There are plenty of health fads to get involved with at the moment if you’re so inclined. From various different diets, to training methods like CrossFit, to all the popular superfoods that you see on Instagram. Somehow it has become cool to eat avocado on toast and then post pictures of it to social media. The definition of “cool” sure has changed since I was younger!
Finding itself very firmly in that camp of “trendy Instagram superfoods” is kale. Kale is a somewhat disgusting-tasting green leafy cabbage that has been touted for a number of different health benefits. It can be eating raw, as a salad, or even squeezed out for its juice. Either way, the list of nutrients it offers are impressive, and it’s a rich source of fiber too.
And actually, the foul taste of kale has sometimes become a plus point for the food. That’s because there’s a kind of “badge of honor” involved in eating this stuff. It shows that you are committed to your health, it shows that you are willing to go the extra mile to get those abs, and it shows that you made a real, conscious decision to fix your health.
Because no one chooses to eat kale otherwise!
But what if I told you that kale actually wasn’t quite as healthy as everyone thought? What if I told you that it might even have some negative health effects?
Wouldn’t that be kind of ironic-and-hilarious if everyone had been eating this stuff – because they saw their friend/favorite celebrity doing it on Instagram – and it turned out it was more harmful than beneficial?
Let’s dig a little deeper and see what’s really going on.
Is Kale dangerous?
First the good news: cooked kale is still (currently) regarded as being extremely good for you, packed as it is with all kinds of nutrients.
But when you eat lots of raw kale, that’s when the issues arise. That’s according to one study that showed eating raw kale might actually hurt your thyroid health!
For those not familiar with the term, your thyroid is a gland that is responsible for producing specific hormones that regulate metabolism. Thyroid hormones work to either increase your metabolic rate, thereby helping you to burn through your food and energy, and to stay slim and full of beans; or to slow down and conserve energy while you ret and sleep.
Issues like hypothyroidism wreak havoc with this system. In that particular example, a sufferer might find themselves feeling constantly lethargic and tired, struggling to find motivation or drive, and gaining lots of weight. Hypothyroidism is also linked with a host of other conditions and problems, including acne, carpal tunnel syndrome, polycystic ovaries, and more.
The problem is that raw kale contains a substance called progoitrin. This compound damages the synthesis (creation) of thyroid hormones. Kale also contains thiocyanate ions, which may “overwhelm” the iodine that your thyroid needs.
If you eat lots of large portions of raw kale, then this could lead to issues with blood sugar, weight, and more.
These findings are also supported by a number of small case studies. In one example, an 88-year old woman was reported to have fallen into a coma following an over-indulgence of cabbage3.
As though all this wasn’t bad enough, raw vegetables like kale also contain small amounts of indigestible fiber. While this can be a good thing in small quantities, too much can become an issue.
Keeping Things In Perspective
Before you turn on kale, it is important to gain some perspective. Firstly, raw kale is unlikely to cause any issues if you eat it in smaller quantities. The issues only arise if you are consuming very large amounts of the vegetable. What’s more, is that the issue is significantly less for those that consume an otherwise healthy and varied diet.
The other thing to remember is that kale is just fine when cooked. The process of cooking kale can actually destroy many of the more harmful substances and thereby make it safe to consume.
And if you go ahead and cook your kale, then it will still be extremely good for you. There are a huge number of highly beneficial nutrients contained in kale. These include, but are not limited to:
Kale is extremely low in calories, meaning that it is a very healthy and quick snack you can enjoy without worrying about packing on pounds.
High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants counteract the effects of free radicals in the body, preventing them from attacking and damaging cell walls, which can otherwise eventually lead to visible signs of aging and even damage to the DNA that may lead to cancer!
High in Iron
Kale is very high in iron, which the body uses to create red blood cells. This can therefore improve oxygen transportation around the body, increasing energy levels. This can also help to prevent anemia.
High in Vitamin K
Kale is also a great source of vitamin K. This nutrient has lots of beneficial roles in the body, including supporting the coagulation of blood. This can help you to heal by forming scabs, and it’s actually protective against Alzheimer’s too!
You might associate omega 3 predominantly with oily fish, but it’s actually found in kale as well. This helps to reduce inflammation, boost brain function, protect the cells and much more.
Supports the Heart
Many aspects of kale make it extremely good for your heart health, including the high amounts of fiber.
These are just some of the amazing benefits of kale. On top of this, you’ll also benefit from high levels of vitamin C for your immune system, and vitamin A to help support good eye health.
In short, kale is very much deserving of its status as a superfood. These issues only apply to raw kale, in high quantities.
The lesson? Enjoy everything in moderation. Seek to eat natural, nutrient dense foods yes – but don’t go over the top. The very best diet is one that is highly varied, but also one that you are actually able to stick to!