How to work more kale into your diet

Kale is the hot new health food. It’s actually been around forever, but after celebrities like Heidi Klum and Jennifer Aniston embraced the leafy green, it gained star status. Michelle Obama even offered kale chips to Jimmy Fallon on “The Tonight Show” last week.

I’ve been on a kale kick myself lately. I add it into my stir-fry recipes and cook homemade kale chips that my sons actually like.

What’s so special about kale? Kathleen M. Zelman, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition for WebMD, calls the tough, cruciferous lettuce “one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet.”

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One cup of chopped kale has only 33 calories, but 9 percent of your daily intake of calcium, 206 percent of vitamin A, 134 percent of vitamin C, and 684 percent of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals such as copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.

Kale has a variety of plant chemicals called flavonoids associated with cancer preventive benefits. Two antioxidants in kale—lutein and zeaxanthin—have been associated with a lower risk of chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, according to the American Optometric Association.

Kale’s moderate fiber content helps lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.

You can add kale to stir-fry (I combine it with chopped butternut squash, red onions, curry, and plain non-fat yogurt), salads (check out the video recipe above), or use it as a pizza topping. Substitute kale for spinach or collard greens to add a nutritional punch to most recipes. Most supermarkets and organic food markets now sell pre-cut, pre-washed kale in bags because it’s become so popular.

Note: those with certain thyroid conditions may want to avoid eating raw kale more than three times a week since eating excess amounts of the raw green could interefere with iodine absorption in those with an underactive thyroid.

Zelman suggested these other ways to use kale in her post on WebMD.

Toss whole-grain pasta with chopped kale, pine nuts, feta cheese, and a little olive oil.

Cover and cook a pound of chopped kale with a few garlic cloves and 2 tablespoons olive oil for 5 minutes; season with salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar.

Make kale chips by slicing kale into bite-size pieces, toss with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt, and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees in the oven.

You can also check out 13 nutritious kale recipes on the Health.com website. All were formulated to reduce the rough texture and slightly bitter taste of the green.