Tag Archives: parasites and leafy greens

Kale, No! The Dark Side of Leafy Greens


Unless you’ve been living under a rock — and if you have, I sincerely apologize — you have probably tired of all the hoopla surrounding kale, officially named the “It” vegetable of 2013 and proudly riding that title into 2014. Kale is the bad-ass of Superfoods — impossibly high in iron, oozing Vitamins K, A, and C (step aside orange juice, I’d rather have kale juice, fool!), bursting with antioxidants, helps one detox, and is an anti-inflammatory (except your ego, which kale is known to inflate). But wait, there’s more to this CV: immune system boost, hydration support, lowers cholesterol.. . and who knows, kale can probably massage my feet and help clean my kitchen!  What’s not to love, you ask? I can already feel the angry cyber-stares of kale groupies, and I want you to know, I’m one of you. I *heart* kale, I really do, but recent events have caused me to question my carefree waltz down the green leafy path of raw kale consumption.

I received a Vitamix for my birthday, and if there is anything more amazing then whipping up a delicious, kid-friendly green smoothie that actually consists of huge swaths of raw kale, spinach, and flax seeds, then please do let me know. So, in short, I’ve been blending and eating more raw kale lately than ever. That is, until my friend’s discovery stopped me cold.

One of my dear friends, let’s call her Matilda, recently found out she’s been a fabulous host –as in host to a freaking parasite!  (I will spare you the details, which resulted in considerable mental anguish.) Now, if Matilda ate undercooked meats on a regular basis or had traveled to exotic locales in recent months this might be more understandable, but Matilda is a dedicated vegetarian.  She rarely eats meat of any kind, though she did consume a few bites of sushi around the holidays.  One thing Tilly and I have in common is our healthy blending habits, however, and her gastroenterologist mentioned that a significant amount of parasites can be spread to humans via — you guessed it — leafy greens that have not been washed well enough to rid them of tiny, undetectable parasite eggs.  Leafy greens are sometimes grown using “night soil” as fertilizer, a fancy name for human waste. Now, before you go all wacky, most of the time this waste is treated to remove all bacteria so it is considered safe (and what else is humankind supposed to do with all of the poop in the world? This is a deep, dark question, my friend). At times, though, when farmers are not allocated enough water — as happened in Spain in 2005– they have turned to unregulated night soil and things have gone to sh*t health-wise, so to speak.  Matilda’s doctor thinks she probably contracted her parasite from greens, but of course no one can be sure. Aside from parasitical worries, I’ve also been reading about the dangers of eating too much kale (ie, juicing, blending, and/or eating significant amounts of raw kale on a daily basis), the most serious of which is hypothyroidism and its sidekick, goiters.  If your joints are aching, you’ve gained weight, and your neck resembles the Hulk’s, this might be worth a doctor’s visit.   

So what are kale lovers to do?  I wish I knew how to quit you, kale. .  .but that’s not an option.

Never fear! Here are some easy suggestions for how to deal with the dark underside of leafy greens:

1) If you’re going to eat/juice/blend raw kale (or spinach, swiss chard, et al), make sure you soak and wash the leaves thoroughly in cold water. You may want to add a few sprays of natural veggie cleaner to your bowl of water or salad spinner.  You can make your own spray, too – just combine 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (about 1/2 a lemon), 2 tablespoons white vinegar, and 1 cup of water in a spray bottle. (Martha Stewart just called, she wants her job back!)

2) Try freezing bags of leafy greens to use in smoothies, which is quite yummy and eliminates any possible “guests.” They like it warm.

3) Lightly steam or saute kale and spinach. One of my favorite ways to eat kale is with garlic — simply saute 1 minced clove of garlic in olive oil for 2 minutes, then add one bunch of washed kale leaves (minus stems) and cook for another 5 minutes or until bright green. Add salt and pepper to taste, and red pepper flakes for an extra kick.

4) Adding iodine to your diet (Brazil nuts, seaweed) can help offset the effects of hypothyroidism, and can only be healthy for the rest of us, right?

I am going to keep eating kale, in spite of this bump in our otherwise fabulous friendship, and I hope you do, too! 🙂