You don’t have to look far in our yard to see vivid shades of green emerging in spring— soft muted colours of variegated sage, lacy fronds of fennel, pea shoots on the vine, and leafy green seedlings pushing soft ground looking for the sun. These days are busy as we get our garden in shape for planting. Our little community is saturated with small hobby garden farmers who know that the food we grow and eat is one of our strongest links to good health. We’re all into it this time of year, planting seeds, nurturing seedlings, weeding, turning soil, waiting for roots to take hold.
Of course gardening for me can be strenuous labour and much of it I have to give over to my husband. He easily takes it on, moving wheelbarrows full of heavy soil, climbing fruit trees for pruning, digging, and transplanting. I’m so glad I have people in my life who help me in ways I need it most, without question or judgement, without a song and dance about why I can’t do the heavy lifting myself. Willing, open, helping hands are the best, aren’t they? No doubt it can be hard at times to let go of our independence and allow another person to take on jobs we so wish we could effortlessly do. Being independent is engrained in us by the world and times we live in as something we must always aspire to. But it’s okay to ask for help to stave off pain. It’s okay to need the hands of others to get us through.
By far, vegetables are the most important food we grow. Of course all veggies are good for us, but if I had to crown one in our garden as queen it would definitely be kale. No doubt kale has risen to fame in the company of other dark leafy greens like spinach, chard, and collards for good reason. Not only is it easy to grow and maintain all year round, it’s a nutritional powerhouse quite like no other, chock full of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant nutrients).
For those of us with RA and other inflammatory conditions it’s interesting to note that kale contains the flavonoids kaempferol and quercetin, which possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The leafy green is also a source of the most basic omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, which plays a key role in reducing inflammation by regulating the inflammatory response. In her book The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones: A Holistic Approach, Dr. Annemarie Colbin makes a case that kale and other plant foods like cauliflower, watercress, parsley, mustard greens, and bok choy contain almost twice as much calcium ounce for ounce as milk products and even calcium-fortified foods and beverages. And unlike spinach and Swiss chard that are high in oxalates, which bind to calcium in the body and make it less available, kale is lower in oxalic acid. Just when you thought this mighty green couldn’t get any better for you, it’s also an important source of:
Vitamin A– promotes optimal vision health
Vitamin C– important for the growth and repair of tissues, the maintenance of bones and teeth, and antioxidant protection
Vitamin K– is a key nutrient for helping regulate the body’s inflammatory process. It also promotes bone health and limits neuronal damage in the brain that is associated with Alzheimer’s and age-related dementias
Bone-building magnesium and phosphorus
Carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin– powerful antioxidants that protect our eyes from ultraviolet rays, cataract damage, and macular degeneration
Energy-producing iron, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, and niacin
Glucosinolates (sulfur-containing compounds found in cruciferous vegetables) derived from isothiocyanates– may help prevent certain cancers by promoting the elimination of potential carcinogens from the body and by enhancing the transcription of tumor suppressor proteins
Manganese and copper– protect against free radicals
Is it any wonder that kale scores 1,000 out of 1,000 on the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI) scoring system? It’s simply one of the healthiest foods on the planet. My husband and I are so in love with this nutrient-dense green we plant many varieties of it in our garden. Grocery stores typically stock two types—curly kale (ie, Winterbor) and flat-leafed variations like black kale, also known as dinosaur kale (Lacinato or Tuscan). I usually reserve the curly kind for salads and baked chips, while I use flat-leafed kale for smoothies. A smoothie is an excellent way to get a regular dose of this wonder green. The following recipe is easy to make, delicious, and packed with anti-inflammatory goodness.
1 cup coconut water or filtered water
2 organic flat-leafed kale leaves, de-stemmed and torn into pieces
1 organic cucumber, chopped
1 organic red apple, cored and chopped
1 small avocado
knob of ginger, peeled and chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds
1 Tbsp. hemp seeds
3 ice cubes
Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend on high until smooth. Taste and adjust flavours to your liking. If it’s too thick, just add a touch more coconut water. Drink immediately.
Health Benefits of:
Apples: Researchers at the University of California, Davis, found that apple extracts are able to protect cells from the effects of tumor necrosis factor, a compound that promotes inflammation. Apples have a high concentration of the anti-inflammatory flavonoids, quercetin and catechins. They also provide powerful antioxidant protection, and promote heart, digestive, and lung health.
Avocados: Although we should eat avocados in moderation, they do in fact promote heart health with 59% of their total fat content coming from oleic acid, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Plus they are a good source of vitamin K, which we already know plays a role in bone health and in regulating the inflammatory response.
Cucumbers: are super hydrating, which is good for all body systems. They’re known for their concentration of silica (a mineral that is an essential component of collagen), which helps to make our skin glow. (Muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bone also have silica-containing connective tissue). Cucumbers are a good source of potassium, magnesium, and fibre.
Flaxseeds: are the most concentrated plant source of the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Flaxseeds also promote heart health and are a good source of dietary fibre, which may have a cholesterol-lowering effect. Make sure to grind whole flaxseeds (ie, in a coffee grinder) prior to use, otherwise they won’t be fully digested and you won’t extract the nutrients. Store in tightly-sealed container in fridge.
Hemp seeds: are one of the best sources of easily-digestible, high-quality proteins in the plant kingdom, naturally rich in all essential amino acids, fatty acids (with an optimal 1:3 balance of omega-3 to omega-6), and dietary fibre. Store in tightly-sealed container in fridge.
Even though I know my physical limitations, pace myself during planting season, and take on less arduous work in the garden, like weeding and sowing seeds, I still fall into bed at night so exhausted I don’t move until morning. But it’s the best kind of exhausted I’ve ever known. It’s muscle tiredness and body fatigue that says I’m alive and how good this life is, especially when on the other side of discomfort will be a bounty of kale, a harvest of health.
—According to the Environmental Working Group’s 2011 report “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce,” kale is among the 12 foods on which pesticide residues are most frequently found. Just another reason to grow your own or buy organic if you want to avoid pesticide-associated health risks.
—Kale is a concentrated source of goitrogens, so those with thyroid problems should be careful about kale consumption.
—If you produce kidney stones, ask your urologist about consuming dark leafy greens like kale.
Hanna, Sharon. The Book of Kale: The Easy-to-Grow Superfood. Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing Co. Ltd, 2012. Print.
Mateljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the Healthiest Way of Eating. Seattle: George Mateljan Foundation, 2007. Print.