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What is Kale?
Kale is a green leafy vegetable that is easy to recognize with its distinctive curly, dark green leaves at the end of long stems. It is usually found in the produce section near the spinach, chard, and other green, leafy vegetables. Kale is a member of the Brassica family which also includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and collard greens. These cruciferous vegetables are known for their superior nutritional value, containing high levels of vitamins and minerals, as well as disease-fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants. Kale is a particularly rich source of vitamins A, C, K and manganese, and also contains high amounts of calcium, copper, potassium, several B vitamins, iron, magnesium, folate, and antioxidants such as vitamin E and lutein. Kale is an excellent source of dietary fiber, and is very low in calories, fat and sodium.
Like other cruciferous vegetables, kale is a source of sulfur-containing compounds called sulforaphanes. These compounds fight diseases by triggering the production of detoxifying enzymes that lower the risk of cancer, protect blood vessels from damage by diabetes, and inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori, which causes inflammation and is linked to ulcers and stomach cancer.
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How to Choose and Store Kale
While it can usually be found in the produce section year-round, kale is in season from mid-winter through early spring, when many other green, leafy vegetables are out of season. When shopping for kale, choose bunches with dark green leaves that are not wilted or yellow. Those with smaller leaves will be younger and more tender. Kale should be stored unwashed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and used within three days of purchase. If kept longer, it can become bitter.
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Ways to Prepare Kale
Kale can be prepared in many different ways. It will retain the most nutritive value if eaten raw in salads, but it can also be sauteed with onions and garlic, used in soups, omelets, pasta, stews, or as a side dish. The leaves should be torn or cut away from the center stem and central ribs, which can be tough. Kale leaves are thicker than those of spinach, chard or other more tender leafy greens, so it needs to be cooked longer. Steam or cook kale greens in a small amount of water for fifteen to twenty minutes.
A delicious way to enjoy kale is to make baked kale chips, a healthy, low-calorie alternative to potato chips.
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Organic Kale is Best
Unfortunately, kale is one of the vegetables with the most pesticide residues, and therefore it is best to choose organic kale. If organic is not available, be sure to wash it thoroughly before eating. For a ready source of fresh, pesticide-free kale, try planting some in your garden. It is easy to grow, and does especially well in cooler climates.
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