Monday, February 24, 2014

Eating too much...kale?!

If you know anything about eating healthy, then you definitely know about kale.  It's the quintessential "health food," boasting high levels of calcium, vitamin C, and iron, and providing lots of fiber and cancer-fighting antioxidants.  As far as most people are concerned, it can do no wrong.  Or can it?
Kale has a dirty little secret...
I read an article recently about how eating too much kale can actually be bad for you, and I thought it was an excellent example of how too much of anything-- even kale, the holy grail of health foods!-- can be detrimental to your health.  The problem with kale, and other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and bok choy, is that it is goitrogenic, which basically means that consuming too much of it can lead to an enlarged thyroid, or goiter.  When eating normal amounts of these vegetables, especially when cooked, one is not likely to have any problems.  The issues arise when people regularly consume large amounts of these vegetables raw, such as when they are blended or juiced, which is becoming increasingly popular among well-meaning health junkies.

You may be thinking, "if kale isn't safe, then what the heck am I supposed to eat?!"  It sure does seem like every other day we're being told that something that was once touted as "good" for us is suddenly "bad!"  So, what to do?  The simple answer is variety.  Eating too much of anything-- whether it's cake or kale-- isn't a great idea.  If you pin all your hopes on one type of food making you healthy and base your entire diet on it, there's a decent chance you'll find out at some point that that food may not be as healthy as once thought-- maybe it'll be some trace chemical or pesticide they discover in it, or they'll link it to cancer or heart disease, who knows!-- but if you've only eaten moderate amounts of it, you'll likely be fine.  If you've been basing your entire diet on it, however, you may not be.  The better approach is to hedge your bets and eat moderate amounts of all kinds of foods (yes, even cake and cookies!).  Besides covering all your nutritional bases and providing more satisfaction in your eating, variety means that you're not eating massive amounts of any one food, and therefore don't have to worry about any detrimental effects associated with one type of food that may surface in the future.

And, just so you don't think I'm "anti-kale" or anything, I wanted to share one of my favorite kale recipes that has made it into the rotation here in my house.  It's fast and simple enough to make on a weeknight, and half the time I have most if not all of the ingredients already in my cupboard.  I usually serve myself a large portion and eat it as a main dish, but it can also be enjoyed as a side.  I hope you like it as much as I do!

One Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf
Adapted from recipe found at Food52
Serves 2-4
I forgot to take a photo, so I stole this one from the Food52 site. Oops!

2 cups salted water
1 cup quinoa
1 bunch lacinato kale, washed and chopped into 1" lengths
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 scallions (I have also used regular onions as a substitute)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (how to toast pine nuts)
1/4-1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (depending on how cheesy/creamy you like it)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring the water to a boil in a covered pot.  Add the quinoa, cover, and lower the heat until it is just enough to maintain a simmer.  Let simmer for 10 minutes, then top with the kale and re-cover.  Simmer another 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow to steam for 5 more minutes.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, take a large serving bowl and combine half of the lemon juice (reserving the other half), all of the lemon zest, scallions, and olive oil, pine nuts, and goat cheese.

3. Check the quinoa and kale when cooking time has completed-- the water should have absorbed, and the quinoa will be tender but firm, and the kale tender and bright green.  If the quinoa still had a hard white center, you can steam a bit longer (adding more water if needed).  When the quinoa and kale are done, fluff the pilaf, and tip it into the waiting bowl with the remaining ingredients.  As the hot quinoa hits the scallions and lemon it should smell lovely.  Toss to combine, seasoning with salt and pepper, and the remaining lemon juice if needed. 


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