We are in the midst of a kale craze.
The dark green leafy vegetable is everywhere, from upscale restaurant menus to the grocery store snack food aisle (think kale chips). It's been called "the new beef" because of its high iron content. It's been hailed as the "queen of greens" because, well, it's fun to say.
Even the health-conscious White House has gotten in on the trend with a kale salad that was the hit of the Obamas' Thanksgiving menu last year, reported the Washington Post.
Some contend kale's newfound popularity stems partly from Americans getting scared off fresh spinach following recent food contamination recalls. Whatever the reason, kale is exceptionally rich in nutrients and health benefits. And, more importantly, it tastes good and can be used in a variety of recipes.
A word of caution: Kale is very high in vitamin K , known as the clotting vitamin because without it, blood won't clot properly. If you are taking blood thinning or anti-coagulant drugs, like warfarin (brand name Coumadin), you need to avoid large amounts of kale. Kale's level of vitamin K - a cup has more than 1,000 percent of the recommended daily amount (RDA) - could interfere with your drugs.
Also, if you're a kale newbie, don't go overboard. Too much kale can be hard on the digestive system. Just ask the New York fashion models who binged on kale to stay slim and fight off the flu this winter and then had to be treated for diarrhea.
Recipe: Kale or Chard Pie
Here are four good reasons to add some kale to your diet:
For your eyes: Kale is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals found in the retina, which could help reduce the risk of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older people. The American Macular Degeneration Foundation says research has indicated that eating red, orange, yellow and dark green fruits and vegetables, which are high in phytochemicals, seems to have a protective effect against vision loss.
For your immune system: Kale is rich in beta-carotene (vitamin A), a powerful antioxidant that may help boost the immune system and possibly protect against some chronic diseases and cancer. At least one study also found that long-term consumption of beta-carotene had cognitive benefits.
For your bones: Kale is is one of the few vegetables with a decent amount of calcium, but it's especially high in magnesium - just a cup contains 40 percent of the RDA - which is very important for bone health and to protect against osteoporosis. Magnesium has a crucial job working with vitamin D to help your bones absorb calcium. In addition, research has shown that the vitamin K in kale also contributes to bone health by improving bone density.
For your heart: While recent studies have found that antioxidant supplements, like vitamin E pills, don't protect against heart disease, foods like kale that are naturally high in antioxidants are definitely heart-healthy, says the Cleveland Clinic. Plus, kale's magnesium and potassium help lower blood pressure, and its high fiber content can help lower cholesterol - all beneficial factors in lowering your risk of cardiovascular illness.
Photos: Top: SweetOnVeg /flickr; bottom: Lablascovegmenu/flickr