Kale, spinach offer unrivaled nutritional punch

Eating Well

March 03, 1998|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Although winter isn't prized for its fresh vegetables, it is the best time to make friends with some dark green leafy things, like kale and spinach. Not only are they naturally low in calories and fat free, but new research suggests they pack a nutritional punch unrivaled by any other vegetables, summer or winter, that Mother Nature has to offer.

Kale is one of the cruciferous (cabbage) family vegetables, long known to confer cancer protection upon frequent users. For just 40 calories, 1 cup of cooked kale provides more than a day's worth of beta carotene, 90 percent of your vitamin C, and about 15 percent of your vitamin E, the now-familiar Big Three antioxidant vitamins.

But at Tufts University in Boston, nutrition researcher Ronald L. Prior has been studying the total antioxidant capacity of a variety of veggies in his laboratory.

There, he mixes pulverized veggies with oxidizing solutions to see how well they neutralize free radical oxygen before it has a chance to damage your cell walls or DNA, and start you on your way to heart disease, cancer, stroke or high blood pressure.

What he's finding is that the Big Three don't account for all the work that veggies do. So Prior is exploring the benefits of phytochemicals like flavonoids, naturally occurring elements in plants, that also appear to have antioxidant ability.

And as the veggies stack up, 1 cup of cooked kale would double the antioxidants that most Americans get on any given day, far outstripping even the sainted broccoli!

True, kale is not widely recognized as edible. Most people only see it as that dark green curly stuff that decorates platters of real food. But it really is good to eat and easy to prepare.

Here's all you have to do.

Shop for the smaller, curlier leaves that are dark green and showing no signs of yellowing. Those will be the most tender and have the mildest flavor.

Store in the refrigerator, but use within two days, because they "ripen," and develop a strong cabbage flavor while they wait. To cook, wash kale thoroughly in cool water and remove the heavy stems. Place curly leaves in a large sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid. Add about an inch of chicken broth and a few grinds of fresh pepper. Cover, and bring to a boil on high heat. Turn on your kitchen exhaust fan to get rid of the cabbage smell. Reduce heat to medium and cook about five minutes or until leaves are "al dente." Season with a little chopped garlic and olive oil, or a few shreds of very lean ham.

That little cup of kale also stokes up your B vitamins, and provides about 8 percent of the trace minerals -- copper, magnesium, manganese and iron -- which are often in short supply in the American diet, yet are indispensable for blood formation and bone health.

For variety, you can trade off your kale with some spinach, which came in a close second in Prior's study.

One cup of cooked spinach has twice as much vitamin E, triple the trace minerals, and provides two-thirds of the B vitamin folic acid recommended to prevent certain birth defects and reduce heart attack risks.

Kale and spinach are a potent pair. Popeye would be proud!

Copyright 1998 Colleen Pierre, MS, RD, LN. Registered dietitian Colleen Pierre is the nutrition consultant to Union Memorial Sports Medicine and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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