Learning to Love Turmeric

turmeric picI’ve been wanting to write a blog on turmeric for awhile, as it’s one of my latest “discoveries”. Well, I’ve been wanting to write ANY blog lately, so here it goes!

Turmeric is one of the latest “in” spices in the United States, but in places such as India they have known for a long time that this spice has many health benefits.  There it is used not only in cooking dishes, but in medicines as well and it is thought to help with a multitude of ailments.

Curcumin is the main compound in turmeric that has been studied for its health benefits, primarily the fact that it is an anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory.  It is well established that chronic inflammation is bad for us, so turmeric may have a role in fighting that, but the dose is up for debate, as it probably takes more turmeric than you would find in a single entrée to receive any real health benefit. It is of note that curcumin is only a small constituent of turmeric, and not a well absorbed one at that. It is better absorbed if consumed with black pepper, but still the amount one gets from food is relatively small, unless consumed on a regular basis-which maybe we should be!

Turmeric may also help with improved brain function and heart health, as well as cancer prevention. The list goes on, although those are the main ones with the most research on them.  Given all these possible health benefits, I think it’s worth incorporating turmeric into your diet, as long as you are not relying on it alone to fix any health issues. You may have even had turmeric already and not even known it- it’s what gives curry its yellow color. By the way it can stain, so be careful when cooking with it. I have the yellow baking sheets to prove that!

You can buy turmeric supplements to get a bigger dose, but I always prefer food first. It doesn’t have a strong flavor, so can easily be added to dishes you already make. Try adding it to soups, stews, and curries, sprinkling it over roasted sweet potato cubes or eggs, or try the recipe below.

 

Cauliflower “Buddha” Bowl with Chicken Sausage

Makes 2 servings

2 cups cauliflower rice (can find pre-made at Trader Joes)

2 cups shredded or quartered Brussels sprouts (can find pre-shredded at Trader Joes)

1 small sweet potato, peeled and shredded

2 sweet apple chicken sausage links (pre-cooked), sliced into ½ inch thick coins

2 eggs, poached

1 teaspoon turmeric

Black pepper, to taste

Salt, to taste

Light/cooking olive oil

 

Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add cauliflower, turmeric, and black pepper and mix well. Add Brussel sprouts to cauliflower and cook until soft, 5-10 minutes.  Sprinkle with salt, if desired. Add chicken sausage and cook another 2-3 minutes, until sausages are warmed and lightly browned.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat another tablespoon of olive oil and add sweet potato. Cook hash brown style, stirring occasionally, until browned and crispy, 10-15 minutes.

Eggs may be poached or cooked sunny side up in a small pan with cooking spray. Leave yolks slightly runny to create a “sauce” for the bowl.

Divide all ingredients evenly amongst 2 bowls and top with poached eggs. Mix and enjoy!

Strengthening Your Immune System

photo(19) I’m always paranoid about getting sick during the week or two before a big race.  And in the past I have gotten sick during hard training cycles or immediately after a hard race. Moderate amounts of exercise are generally thought to help boost the immune system, but when you are training hard and long, such as for a marathon, that doesn’t always seem to be the case. So what’s the deal?

Turns out that longer duration exercise impacts the immune system in several ways. One of the main issues is that stress of any kind, including exercise, stimulates the body to produce cortisol and other stress hormones which suppress the immune system. In small amounts your body adapts to the stress and comes back stronger, but it doesn’t always get a chance to do that when in the peak of training for an endurance event. Additionally, studies have found a significantly reduced amount of killer cells, a type of white blood cell that helps fight invading pathogens, in runners who just ran a half marathon. Those cells remained reduced for up to 24 hours, suggesting that runners are at an increased risk of infection in the day or so after a race. Other studies have hypothesized that athletes are most vulnerable for up to 72 hours after a race or hard workout.

So what’s a PR seeking athlete to do?!

Of course many of the main recommendations for runners to stay healthy are the same as for the general public:

  • Limit exposure to sick people (as much as possible at least).
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly (remember to sing Happy Birthday). Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, where germs can easily get into your body.
  • Manage other possible stressors in your life. Practice yoga or meditation or even seek out a therapist if you feel particularly stressed about other aspects of life.
  • Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep at night. Studies show a decrease in immune function with <6 hours of sleep a night. Athletes should probably aim for 8-10 hours.

Additionally, athletes should:

  • Make sure you are taking rest days in your training cycle.
  • Build up your mileage at an appropriate rate to minimize added stress.
  • Limit your post race high fives and handshakes (if you’re really worried).

You should also pay attention to your nutrition for improved immune function:

  • Eat a well balanced diet.
  • Fuel adequately during workouts and training sessions. If you are running longer than 90 minutes make sure you are fueling yourself with adequate carbohydrate (30-60 grams per hour is the general recommendation but it really depends on the person so consult a Sports RD!). When your body does not get enough carbohydrate during prolonged exercise cortisol and other stress hormone levels are raised more than if you fuel properly.
  • Make sure you are practicing good recovery by having a recovery snack that contains carbohydrate and protein within 30 min of finishing tough training sessions and races.
  • Hydration is also important, as water helps flush out the system. Your urine should be pale yellow to clear.
  • Include plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet. Antioxidants found in fruits and veggies help fight free radical damage. The vitamins and minerals help support the immune system. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” didn’t come from nothing!
  • Make sure you are getting adequate protein in your diet. Aim for 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For a 150 lb athlete that would be 82-109 grams of protein each day.
  • Make sure you are getting plenty of vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, and zinc, as these are key players involved in maintaining immune health. It’s best not to rely on a supplement, so focus on diet first.  Try strawberries for vitamin C, sweet potatoes for vitamin A, almonds for vitamin E, and pumpkin seeds for zinc. Or just try the recipes below!
  • Consider probiotics. You gut is really one of the first lines of defense for your immune system, so make sure it is healthy and happy.

Add a protein to these two recipes and you have a complete immune boosting meal!

Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Pumpkin Seeds

(Makes 1 salad)

1-2 cups spinach, washed and bite sized

1 TBSP pumpkin seeds (out of the shell!)

½ cup strawberries, quartered

1 oz Goat or Feta cheese

½ TBSP olive oil mixed with ½ TBSP balsamic vinegar

 

Roasted Almond Sweet Potatoes (from the Almond Board of California)

(Makes 6 servings)

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubessweet potato

3 TBSP olive oil

4 large garlic cloves (also thought to help boost immunity!), minced

1/3 cup fresh thyme leaves

½ tsp kosher salt

½ cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and toss. Arrange potato slices into a single layer on a heavyweight rimmed baking sheet or in a 9×13 inch baking sheet. Place on the top rack of the oven and roast until tender and slightly browned, about 40 minutes. On another baking sheet, spread out the slivered almonds. Place in the oven and toast until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the almond baking sheet and the sweet potatoes. Mix together in a serving bowl and serve warm.

Stay Healthy!

My Definition of Eating Well

fruit2A recent interview on the topic of orthorexia, or an obsession with eating healthy, got me thinking about my own views on health and eating well. I discussed some of the issues in my blog The Pitfalls of the Quest for Perfect Nutrition so won’t repeat those here.

We are constantly bombarded with messages about the “best” way to eat. Eat this “good” food to be healthy, avoid that “bad” food to feel better! Coffee will make us live longer one day and kill us the next. The messages we receive about food and nutrition are often conflicting and sometimes downright scary.   And, unfortunately, a lot of them come with a lot of judgement about the foods we eat. After spending the past 5 years working with people suffering from eating disorders I’ve come to develop a different, but I feel more balanced, way to look at food and eating. So here it is, my definition of eating well:

At its core, food is fuel. All foods provide energy for our bodies in the form of calories. We freak out a lot about calories, but from a scientific standpoint all they are is a unit of energy. Sure, some fuels are more productive than others, and I’ll get into that in a minute, but I don’t believe in good or bad foods. That is putting a lot of judgment on the food, which often becomes judgment on ourselves if we eat that food. How many of us have labeled a donut bad, and then referred to ourselves as “being bad” when we ate one? And how many of us actually let it ruin our day (or at least part of it) that we were bad and ate a bad food and “wasted calories”? Some of us may have even punished ourselves by going to the gym and working out when we’d rather have been hanging out with friends or family. That’s no way to live! Eating a donut (or whatever other food you think is “bad”) does not make you a bad person. It just makes you a person who ate a donut. Maybe even a person who likes donuts, which is no better or worse than a person who likes broccoli. When it comes to being non-judgmental about food I always give the example of fire. Would you say fire is good or bad? Most people immediately think of forest fires or houses burning down and say fire is bad. But for thousands of years fires have helped us cook our food and keep us warm. The same goes for water. Water tends to be thought of as good, and it’s true we need it to survive, but drink too much and you can dilute your electrolytes, feel awful, and even die. Fire is not good or bad. Water is not good or bad. Food is not good or bad. Let’s please stop judging our food and ourselves. It’s not helpful. As Yoda would say “good or bad, food is not. Just is, is food”, or something like that!

Instead of labeling foods as good or bad, I like to describe foods by their nutritional productivity. Some foods are more productive, meaning they are high in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fiber, essential fats etc) and other foods are less productive, meaning lower in those nutrients. If you are eating well by my definition you are probably eating both productive foods and less productive foods. Notice I am not saying “unproductive foods”? That’s because even foods that are low in nutrients are still providing calories, so still giving our bodies fuel they can use. So all foods fall on the spectrum of productivity. There is really no such thing as “empty calories” as that implies there is nothing in them, which is physiologically impossible. Even soda, often deemed empty calories, provides sugar which your body can use for fuel, and actually prefers for fuel during intense exercise.

So what exactly is eating well? Overall, eating well is choosing from a wide variety of foods. It’s having the majority of your diet come from productive foods, but also allowing yourself to eat less productive foods in moderation because they bring pleasure or enjoyment. And moderation could mean every day. Eating well is not denying yourself any food, as this often leads to over doing it with that food down the road. Eating well is listening to your body’s internal hunger cues while also being aware of how your own emotions or external factors influence your satiety cues. Eating well is letting food be fuel first, but also a way to celebrate and enjoy life. Eating well is moderation-not over doing any one food, whether that food be kale or cake. Eating well is letting food be a part of your life, but not the center of it.

My New Favorite Snack

ants on a log    When it comes to snacking, I’ve been getting in touch with my inner child lately, and I’m super happy about it! I hate to admit it, but I quite often get stuck in snack ruts. I bring the same old snacks to work, get sick of them, decide not to eat them, and then get so hungry that I find myself reaching for something sugary to quickly satisfy the intense hunger. Now don’t get me wrong, I love sugar and I still believe a sugary treat is fine in moderation, but when I snack on cookies or cupcakes or whatever sugar I can find I’m usually hungry again within the hour and I don’t feel as energized or satisfied as I do when I eat a more productive snack.   So because of this cycle I’ve been perusing the grocery aisles more thoroughly these days, and that is how I discovered my new favorite snack: ants on a log. For those of you with deprived childhoods, ants on a log is celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins on them. And it’s delicious. I first discovered this as a ready-made snack pack at Target, but it was fairly expensive so I decided to start making my own and it’s so simple I had to share!

So here’s why I recommend you try my new favorite snack too:

The taste: The crunch of the celery combined with the creaminess of the peanut butter and a hint of sweet from the raisins is culinary perfection (well maybe not quite, but it’s darn good!). Plus the raisins help satisfy a sweet tooth!

The cost: Celery is super cheap and raisins aren’t too expensive themselves. Depending on if you purchase regular or all-natural peanut butter will determine if the peanut butter is cheap per se, but even all natural is a pretty good bang for your buck when you consider a serving size. I recommend all-natural to avoid trans fat and added sugars.

The nutrition: Although celery gets a bad rep for being plain or “basically just water”, it does provide some important nutrients. Also, the fact that it as a high water content is not bad as this contributes to our daily fluid needs. Celery also provides small amounts of vitamins C, K, folate, and potassium to name a few. It’s also a good source of fiber and antioxidants. Plus, having celery as part of a snack is a good way to increase your overall daily vegetable intake, which most Americans don’t meet the recommendation for (5 servings a day, minimum). In addition to the celery, you get some fiber, potassium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin B-6 in the raisins. Peanut butter is a good source of protein and healthy fats but you could easily sub almond butter (or any nut butter) if that’s your preference.

So in short ants on a log will keep your stomach satisfied and your taste buds happy…and it might just help make your day a little more fun.

Navigating the Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again when dieters around the world tremble in fear: that’s right, it’s holiday time!  Even though I’m not into diets, I do get that the holidays are a time when we are bombarded with parties and social gatherings and food and drink flow abundantly. I believe this food and drink should be enjoyed, but I get that no one wants to sideline their nutrition and health in the process.  So below is a blog I wrote awhile on back on Navigating the Holidays.

 

YImageou’ve heard the shocking statistics: the average American gains 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s! (Or something equally shocking).  Do I buy it? Not exactly, as a person would have to eat an extra 500 calories every day to gain that much weight in that time frame.  I do believe, however, that the holiday season sets us up for possible weight gain.  Not only do the holidays tend to revolve around big family meals, but there’s also usually lots of goodies lurking in the break room at work.  Holiday parties and travel make it hard to stick to a regular workout routine and eating schedule as well.  Alcohol flows like water.  It’s a set up, I get it, but if you have a plan you can navigate the holidays without weight gain and still enjoy yourself! Here’s how:

At parties:

    • Scan the buffet.  Check out the options before you start filling your plate and prioritize what you really want to try as opposed to going through the line and taking some of everything.  Make sure there are some veggies on your plate too.
    • Don’t skip meals to stockpile calories for later.  This strategy almost always backfires as you will likely get so hungry that you end up eating more than planned.  Eat regular meals as scheduled and have a small healthy snack before the event so that you don’t arrive ravenous.
    • Keep a glass of water in hand.  If your hand is busy, you’ll be less likely to mindlessly reach for food when you aren’t even hungry.  If you plan to drink alcohol, try to drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage to slow yourself down and stay hydrated.
    • Choose your beverage wisely.  Eggnog is awesome but it’s a calorie bomb too.  Limit your intake of high calorie beverages such as eggnog (or anything with cream), margaritas, and white Russians.  Your best bet? A heart-healthy glass of red wine.
    • Dance.  If there’s a dance floor at the party hit it up.  Not only does dancing count as exercise, but it’s pretty hard to mindlessly eat while getting your boogey on!
  • At work:
    • Don’t eat just to be nice.  That’s so great that your coworker was kind enough to bring in that pie, cake, cookie, or whatever other sugar laden goodie that is calling your name, but you don’t have to eat it just because it’s there.  If you are getting pressured to try some and really don’t want to, you can always be polite and say “no thanks, I had some cookies earlier”.  One little white lie won’t guarantee you get coal in your stocking.
    • Enlist the support of a coworker with similar goals. A like-minded friend can help keep you in check when tempted to over-do it. Also, just telling someone your plan, say to only have 1 cookie, will help you stick to it.
    • Remove yourself from the situation.  Out of sight out of mind, right? If you know the staff lounge is full of treats don’t spend too much time there drooling over them.
  • At family gatherings:
    • Set boundaries and know when to say no.  Have a plan to set boundaries if you know you may encounter pushy family members.  Sometimes people will react better if you emphasize health and not weight, such as by saying “No thank you, I am watching my cholesterol” instead of saying that you are watching your weight. Your crazy aunt may think you are perfect and don’t need to diet and get pushy about trying her dessert, but she likely won’t want to raise your cholesterol
    • Bring a nutritious dish of your own such as a veggie tray or vegetable based side dish like roasted Brussels sprouts.  Then make sure it fills up a good portion of your plate (at least ¼ of your plate should be veggies)
    • Have a game plan.  As with regular meal planning, having a plan is important with holiday eating.  The plan can be general if you’re not sure what foods will be available (i.e. “I’ll leave space for one dessert”) or specific if you do know (i.e. “I’ll indulge in one piece of chocolate cake”)
    • If you’ll be traveling for the holidays bring plenty of your own healthy snacks (nuts anyone?) to stave off hunger and avoid potential cookie binges.At family gatherings: 
  • In general:
    • Don’t feel that you have to attend every engagement you are invited to.  Prioritize the parties you really want to or feel you should attend, and let the others pass by with a polite “Sorry, I already have plans”.  It’s okay if your “plans” include staying home and hitting the hay early.
    • As always, moderation is key. Don’t deny yourself the treats you really want as this often backfires and makes you want it more (and eat more when you finally do give in).  Enjoy the foods you really want, but do so in moderation.
    • Most importantly, if you do overeat, don’t stress.  Shaming yourself will only make you feel worse and may lead to emotional or stress eating.  Remember, one meal will not make or break you or your health.   Do your best to get back on track and don’t beat yourself up over it.
    • Lastly, keep your training schedule, at least as much as possible.  Don’t be an all or nothing person; a little exercise is better than none.  If you are limited for time focus on short intense workouts, such as 30 minutes of interval training.
    • Change your attitude.  Sure, it seems like the holidays are all about food, but really they should be about giving thanks and celebrating life with the people you care about.  Shift your focus from the food and drinks to the family and friends.  Start a non-food related tradition. Sometimes just changing your attitude is helpful with meeting your nutrition goals!

Happy Holidays!

Running and Your Immune System

DSC03178          My training for my first marathon had been going pretty well, until I caught a cold during what was supposed to be my highest mileage week. So as I work on accepting that I will be running my first marathon with my longest training run only being 18 miles (I’ll be well rested!), I’m also pondering how my training has impacted my immune system. Moderate amounts of exercise are generally thought to help boost the immune system, but when you are training hard and long, such as for a marathon, that doesn’t always seem to be the case. So what’s the deal?

Turns out that longer duration exercise impacts the immune system in several ways. One of the main issues is that stress of any kind, including exercise, stimulates the body to produce cortisol and other stress hormones which suppress the immune system. In small amounts your body adapts to the stress and comes back stronger, but it doesn’t always get a chance to do that when in the peak of training for an endurance event. Additionally, studies have found a significantly reduced amount of killer cells, a type of white blood cell that helps fight invading pathogens, in runners who just ran a half marathon. Those cells remained reduced for up to 24 hours, suggesting that runners are at an increased risk of infection in the day or so after a race. Other studies have hypothesized that athletes are most vulnerable for up to 72 hours after a race or hard workout.

So what’s a PR seeking runner to do?!

Of course many of the main recommendations for runners to stay healthy are the same as for the general public:

  • Limit exposure to sick people (as much as possible at least).
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly (remember to sing Happy Birthday). Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, where germs can easily get into your body.
  • Manage other possible stressors in your life. Practice yoga or meditation or even seek out a therapist if you feel particularly stressed about other aspects of life.
  • Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep at night. Studies show a decrease in immune function with <6 hours of sleep a night. Athletes should probably aim for 8-10 hours.

 

Additionally, athletes should:

  • Make sure you are taking rest days in your training cycle.
  • Build up your mileage at an appropriate rate to minimize added stress.
  • Limit your post race high fives and handshakes (if you’re really worried).

You should also pay attention to your nutrition for improved immune function:

  • Eat a well balanced diet.
  • Fuel adequately during workouts and training sessions. If you are running longer than 90 minutes make sure you are fueling yourself with adequate carbohydrate (30-60 grams per hour is the general recommendation). When your body does not get enough carbohydrate during prolonged exercise cortisol and other stress hormone levels are raised more than if you fuel properly.
  • Make sure you are practicing good recovery by having a recovery snack that contains carbohydrate and protein within 30 min of finishing tough training sessions and races.
  • Hydration is also important, as water helps flush out the system. Your urine should be pale yellow to clear.
  • Include plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet. Antioxidants found in fruits and veggies help fight free radical damage. The vitamins and minerals help support the immune system. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” didn’t come from nothing!
  • Make sure you are getting adequate protein in your diet. Aim for 1.2-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For a 150 lb athlete that would be 82-109 grams of protein each day.
  • Make sure you are getting plenty of vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, and zinc, as these are key players involved in maintaining immune health. It’s best not to rely on a supplement, so focus on diet first.  Try strawberries for vitamin C, sweet potatoes for vitamin A, almonds for vitamin E, and pumpkin seeds for zinc. Or just try the recipes below!
  • Consider probiotics. You gut is really one of the first lines of defense for your immune system, so make sure it is healthy and happy.

 

Add a protein to these two recipes and you have a complete immune boosting meal!

Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Pumpkin Seeds

(Makes 1 salad)

1-2 cups spinach, washed and bite sized

1 TBSP pumpkin seeds (out of the shell!)

½ cup strawberries, quartered

1 oz Goat or Feta cheese

½ TBSP olive oil mixed with ½ TBSP balsamic vinegar

 

Roasted Almond Sweet Potatoes (from the Almond Board of California)

(Makes 6 servings)

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubessweet potato

3 TBSP olive oil

4 large garlic cloves (also thought to help boost immunity!), minced

1/3 cup fresh thyme leaves

½ tsp kosher salt

½ cup slivered almonds

 

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients and toss. Arrange potato slices into a single layer on a heavyweight rimmed baking sheet or in a 9×13 inch baking sheet. Place on the top rack of the oven and roast until tender and slightly browned, about 40 minutes. On another baking sheet, spread out the slivered almonds. Place in the oven and toast until lightly browned, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the almond baking sheet and the sweet potatoes. Mix together in a serving bowl and serve warm.

 

 

 

Stay Healthy!

Should You Eat: Kale?

kaleYou are probably thinking it’s a no brainer, right? Kale is a vegetable. So why would a dietitian tell someone not to eat a vegetable?! Well, that’s not what this blog is about. Clearly vegetables should be a part of everyone’s diet, and most people probably don’t eat enough, but what I’m questioning is whether or not kale really lives up to all the hype. It’s been touted as a super food that fights cancer, slims waistlines, and improves mood and brain health, just to name a few. Anyone who has read this blog before already knows that I am not a fan of labeling any one food as “super”.   No one food alone is enough to sustain human life. We need variety, not just for nutrient balance, but for pleasure. People seem to forget that eating too much of a healthy food can cause problems too, which is why I believe it’s all about balance and moderation. Case in point, did you know that kale contains oxalates, which in high amounts can impair calcium absorption and cause kidney stones? That sure doesn’t sound fun! I even have a friend whose good friend got on a kale kick and started eating it daily. After awhile he started feeling unwell and got a weird rash on his palms. He even had blood thickening problems. His doctor told him to quit the kale. I know that’s just one person’s (extreme) experience and not exactly a scientific experiment, but it still points to the problem of too much of a healthy food.

So we shouldn’t over do it, but my real question is, is kale so darn great that we should all be shunning our spinach and other leafy greens in favor of it?

First, what exactly is kale? It’s only become mainstream the past couple of years. Kale is part of the cruciferous vegetables family, which also includes veggies such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts.

At first glance, nutrition-wise kale does look pretty good: 1 cup of kale contains about 35 calories, 2 grams protein, 3 grams fiber and a small amount of omega-3 fats in the form of alpha linolenic acid. Not too shabby. Kale also contains high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K (hence my friend’s blood-thickening issue), as well as iron, calcium, copper, potassium, manganese, and phosphorus. Man, sounds like a multivitamin!

It is important to note that vitamins A and K are fat soluble vitamins, which can be stored in the body if eaten in excess. This means it is possible to get vitamin toxicity if you get too much of them (unlike water soluble vitamins, which your body will typically just excrete excessive amounts of through the urine). To put this in perspective, the recommendation for vitamin K is 90 mcg per day and 1 cup cooked kale contains 1062 mcg- that’s over 10 times the recommended daily amount! Although one day of eating an excessive amount of vitamin K won’t hurt you, doing it day after day on an ongoing basis could. A lot of people (present company included) are on green smoothie kicks these days, but if you are drinking one daily you could be getting more of some of these vitamins than you need, especially if also taking a multivitamin.

But back to the positive. Kale is also a good source of many phytonutrients, including carotenoids and flavonoids, among others, which act as antioxidants in the body, protecting the body from free radical damage.   The carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta-carotene promote eye health as well. So kale certainly is packed with health promoting nutrients.

That’s all great, but how does it compare to its sister leafy green spinach?

  Spinach (1 cup cooked)* Kale (1 cup cooked)*
Calories 41 35
Protein (g) 5 2
Fiber (g) 4 3
Vitamin A (%DV) 105% 98%
Vitamin C 24% 71%
Vitamin K 987% 1180%
Manganese 84% 27%
Iron 36% 6.5%
Calcium 25% 9.3%

*All numbers taken from http://www.whfoods.com

As you can see, Popeye’s favorite green is not too shabby itself. Although lower in some vitamins (which as noted above, it is possible to get too many of anyway), spinach is actually higher in protein and fiber. Spinach also contains many of the same phytonutrients as kale, including lutein and zeaxanthin. So should you dump your spinach in favor of kale? I say no. Both are nutritious and because they taste slightly different they can be used in different dishes.

One other consideration with kale is pesticide residue and overall cleanliness. I’ve ran across some slimy doodads while washing my kale-I don’t even want to know what they were! It’s easy for dirt and bugs to get stuck within kale’s curly leaves, so be sure to wash your kale thoroughly. Another consideration is pesticide residue. You’ve probably heard of the “dirty dozen”, the list of the top 12 fruit and vegetables with the highest level of pesticide residue. Kale isn’t on the list, but it’s not too far off (perhaps it’s part of the baker’s dirty dozen). If you can afford organic kale that helps since organic vegetables are grown without the use of pesticides. It is of note that most dietitians, self included, believe that the benefits of eating vegetables probably outweigh the cost, even if you can’t afford organic. Again, just be sure to wash thoroughly!

 

Bottom Line: Kale is a nutritious vegetable, but certainly not the only one. Fruits and vegetables should be a large part of your diet (5-9 servings/day) but if you don’t like kale there are plenty of other nutritious leafy greens to try, such as spinach or arugula. Aim to incorporate kale or other cruciferous veggies 2-3 times per week (a serving size is one cup raw). Remember, different colored vegetables have different nutrients, so aim to eat a colorful mix!

 



Recipe- Kale Chips

1 small head kale, washed and ripped into small pieces (remove stems if desired)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tsp salt

 

Toss kale pieces in olive oil to coat evenly. Bake at 350°F until crisp, but not browned, usually 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle salt on cooked chips and enjoy!