Saturday, March 15, 2014

Why Kale is Crucial to People with Celiac Disease

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease, it was because my nurse practitioner (NP) was looking for an obscure tropical parasite that she suspected was ravaging my body. You can read more about that here. Unfortunately, the answer wasn’t as easy as a round of antibiotics. Instead I got a lifelong disease that would completely change my entire lifestyle. But in the process of figuring out my diagnosis, my NP ordered a full round of blood work. And what she found was scary.

Even though I looked like a healthy, strong 26 year old (ah—I was so young. C’e la vie!), my labs were completely out of whack. Especially my electrolytes. And the biggest red flag of all? My calcium was terribly low.
Pre-Colonoscopy Hospital Gown Selfie! In my defense, there's not a lot to do in a clinic waiting room but read curled-paged magazines and feel anxious. Sent this to my spouse with the caption "shit's going down."   

But why? I asked. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in this world who loved ice cream and cheese more than me. How could my calcium be low?

Well, what some of you may know who have had the disease for a while, and what some of you new-bies or “just curious” readers might not know, is that celiac disease wreaks havoc on your intestines when you are eating gluten*. This causes massive damage to your intestinal villi which leads to nutritional deficiencies. In laymans terms: I could eat all the calcium I wanted, but my body wouldn’t absorb it.

Oddly enough, the year previous to my diagnosis I’d volunteered for a research study on bone density and received a bone scan. The head researcher ended up following up with me, and asked me if I had malabsorption problems. I said no, and he said I better start eating more foods with calcium. I think this was his polite way of saying I have old lady bird bones.
Sweet Chili-Lime Kale (recipe below)

Anyway, how does this all relate to kale? Well, like most greens, kale is gluten-free. It is also a nutritional powerhouse. Although kale is considered trendy, it’s for a very good reason. Kale has huge health benefits, and not just to people with celiac. But I would say, especially for people with celiac.

First of all, kale packs a huge punch when it comes to calcium, having a higher calcium content per calorie than even milk! This is great for us gluten-free foodies, because many of us have suffered from calcium deficiencies our whole lives without even knowing it. (My many broken bones throughout childhood should have been a hint though…)

One of the other labs that came back very low was iron. Now, this was also troubling to me. I was a vegetarian for three years at the end of high school and beginning of college and knew that I was having trouble finding enough iron rich foods for my diet. But by the time I was diagnosed with celiac disease, I was eating meat all the time. I’d actually become quite a whiz at the grill and was eating more ribeye than your average Texas cowboy. But I was still iron deficient.

Kale Garlic Superfood Stir-Fry (recipe below)
Well, kale has the answer there, too. Kale has more iron per calorie than your average steak! Although keep in mind that kale is low-calorie, so you need to eat a healthy amount.

Now, I know I’m not the only person with celiac who is deficient in calcium and iron. In fact, calcium and iron are two of the most common nutritional deficiencies in people with celiac disease.  And yet, there is a food that is high in both, AND has many other health benefits. How amazing is that?

And if I haven’t convinced you yet of the importance of kale for gluten-free girls and boys, here are a few more important facts about kale:

1) Kale is packed with fiber. Keep that colon clean, people!

2) Eating kale can help reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease**. Really, that should be reason enough to give it a try!

3) The Cleveland Clinic is calling Kale the “king of leafy greens” because kale is a powerhouse of nutrients. Not only is it full of calcium and iron, but also lutien, Vitamin C, and Vitamin A***

Convinced? Here are some recipes to get you started on your own conquest of kale!

Recipes soon to come: Kale Chips and Turkey Kale Cabbage Stir-Fry

Recipes I Want to Try By Fellow Bloggers (outside links):

Cited Sources: