A journey along the leafy greens

by Annette Choi / Beacon Correspondent • March 2, 2016

My friend Jacob Charton is a self-proclaimed kale enthusiast. Four or five times a week, the 20- year-old said he substitutes smoothies made with the leafy vegetable for meals. He bakes it into chips for snacks and munches on it in raw salads for lunch. He also owns and proudly wears a T-shirt with the word printed across the chest because he loves it that much. 

Charton convinced me to try my first kale smoothie. After reading up about the endless list of health benefits the green offered, it seemed to somehow taste even better. I couldn’t help myself from falling into the trend and becoming an aficionado.

It’s not just Charton and me—everybody seems to love kale. On Jan. 18, CBS reported that in the past three years, demand has risen by 30 percent, and its price has jumped 80 percent. The green went from 88 cents a bunch to $1.10, according to the USDA. Seed prices are soaring, and America’s appetite for this vegetable is only growing.

While having lunch with that friend one sunny afternoon, I thought about the sweatshirt Beyoncé wore in the “7/11” music video, and then I looked over at Charton’s chicken and kale salad and asked myself: Does it actually live up to the hype?

It has slowly but surely been making its way into the pop culture realm, thanks to celebrities like Kevin Bacon who in 2013, was  quoted saying, “A day without kale is like a day without sunshine.” Gwyneth Paltrow, also known as the queen of clean eating, outwardly endorsed the vegetable by incorporating it into her juice recipes as a part of her health food line, 3 Green Hearts.

According to Live Science, just one cup of kale contains 684 percent of the suggested daily intake of vitamin K and 206 percent of vitamin A. It also contains 134 percent of vitamin C, which is more than an orange has to offer.

Heather Stevenson, an expert in plant-based food and nutrition, is the co-founder of a juice and smoothie bar located in Boston called Thirst Juice Co. She said in an interview that kale is a great source of calcium, debunking the myth that consuming dairy products is the only way to get the necessary intake. Another major benefit of kale is that it’s alkalizing.

“When you eat kale, it helps your body basically maintain an appropriate pH level,” Stevenson said. “A lot of the food that we eat, and stressors like caffeine and alcohol, can cause our bodies to lean towards [the] acidic.”

It’s an excellent source of omega fatty acids that help regulate blood clotting and protect against heart disease and stroke. One cup of this acclaimed superfood includes 2g of protein, 1g of fiber, and 299mg of potassium.

"It’s low in calories and it’s high in fiber,” Charton said. "One cup of kale is less than 40 calories, and it has zero fat. What’s not to love?”

It’s easier to integrate kale into your everyday meals than you may think. If you’re looking for a crunch to accompany your lunch, try substituting kale chips instead of the usual potato variety. You can add a dash of garlic or chili powder for extra flavor.

Stevenson said foods like sweet potato pair well with kale. One of her personal favorite ways to enjoy it is with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.

If you’re looking for something heartier, saute some kale with olive oil for a healthy side dish. You can also chop up a handful of leaves for your salad or include it in a slaw, which Charton said he had for Thanksgiving.

“It has a nutty taste that goes well with dried cranberries and pine nuts and goat cheese, too,” Charton said.

The key is to reduce the sharp bitter taste that turns many people away. You may consider opting for baby kale, which tends to be much milder in flavor. It also has a tough texture that people don’t like, but there are different ways to work around that, like cooking it into a soup. When prepared in a broth, the leaves wilt and become much softer.

“So in juices and smoothies, it’s great to balance out the kale with either a sweet flavor like pineapple or coconut water, or a creamier, richer flavor like almond milk,” Stevenson said.

Keeping dark, nutritious greens like kale in your daily diet is a guaranteed way to maintain good health. Now that’s a bandwagon worth jumping on.