Is kale not the miracle food we thought it was?


Bowl of kale

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Rachel Zimmerman’s recent article for WBUR on the dangers of overindulging in kale therapy is important not just for its advice on maintaining a healthy diet; it’s also indicative of a new kind of journalism to be found online. 

It’s true that kale is the new hot property in vegetable, praised heavily by celebrities and health gurus. As Zimmerman explains, its high calcium content supports bones; it has healthy levels of vitamin C, thus bolstering the immune system; and it’s high in both iron and fiber. But, she argues, consuming to excess can aggravate such conditions as hyperthyroidism in those who are susceptible. 

Too much is... too much

Well, absolutely. Too much of anything is a bad idea — that’s exactly what the phrase means. “Too much,” as a great man once said, “is precisely that amount which is excessive.” That, at least, should be self-evident.

We should applaud and encourage a scientific approach to health matters rather than rely on anecdotal hearsay — especially in the brave new world of the dissemination of (mis)information via the Internet. Jennifer Berman’s article in the New York Times might well set alarm bells ringing among those who are keen to embrace the latest “simple trick” that promises to guarantee rude health.

The problem with extremes

Yet the truth about kale is the truth about diet in general. Just as overdoing it is ill advised, so is walking away from Zimmerman’s article thinking you can never have kale again and eliminating cruciferous vegetables from your diet. As Teresa Fung points out in the article, “It’s the dose that makes a poison.” 

Those who rush to the fountain of youth (or health) should, perhaps, take care around deep water. Unlike poisons, cures work in moderation. If a few ounces of what does me good is a healthy idea, then a significantly larger intake must be great, right? 

Well, no. Your body is a finely balanced machine that prefers fine-tuning to major upset. When taking the advice of the Internet, an exercise in caution is advisable.

Talk to your doctor if you are prone to those issues exacerbated by kale and other cruciferous vegetables. He or she will recommend a safe amount. It’s safe to assume that life has few easy answers — unless that answer is your grandmother’s advice: moderation in all things.