or an ovo-lactarian, you need variety in your diet. I know, I know, everyone wants to find the shortcut to good health. I love the energy and abandon with which Americans rush to embrace any information that promises an easy path to health. Fat is bad? Throw it out! Carbs are bad ? Throw them out! Cooked food is bad? Eat only raw! Fish is important? Eat only fish! No more fish in the sea? Let’s breed some really huge fish! Greens are good? Eat only greens! You see where I’m going with this? It’s a bit extreme.
Nothing beats an old fashioned, varied diet with plenty of different types of vegetables, some cooked, some raw, a bit of protein, some fat, some complex carbohydrates. The backlash against carbohydrates is really a backlash against the deluge of processed grains in our diet. I’m fine with limiting the amount of grain we eat, especially refined white grain (a simple carbohydrate), which has little to recommend it. I’m less fine with people turning their backs on an entire family of macronutrients such as carbohydrates.
Just to confirm my contrarian nature, after going on my ‘too-much-of-a-good-thing’ rant, I offer you a recipe for kale and brown rice salad. Sometimes I have leftover brown rice in my fridge, (feel free to substitute cooked farro or barley), and last week I was trying to put it together with something not in the soy/sesame oil department. Some of you may balk at the idea of massaging your kale (after all, this is your dinner, not your darling), but I think you’ll find that a massage tenderizes the kale and makes it a bit more relaxed (you may find the same is true for your darling, but that is another conversation).