What images do you conjure up at the word ‘kale’ ? Yoga-attire-clad green smoothie drinkers? A cluster of deep green, gorgeously curled leaves in a health food market? Or a steaming swamp of mush adorned with awkward chunks of shiny sausage? If you’re Dutch, I guarantee you it would have been the latter.
‘Stamppot met boerenkool’ (a.k.a kale and potato mash, or literally translated to ‘stamped pot with farmers cabbage’) has been a winter staple in the kitchens of the Netherlands for centuries. It’s one of those iconic Dutch dishes that, unfortunately, reinforces the stereotype that the country has a rather unrefined palate. Overcooked kale is the main ingredient along with equally flavour-obliterated potatoes. The resulting mush serves little higher purpose than to fill Dutch bellies, something I can attest to with plenty of childhood trauma!
Despite the (frankly awful) taste, it seemed the Dutch may have been onto something. Nowadays, this paupers vegetable prides itself as an organic darling throughout the Western world. Kale is trending. First it was the health mamas on Pinterest and the nutrition savvy, then celebrities jumped on the Kale bandwagon, and now everyone is doing it. Yes, that means Starbucks. There is even a 50 Shades of Kale on the bookshelf. As Kevin Bacon put it, “It’s the age of kale. A day without kale is like a day without sun.” If you’re not eating it raw, massaged, in a smoothie or baked into crisps, you are clearly not living your best life.
The fascination with this humble green in the media is partly due to impressive health claims (one of the biggest being that sulforaphane, a compound in cruciferous vegetables like kale, has anti-cancer and anti-microbial properties) but also thanks to a wildly successful ad campaign by a clever New York marketing maven. Kale became the ‘It’-veg in the coolest NYC restaurants, and the rest of the newly health-conscious West was eager to cash in on the trend.
However, with every craze there is the inevitable backlash. It turns out that people with thyroid or digestive issues need to be cautious about kale, especially in its raw form. Cruciferous vegetables have a lot of indigestible fibre and raffinose (the natural sugar responsible for the unpleasant bloating and gassiness associated with these vegetables). This means it’s hard for our bodies to process kale in large quantities, especially if uncooked. Baking, boiling, or – even better – steaming your kale before consumption will help. According to Dr. Leung; “Juicing kale concentrates the vegetable and thus potentially poses a greater risk toward iodine deficiency and hypothyroidism if ingested in large amounts on a very frequent basis.” The message, then, is clear: As with anything in nutrition (and life), moderation is key. Perhaps a month long raw juice cleanse isn’t the best idea, neither is eating any food repetitively day in day out.
The media thrives on hyped headlines (who can resist the clearly Awesome Alliteration of ‘Caped Crusador or Thyroid Threat‘?!), but the truth is kale is neither going to kill you nor be the cure-all it’s touted to be. The best advice is to buy organic, mix up your diet, keep eating your greens and listen to your body. I sound like your mum.