Thursday, August 7, 2008

Reasons to eat broccoli (and kale!) just keep coming

Remember my t-shirt that says "Eat More Kale"? Yet another reason to eat more broccoli and all other brassica vegetables such as kale has been recently reported. While previous research has reported lower incidence of bladder, breast, and prostate cancer in those who consume higher amounts of these vegetables (such as 5 or more servings/week), other past research has shown a link with lower incidence of stroke and heart disease. Now comes research trying to hone in on the mechanism of how brassica plants may offer protection for people diagnosed with diabetes against damage to blood vessels that could lead to heart disease.

People with diabetes have an elevated risk of having a stroke or heart disease, thought to start by high blood glucose levels which increase free radical molecules that cause the damage to the blood vessels in the brain or heart. Recent research has shown that the oxidative molecules thought to do the damage are greatly reduced in an early experiment in which blood vessels were subject to damage by high glucose levels. Sulphoraphane does not provide the protection itself but activates a protein that stimulates other protective actions such as antioxidant activities and detoxifying enzymes.

I find it interesting to know that sulforaphane is not found in raw brassica plants but is formed in them from both chopping and chewing. The enzyme that transforms the parent molecule into sulforaphane is inactivated by heat, so as much as possible, it is preferable to eat these vegetables raw (and chew them very well!) and only lightly steam or microwave the brassicas when cooking is appropriate. Some sulforaphane can be made from cooked vegetables by our gut's bacterial enzymes, but higher levels of the sulforaphane molecule are available and absorbed when the vegetables are consumed raw.

Since nearly 24 million people in the US alone have diabetes (2007), with all of them at increased risk for heart disease and stroke plus at increased risk for many types of cancer due to being overweight or obese, it makes sense that vegetables from the brassica family be part of a daily diet, which is so much easier than remembering how many servings you might have had to eat this week!

I know I have written that I have these types of vegetables in my frig at all times. Right now I have several varieties of kale, bok choy, and horseradish root. For supper tonight I had a very large salad that had at least 1 cup of raw kale leaves in my portion. I ate it before I thought to take a photo to show you that I really really do this myself. In fact there is nothing, not one single thing I recommend as a health care professional, that I don't incorporate into my own action plan for optimizing my odds for long-term cancer survivorship, overall wellness, and enjoying my life. :-)

Here is a list of other brassica vegetables that are easily found in the US, most even at your local Farmers' Market at various times of the growing season:
broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard seeds and greens, radishes, daikon, rapini, arugula (rocket), watercress, turnip roots and greens, rutabaga (my husband's all-time favorite!), kohlrabi, collard greens, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, napa cabbage, tat soi, horseradish, wasabi, and I am sure I have overlooked at least one or two others.

You can just bet that companies will jump to promote sulforaphane (and other compounds from brassica plants) as dietary supplements if they have not already done so. I don't recommend spending your money on a pill (and just one compound) for hope, instead enjoy eating the wide variety of compounds that these veggies contain, which probably all enhance each others' helpful actions in a form of synergy in regards to how they promote our health. In fact, you really don't have to know the names of these molecules at all. Just enjoy the wide variety of these vegetables available, their wide variety of beauty, taste, appearance, and ways to eat them

Yesterday I planted our fall crop of kale, kale, and more kale, along with collard greens, and rutabagas at our community garden. As soon as we harvest the onions (soon), we'll have more space available for additional varieties of fall greens. Today I also planted a small bed of a variety of kale at our home kitchen garden. And thankfully it rained today for the first time in many weeks!

Are there some varieties on this list that you have not eaten? Why not give them a try? Incorporating some horseradish into my diet has been new for me this year. I also ate tat soi for the first time. What has been new for you?

With gratefulness for the rain that came today that will allow the plants still growing to mature plus nurture the tiny seeds just planted and ultimately be a part of me, I end with this blessing:

When we eat the good bread,
we are eating months of sunlight,
weeks of rain and snow from the sky,
richness out of the earth.
We should be great, each of us radiant,
full of music and ful or stories.
Able to run the way clouds do, able to
dance like the snow and the rain.
But nobody takes time to think that he eats all
these things and that sun, rain,
snow are all a part of himself.
~~ Monica Shannon (1905-1965)

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Recipe: Kale Chips

In the Dyer home, kale has long been more than just decoration on a plate. In other words, here's what to do with kale that just keeps on growing!

I promised some friends that I'd post this recipe over a week ago. What was I thinking? Life got very busy - a round-trip drive to upstate New York to pick up our younger son who finished his camp counseling job, visited old friends and geo-cached along the way, home for a wedding, watering, weeding, blueberry picking, watering and weeding some more, and did I mention we are finally trying to kindly trap a voracious groundhog who is eating more than I planted for him (her?) in our garden plus we are setting traps for a mouse in our house that likely hitched a ride from New York in my son's camp stuff - both so far have eluded our attempts!, and etc, etc, etc.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I ate kale chips for the first time at the Ann Arbor Lady Food Bloggers picnic. They were SO delicious that I just knew they would become a regular way that we would be eating kale in the future. I have already made them 3-4 times in the past month.

I am still using our garden grown kale that was planted this past spring. It's now early August - I thought the kale might be done or bitter by this point in the summer, but it's all still growing with the young leaves very tasty and tender. Our one short row is a mix of the curly green kale that you see most often in the grocery store or as the ubiquitous decoration on a restaurant plate plus some flat varieties like red Russian kale. Fortunately, our resident garden groundhog does not seem to bother the kale (however, it has devoured most of my beans, including all the heirloom seeds I brought back from my trip to Monticello - can you hear me crying?)

Enough intro and/or rambling! On to the recipe and directions.

Kale Chips

Take a large bunch of kale leaves and trim off any tough stems (save the stems to later make soup stock). Wash the leaves, shake off excess water, tear the leaves into "chip size" pieces. A leaf the size of my palm would make 2-3 pieces.

Put all leaves into a large bowl. Sprinkle ~1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar over the leaves then add ~1 Tbsp. olive oil to the leaves. Next sprinkle with dried herbs or spices of your choice. Twice now I have used a few shakes from a bottle of a salad mix called Rocky Mountain Seasoning from The Spice House in Evanston, IL given to us by good friends. Use your hands to thoroughly mix and coat the leaves with the vinegar, oil, and seasoning.

Spread the kale leaves in a single layer on a large cookie sheet. I have used a sheet of parchment paper to make clean up easy, but just a spray or bit of additional olive oil on the cookie sheet also keeps the leaves from sticking to the cookie sheet.

Heat the cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven until the leaves get crisp. They will wilt at first but then start to crisp up. The color of the kale leaves will darken from a bright green to a deeper green. I do carefully turn them with a spatula after about 10 minutes and usually bake them for a total of 20-30 minutes. I check them often at the 20 minute mark to make sure they do not burn. Serve right away or they are also very very good at room temperature. In each case, a full cookie sheet of kale leaves was eaten in one sitting by two people (either by my husband and me or our younger son and me).

If I ever have any extra kale chips, I will try saving them in an airtight container to eat later as chips or even crumbling them into small pieces to use as an interesting salad addition or topping.

See the empty plate? All gone! Please let me know if you try eating kale this way and if you and your family enjoy it.

Kale is an excellent source of calcium and along with the other plants that belong to the broccoli family is power-packed with phyto-chemicals that promote general good health plus being a terrific cancer "phyter". I actually try to have so many fresh vegetables from this family on hand in my frig that I eat at least 1-2 servings from this power group daily (yep-daily!) as part of my efforts to increase my odds for long-term cancer survivorship. If you plan to always have kale available and you have the oven going for something else, it only takes a few minutes to prepare the kale chips according to this easy recipe to bake at the same time.

To get ready for planting our fall crop of kale, I finally collected the seed pods today that developed on the one plant that wintered over last year. I could see some of them had finally popped, scattering the seeds in the garden and the garden paths, and many more seed pods were also "ready to go".

Did I have anything with me specifically in which to collect the pods so that I could find those itty-bitty seeds again if they popped on the way home? No, of course not. So I simply put them into my garden hat, which worked quite well! By the time I got to the parking lot and the car, many of the pods had popped by themselves with the tiny black seeds now sitting nicely in the bottom of my hat.

When I showed the small seeds to a young woman who was in the parking lot at the community garden, she said it seemed like a miracle that such tiny seeds produced our vegetables. I couldn't help but smile and agree!! and ask if she had read the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, in which the author Barbara Kingsolver so eloquently describes the many miracles that unfold every day from the hard work of those who grow and produce food either for their own table or for us to eat.

The next time you're at a Farmers' Market, please thank the farmers for their hard work and the many miracles they have brought to market!

I'll end with this beautiful grace of thankfulness for all these miracles along with deep appreciation for all of our growers, particularly the special people I consider to be "my farmers", my husband Dick Dyer plus Richard Andres and Deb Lentz who produce the miracles at their certified organic farm Tantré Farm in Chelsea, MI.

The food which we are about to eat
Is Earth, Water, and Sun, compounded
Through the alchemy of many plants.
Therefore Earth, Water and Sun will
become part of us.
This food is also the fruit of the labor of
many beings and creatures.
We are grateful for it.
May it bring us strength, health, joy.
And may it increase our love.

~~Unitarian grace

Diana Dyer, MS, RD