“Oh, thrice and four times happy those who plant cabbages.” Francois Rabelais, 16th century French writer
M. Rabelais might now be in the minority with that opinion, but from a health standpoint, he’s spot on. Cabbages have been cultivated for at least 6000 years, probably originating from wild, non-head forming greens (acephala), of which modern kale is perhaps the truest descendent. Our forebears may not have known why kale and cabbages are so fiercely good for us, but historical figures have thought well enough of it to pass comment: Pythagoras praised it as an all-purpose remedy; Hippocrates (who else) declared it “the vegetable of a thousand virtues”.
Through the ages, and from China to Greece to Scotland, cabbages have been used to treat illnesses and disorders as diverse as deafness, gastrointestinal problems and gout. Interestingly the Roman statesman, Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder, 254-149 BC), a powerful man who distrusted doctors, believed cabbages to be a direct line to the fountain of youth. Today, cabbages – and kale in particular -are widely touted as a top anti-ageing food, slowing collagen decline and aiding digestion (which is key to most nutrient absorption).
More acutely for many of us, kale and cabbages have form as anti-cancer foods of the highest regard. Consuming cabbages – and all cruciferous vegetables – has recently and consistently been observed to help prevent breast, lung, gastrointestinal and prostate cancers. Those are just the diseases that have been studied; doubtless other cancers are at least indirectly prevented or hindered by regular kale and cabbage consumption. Cabbages are now seen as more effective than tomatoes at preventing most forms of prostate cancer. For cancer prevention, more is better when it comes to cabbages and kale. But within the context of a wide-ranging, plant-food based diet, of course. No super-sizing, please.
I’ve covered cabbages previously, but before I get to today’s recipe I will just tell you that kale in particular features an abundance of nutrients and anti-cancer compounds, including numerous phytochemicals (indole-3-carbinol, sulforaphane and allyl isothiocynates being the biggies), beta-carotene, Vitamins C and bone-building K (a half-cup serving contains 590% of daily requirements), calcium ( 9% of requirements per 1/2 cup), manganese, potassium, magnesium, folate and iron.. And of course fibre – some 5 % per half-cup. For the most part we benefit from it being steamed or simmered (save the water) for about five minutes. This goes double for anyone not used to strong-tasting greens.
Kale also racks up a hugely impressive ORAC score of 1700. ORAC stands for ‘oxygen radical absorbance capacity’, and basically it measures the free radical-neutralising capacity of the tested substance – how effective it is as an antioxidant food. If you were to be populist about it you might call it a plant food’s ‘anti-ageing points’. As stated in the book,The Color Code(Joseph, Nadeau and Underwood, 2003), “the evidence is clear that people with the greatest amounts of antioxidants in their diets show the fewest effects of aging.” I will stick my neck out a fraction to append “and disease”.
Kale and cabbages are tricky vegetables to promote. What makes them so healthy for us is also what makes them so ‘distinctive’ in taste – or disgusting to some. A goodly proportion of folk do seem to really loath this group of vegetables. These people may be labelled as ‘super-tasters’, meaning that they have inherited more taste buds. This group hyper tastes everything – sweet, salt, bitter, tart, savoury -so may have a fairly limited diet. Green vegetables in particular are super-tasted, and are therefore very likely to be avoided. Which is a huge shame. This little recipe may not change the mind of a true super-taster, but it could convince some of you medium-tasters (we really need a snazzier name here) to give this deeply coloured, deeply nutritious green the respect it deserves. Unless you are a super-taster the berries will do a sterling job masking the kale. I love kale in all its bitter, savoury forms, but I don’t want it bulldozing its way through my morning juice or smoothie. If you think you or your child is a super taster/ picky eater, look here at this interesting Harvard Medical School site for more information.
This is my current favourite smoothie. I could drink it every day if my inner nutritionist didn’t whisper “variety” to me. And my gut didn’t say “whoa Nellie with the fibre”. Within its inky depths are two of the top ‘anti-cancer’ foods – dark berries and, of course, kale. But I think it would still be a top smoothie for me even if the ingredients weren’t so high flying. Granted, it isn’t a looker, but my oh my, it is tasty.
I like ‘green’ smoothies and juices, but have pretty much always kept them defiantly vegetabley and savoury, pairing up cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumber, herbs, spinach – that kind of thing. For me, instead of juices, which we nearly always think of as something sweet, I think of these nutrient big-guns as soup. This seems to help my feeble brain from experiencing a disconnect. You know, like seeing the black sands in Tenerife and knowing they are sand but primitive brain telling you it’s soil. Hopscotching, screechingly-hot soil. But doing some research for an upcoming project I kept coming across examples of weird and wonderful fruit-vegetable marriages. I do have one odd combo that I run through the juicer – broccoli, pineapple, carrot, lime and ginger but to be completely honest, it’s not my favourite and I mainly make it up as a talisman against any bug I know that’s doing the rounds. And then there’s my Beetroot Zinger, which I love (we love – Mr A and Miss R will make it unprompted, often leaving behind the evidence) but is quite sweet enough to drink just because it tastes nice. I’m really not into eating stuff just because it’s good for us, so no wheatgrass shots for me. Plenty of foods are tasty and healthy enough without eating things just because some boffin in a lab says it’s the bees’ knees. I am a cancer health educationist/nutritionist, but an appreciative gourmand, too.
Practicalities: the prep on this strangely delicious concoction is massively decreased if you steam or boil up kale in advance and freeze it in 50-60-ish gram parcels– smoothies need to be easy, right? You can use raw but unless you have a powerful blender (like my Froothie Optimum 9400 Super Blender) it won’t blend hugely well nor be as nutritious for us (cooking or super-blending pulverises stubborn cell walls).
My preference is cavolo nero (black cabbage), but any kale or similar green will be great too. As for the berries, I think frozen berries make a nicer textured juice (creamy and less foamy) but cold berries are fine, especially if paired with frozen kale. You may be able to march straight into your supermarket for frozen kale, but we here in Scotland aren’t blessed with such outlandish convenience. We are blessed, however, with a climate that gives us endless kale varieties pretty much year-round. A nice way of saying it’s a a bit chilly. Add a knob of almond butter for protein if you like (a delicious frippery), or plain old water or even apple juice instead of the dairy-ish options if you like. Just give this surprisingly tasty smoothie a try. Two servings of fruit and veg before you leave in the morning: makes the 8-10 recommended by cancer specialists tastily within reach.
3 good size pieces of kale (cavolo nero for preference), white rib removed
handful each frozen or fresh blackberries and blueberries (or one frozen, one not)
200 ml rice milk, soya milk or dairy milk (fat percentage depending on your own needs), OR water OR apple juice
a squirt of agave if needed
¼ banana, if liked (a good option for children)
Boil or steam the kale for five minutes, until tender, Run under cold water and pop everything in a blender or smoothie maker. Drink immediately. Perfect for sharing, or sneaky scoffing.
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