Kale the Mighty Green
Hayley Enright, Acupuncture in Paris
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I may be one of those anomalous people who have always been enthusiastic about vegetables. When I was a kid, if it was dad’s turn to cook, we ended up with either scrambled eggs or delivered pizza, but fortunately mom had a culinary streak that put everything from broccoli to cabbage to squash on the plate. She even had a garden that grew the furriest green beans I have ever seen. I never wanted to garden with her (sorry mom!), but I always wanted to devour what she brought in.
As an acupuncture physician I regularly recommend various vegetables to patients because they’re terrific in terms of both Chinese and Western health benefits. Kale in particular is a powerhouse of nutrients that can be useful in a wide variety of issues. This article touches on nutrition and the diseases that kale can help treat. For more information about kale or how to improve your diet according to the seasonal, natural principles of Chinese medicine, check out Paul Pitchford’s Healing with Whole Foods.
Among the vegetables known for protein content, kale is a top scorer with the tasty cruciferous broccoli, each having 4 grams per serving. Only Brussels sprouts beat it (5 grams per serving). Plant protein is far safer than animal protein—you can eat twice as much plant protein (8 ounces daily compared to 4 ounces of meat) and still remain healthy. If you eat a diet rich in animal protein, you risk the diseases that plague Westerners: heart disease, cancer, kidney failure, and osteoporosis.
Kale has a high sodium content. If you’re conscious of the amount of salt you eat and want to keep it low, cook with kale to add flavor! It’s a much more nutritious form of sodium than processed table salt available in the store. (The best form of salt is sea salt, which has a lot of trace elements and minerals. It should be gray, not white—white indicates it’s been highly refined and much of the nutritional value has been removed.)
Westerners often have trouble getting enough calcium, as evidenced by problems like osteoporosis, high blood pressure, nervous system disorders and arthritis. Calcium is important for Yin in the body, and benefits the nerves and heart, muscle function, and bones and teeth. Post-menopausal women and older men are especially at risk for low calcium. On the other hand, Chinese people rarely have calcium deficiency issues, even though they don’t have much dairy in their diet. What they do eat is a good mix of leafy green vegetables, which are nature’s best source of calcium. Believe it or not, vegetarians often have greater bone mass than meat-eaters because of a diet rich in vegetables (excess phosphorus, which is easy to get from a meat-heavy diet, depletes calcium). In the West, traditional European recipes often blend barley and kale in a calcium-replenishing soup.
In order for calcium to be absorbed, a nutrient cocktail of vitamins and minerals needs to be available in the body. Vitamin D, magnesium, chlorophyll, phosphorous and Vitamins C and A are key components—without them, you can eat calcium-rich food but you won’t necessarily be able to absorb it. Not all leafy greens will work—spinach, chard and beet greens are high in oxalic acid which counteracts calcium absorption. But kale is a powerhouse: it delivers calcium and provides that essential nutrient cocktail at 134 milligrams of calcium per serving (beating out milk and yogurt)!
In Chinese medicine the Liver helps your metabolism run smoothly and your emotional state remain balanced. In the West it’s known for filtering your blood and keeping your internal environment clean. It’s easy for this organ to get overworked because we eat rich, greasy, processed foods. If your Liver is not up to par, you might have digestive problems, constipation, menstrual issues, migraines, anxiety and irritability. Eating kale doses you up with Vitamin A, a vital nutrient for Liver function that actually helps rejuvenate the organ. (Vitamin A is also good for rough/dry/aging skin, allergies, dandruff, and dryness of the mouth, lungs or genitalia. Some studies show it’s great for protecting against lung and colon cancer, which makes sense if it helps mucus membranes—there are a lot of membranes in your lungs and intestines!) Kale is also rich in sulfur, which aids the Liver’s function of purifying the blood.
Warming cold diseases
One of the tenets of Chinese medicine is the Eight Principles, a differential diagnosis system that allows the practitioner to arrive at a treatment strategy that can heal the patient. One set of the Principles involves using temperature to classify problems: there may be Hot or Cold in the system. Cold diseases in Chinese medicine span a wide variety of problems, among which are colds and flus, weak immune system, digestive troubles, muscle and joint pain, arthritis, headaches, menstrual problems, fatigue, depression, sweating and many more…In general if you have a dislike of being cold, experience chill sensations, or have an attraction to warm food and drink, you probably have Cold in your system. It might stem from lack of physical activity, eating too much cooling food, overexposure to a cold environment, or constitutional weakness. Warming vegetables like kale help counteract Cold symptoms. Part of that is due to its sulfur content, which helps keep you toasty.
Kale has abundant chlorophyll, a purifying agent that can stop the growth of fungi, bacteria and other microorganisms, as well as sulfur, which kills parasites. Additionally, it helps promote the growth of good intestinal flora a.k.a. probiotics, which are excellent to build up especially if you’ve just been prescribed antibiotics. Since kale is good at balancing the body’s microbial state, it’s helpful during candidiasis.
As a dark-green leafy plant, kale is a good source of alpha-linolenic acid, which comes from its chloroplasts. Alpha-linolenic acid is the omega-3 fatty acid found in plants. Its cousins are EPA and DHA found in animal sources. Your body can change alpha-linolenic acid into EPA and DHA. Omega-3s are widely known for their ability to reduce harmful fatty deposits, such as can occur in arteriosclerosis, heart disease and high blood pressure. It also makes the blood flow more smoothly by lowering viscosity via lipid levels, reducing clotting and lowering blood pressure. That’s really a two-fold benefit, because if the blockages are out of the way, circulation to the area in question improves. If you’ve had problems with ischemia (damage to tissue because of lack of blood supply), omega-3s can help bring vitality back to the area. Omega 3s are also said to be helpful in improving lung function in people with asthma (in Chinese medicine kale is known for clearing lung congestion).
Play with your food
So if you have access to kale somewhere in France, run, don’t walk, to your grocer! My favorite way to eat it is to play with it. Take a good salad dressing (a mustard vinaigrette will do nicely), pour it on chopped kale and massage it for about 5 minutes until the texture becomes smoother and silkier. You’ll see the kale shrink and become darker—this breaks down the cellulose structure of the leaves and mellows the bitter flavor. Throw in some diced tomatoes, cashews, raisins, or your favorite additions and voilà—a delicious salad that’s easy to make and perfect for guests. And it can be your secret that you had your hands all over their food.
Acupuncture in Paris is run by Hayley Enright, AP, L.Ac., Dipl. Ac., a nationally certified American acupuncturist licensed in Florida and New York. Dreaming of living in Paris, she sold her clinic in Florida where she had given more than 7500 treatments, packed up her husband and her dog (who coincidentally looks like Milou from Tin Tin) and moved overseas. Although she misses kale, she loves everything else about French culture and is enthusiastically working her way through a comprehensive tour of Gallic pastries. For more information about the benefits of Chinese medicine, go to www.AcupunctureInParis.com.