I’m going to admit something fairly private here (shocking, right?): one of my most favorite snacks is what I coined “lettuce taquitos.” It consists of giant leaves of lettuce – think Romain or butter leaf – with a line of mustard down the middle and rolled into a cigar shape. Sometimes I’ll get fancy and throw in some shredded cheese. Sometimes I’ll just use spinach despite it’s relatively tiny size. Sometimes I’ll look for other crumbly foods to put in my lettuce taquito (put enough in and it really becomes a lettuce taco).
So the other day at work, I was munching on a bag of kale and had a handful of almonds spread out over my cell phone (I’m determined to believe the cell radiation totally roasts the nuts) and decided to wrap a kale leaf around one those minuscule football shaped snacks.* First of all, yum. Second of all, my work wife said, “Hey, isn’t raw kale supposed to be nowhere near as good for you as cooked kale?”
Thinking back on all the times I have gotten impatient while making kale chips and consequently ate some raw kale while waiting for the baked ones to be ready (delicious with olive oil and cumin), and the fact that I eat raw kale fairly often because I can’t cook it at work, I had to wonder if my work wife had fallen victim to an urban legend, or if she was indeed correct on this one.
As Angie would say, I went to “The Google” in hopes of sorting out the confusion.
I initially was attracted to the blog 365 Days of Kale based only on the name, which was adorable and telling. Diana Dyer, host of the blog, had already done the same research and paraphrases an abstract of a study on the subject of cooked versus raw kale from the National Center of Biotechnology.** The findings are as such (in my own words):
Kale is more nutritious when lightly steam-cooked (as are collard greens, mustard greens, broccoli, green bell pepper, and cabbage) due to bile-acid binding. Bile acid binding potential has been related to lowering the risk of heart disease and that of cancer. As for what bile acid binding truly is and why it’s important? Sheesh-ka-bobs, excellent question. After searching high and low for a lay-man’s phrased answer, I’ve got nothing. From what I can tell based on this very scientific information and several sites that used the phrase without describing it, bile acid is from the liver, involves cholesterol, and binds bile acid to something, but I can’t tell if the binding is a positive outcome or a negative.***
A more reader-friendly (aka, written for the 8th grade reading level) write up on the kale: cooked or raw topic was found in Scientific American’s Fact or Fiction: Raw Veggies are Healthier Than Cooked Ones. Their findings, backed by several journal articles, are more moderate, suggesting the cooking veggies and raw veggies both have benefits, and one should eat them both, the most important fact being they are at least eating vegetables at all.
LiveStrong’s Q&A section hosts a question about eating kale raw, simply noting that one can do it and pairs kale with other foods for you (why not beer? I really want to see a kale-beer pairing…). So we can infer you can eat kale raw and no one is saying “run away to Switzerland!”
The best consensus I can find is that kale is totally good for you – it basically helps put up a force field around your colon, can keep cholesterol low, and lowers your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Though to be fair, if you’re eating kale, you’re probably somewhat healthy already so it’s tough to say if kale itself is the reason you have all of those health benefits. It might just be that you’re a reasonably healthy person.
*Totally imagining hamsters playing flag football with almonds, and every so often one hamster just can’t help himself and stuff the nut in his mouth instead of tossing it or running with it and everyone groans little squeaky hamster-groans.
** I suppose at this point I should have just quoted Ms. Dyer or the NCBS instead of engaging in a written-word form of telephone, but alas, I couldn’t help myself and wanted very much to write my own version of the findings.
***Any science nerds (hint hint, Dr. Dad or Jen) who can explain this to me would be much appreciated and verbally praised highly.****
****Ah ha! Got an explanation from the budding nutritionist. She’s such a great resource (and friend!) :
Bile acid is used during digestion to emulsify (stabilize) fat. This is necessary so that fat-digesting enzymes (lipases) can get in there and break down those fats into smaller units to be absorbed and used by the body. Bile acid is produced in the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and released into the small intestine when there are fats ready and waiting to be broken down. After the bile does its job, most of it is recycled back the liver, where it is refreshed and ready to ride that roller coaster again (this cycle is called enterohepatic circulation). However, a bit of that bile is excreted from the body each time around, about 5%. That percentage can be raised if you can get bile to bind with certain foods – namely soluble fibers (hello, kale!). Why is extra excretion good? Turns out bile is synthesized from cholesterol. When the body uses up “bad” cholesterol, LDL, to produce bile, the net effect is less of that villainous LDL in your system. These bad guys are infamous for contributing to atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), which can lead to many bad things in the cardiovascular system – heart disease, stroke, etc. To simplify all this – soluble fibers in kale bind to bile and are excreted from the body. More bile must be made to make up for this loss, and it is produced using cholesterol. Using up those LDL cholesterol stores in the body means less risk for cardiovascular disease. Win!