The Kale Kraze


Keep Calm and Eat Kale. Meet Kale, your new friend with benefits. Kale me Maybe. The Green Thing. The Hulk. Mango Tango Green. Hot Green. Detox Green. Simple Green Protein …

Green is the new black, and we’re consuming hoards of greens in our raw juice cleanses, salad bars and more. Honestly, not since the bacon blitz from a few years ago (bacon in everything from cookies to donuts) have I seen such a huge food fad. This time, it’s the kale kraze. We’ve got kale everywhere – sautéed and smoothied, in chips and salads. We’re eating it in fistfuls.

As a registered dietitian, I’m the first to tout the benefits of eating cruciferous greens:  high calcium, rich in Vitamin C for the very needed immune-system boost, a bundle of antioxidants to help protect against cancer, high iron and fiber.

Green JuiceThat said, too much of anything is toxic. Even water.

I spoke with an ER doc in NYC who had seen several cases of people on raw juice cleanses with kale for months who have thyroid issues. The thing about raw cruciferous veggies (including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, bok choy, arugula … ) is they have been linked to hypothyroidism. They have a compound called goitrin (think goiters). Goitrogens interfere with thyroid function in three different ways: the way the thyroid picks up iodine, the way the thyroid produces hormones once the iodine is picked up and the way the thyroid secretes hormones into the blood stream. (Rachel Zimmerman, Thyroid Doc: Kale Risks Theoretical But In Reality, Very Low to Miniscule,, January 17, 2014).

For kale and other cruciferous veggies to pass from the panacea to poison, several things have to align for this to happen in the body: a family history of hypothyroidism or hypothyroidism, eating too many raw cruciferous vegetables, and not getting enough iodine in your diet. Several years ago, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but with the raw juice cleanse fad, doctors are seeing an increasing number of people with thyroid problems. This triple combo is trouble and toxic.

Now, this doesn’t mean I recommend you put down the greens and go back to bacon. Instead, the key to health is finding balance. Before diving into any kind of cleanse or radical diet change, discuss it with your health care professional. In the meantime, though, here are some tips to keep your kale and avoid thyroid pitfalls:

Cook, steam or sautee: Cruciferous veggies release fewer goitrins when cooked. So, find ways to incorporate them into your meals that aren’t raw.

Add iodine: On its own, kale or any other cruciferous won’t cause goiters. It’s the combination of the goitrin with lack of iodine. Add iodine-rich foods to your meals like: seaweed, cranberries, navy beans, organic strawberries, organic potatoes,  even salt. Some clean eaters swear off salt, and in doing so, are missing out on iodine.

Selenium: Selenium-rich foods also have a way to take off the edge and support iodine. Incorporate Brazil nuts, grains, sunflower seeds in your smoothies.

Be reasonable: Anything in excess, whether it be kale or water, is poison. It’s the dose, not the product. So, enjoy your veggies, but find ways to incorporate other elements into your diet.

Don’t put down those crunchy greens just yet! Our bodies need a beautiful balance of everything. There are no bad guys here, just misinformation and  toxic doses of foods. There definitely is too much of a good thing. But with moderation and education, we can enjoy our kale and reap the benefits it offers us.