This Is Your Brain on Kale

The frenzy over kale has turned from foodie buzz to eater roar. Around the country everyone is talking about kale. As a physician, nothing could please me more. Kale represents an important lesson for all us eaters about the power of food choices to transform our health. Sure, let’s disclose my bias right away. My new book 50 Shades of Kale (Harper/Wave 2013,) co-authored with Chef Jennifer Iserloh, is just out. It is a gorgeous tribute to our muse kale and at its core a food prescription aimed to improve your brain health.

So what’s all the kale hype about?

I love recommending kale for three fundamental reasons: Kale tops the charts of nutrient density, possesses incredible culinary flexibility, and is easy to grow almost anywhere. My ultimate measure of a food is its power to support brain health, and it is clear that more kale in your diet means a happier, healthier, sexier you — all the basic signs that your brain is running well.

How does kale do this? What’s the miracle in that crunch? Let’s start with the power of phytonutrients, molecules in plants that do amazing things. One called sulfurophane travels from your kale smoothie to your liver where it amps up your body’s natural detox power. Another called kaempferol is truly the fountain of youth — it turns on the genes that promote longer life. (Move over red wine resveratrol.) Add to this mix carotenoids, which Harvard University just linked to one’s overall sense of optimism, and glucosinolates, a known cancer fighter, and it is clear that kale is good medicine. Just step into the “Farmacy.”

Brain health depends on picking the right fats in your diet, as the brain is about 60 percent fat. One vital set of fats most eaters need more of is the omega-3s, which happen to be the main kind of fat in kale. The plant-based omega-3 ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is linked to numerous health benefits like lowering the risk of depression and diabetes. Both diabetes and obesity wreak havoc on the brain and kale is a great first step to fighting both. High blood sugar ages blood vessels and brain cells more quickly and fat cells create “pro-inflammatory” signals and frankly, who wants an inflamed brain? The fiber in kale is naturally filling and also promotes better gut health. And kale is a naturally low-carb food, so there is no spike in blood sugar.

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