Lately, it would seem if you are not eating kale, you are not doing it right. Everywhere you look, you see recipes for kale salads, kale wraps, kale this, kale that. Many are sharing the multiple effects kale may have on our health. I even saw an article claiming kale to be "one of the healthiest foods in the world".
But is kale actually healthy? Experts explain.
No food is "healthy" or "unhealthy"
Food is much more complicated than "healthy" vs "unhealthy". We are led to believe that some foods have nothing to offer. However, this is not true. Every food contains nutrients that feed our body in different ways.
Furthermore, Barbara Spanjers, wellness coach and psychotherapist explains, "As it refers to food, the terms “healthy” and “unhealthy” are really synonyms for “good” and “bad.” Such moral judgment about food then expands to you as you eat the food. You see yourself as a good person if you eat kale, but a bad person if you eat a cupcake. This creates a troubled relationship with food, and often fires up your internal critic."
Jen Kennelly MA, LMHCA, CDP, MHP shares that the further she got in her journey, the more she realized that not labeling foods as "good or bad" is a key to food freedom. Kennelly explains, "When I could freely decide whether I wanted the salad or the burger by listening to my intuition without feeling guilt for choosing the burger when I wanted it, was when I felt truly free."
Foods affect people in different ways
Moreover, what promotes health for one, may not for another. For example, some people need to avoid kale due to it containing vitamin K, which can interfere with some medications. Others may need to limit whole grains due to renal failure. Beans and lentils may induce bloating and pain for people with irritable bowel syndrome. While kale, whole grains and legumes are generally considered nourishing, they can be negative for some.
Health goes beyond physical needs
We tend to label foods as being "healthy" or "unhealthy" based on their nutrient content. While getting enough nutrients is important to support our health, it is not the only reason we consume food.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW, psychotherapist and eating disorder expert reminds us that mental health is an important part of one's overall health. Rollin explains, "Having a "black and white" mentality surrounding food sets people up for disordered eating habits. I think we can all agree that feeling guilt and anxiety about eating a dessert is not mentally healthy. For someone who is breaking free from the diet mentality, the healthiest thing for them may be to eat a brownie. Ultimately, there is no such thing as "healthy" or "unhealthy foods," as all foods can fit into a healthy diet."
Don't forget Vitamin P - Pleasure
Foods support health when they taste good and make us feel good. Pleasure is key when developing long-term habits that will support our health.
Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD, president and co-owner, Green Mountain at Fox Run explains this well when she says, "A lot of the foods that make the "healthy food" list these days aren't something that many people enjoy. Yet enjoyment is key to healthy eating. If you don't like it, you won't keep doing it. And all the phytonutrients in the world won't do you any good if you don't eat them. Further, we're all different. My definition of healthy eating is eating that feels good in the moment and afterwards. I think it works well as a guide to discovering what is truly healthy for you as an individual."
Eat kale if you enjoy it, but don't feel obligated to eat it if you don't. Instead, choose foods that are nourishing, are satisfying and bring you pleasure.