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Why Black Tuscan Kale (Cavolo Nero) is Good for You

Black Tuscan Kale

Black Tuscan kale, or cavolo nero, is a green leafy vegetable that is starting to gain popularity outside of Tuscany, Italy, where it has been used for years as a tasty and healthy ingredient in salads, gratins and soups. Also known as lacinato kale, dinosaur kale, or nero de toscana, this dark green leafy vegetable provides many of the same health benefits as the common curly kale and the red Russian kale, but it also provides some unique benefits. Here's a lowdown of the purported nutritional and health benefits of cavolo nero:

Health Benefits of Cavolo Nero

Like all Brassica vegetables, black Tuscan kale or cavolo nero contains glucosinolates such as glucoraphanin. The glucoraphanin and the other glucosinolates in black kale are well-known precursors to isothiocyanates, much-researched health-benefiting compounds. Numerous studies suggest that foods rich in isothiocyanates may help prevent cancer and even suppress the growth of tumors. Isothiocyanates' anti-cancer effects have been attributed to their ability to eliminate potential carcinogens from the body, reduce DNA damage, and facilitate the apoptosis (self-destruction) of cancerous cells.

Most of the studies related to the anti-carcinogenic properties of isothiocyanates have focused on colon cancer and breast cancer, but there's also evidence that diets rich in glucosinolates may also help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, and bladder cancer.

Aside from being a good anti-cancer food, Tuscan kale has some interesting properties that could prove to be beneficial to MS patients. An Italian study published in the journal CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics in August 2013 found that cavolo nero had neuroprotective and immunomodulatory effects in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, an animal model for multiple sclerosis (MS). However, further research is needed before any definitive conclusions about the health benefits of black kale for MS patients can be made.

If you're still not impressed by the nutritional value of cavolo nero, consider this: this brassica vegetable is among the most antioxidant-rich foods on Earth. The antioxidants in Tuscan black kale destroy free radicals, unstable molecules that can cause damage to your body at the cellular level. The damage caused by free radicals has been implicated in the pathogenesis of a wide range of diseases and health problems, including asthma, macular degeneration, diabetes, heart disease, thrombosis, atherosclerosis, pre-mature aging of the skin, Alzheimer's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Finally, all common kale cultivars provide plenty of carotenoids, particularly lutein and beta-carotene. Carotenoids have various roles in human health, but their best-known health benefits relate to their eye health protecting qualities. A large body of evidence suggests that carotenoids may help fight age-related macular degeneration, impaired night vision, cataracts, and retinitis pigmentosa.

Where to Get Cavolo Nero

Can't wait to start using Tuscan black kale to reap all those wonderful health benefits? This Italian heirloom vegetable is at its peak in late Fall, and the best place to start your search for this nutritious soup and salad green is your favorite farmers' market. When looking for black Tuscan kale, keep in mind that this nutrient-dense brassica vegetable has many names, including cavolo nero, lacinato kale, dinosaur kale, nero de toscana, Tuscan cabbage, palm tree kale, and black Tuscan palm.

If you can't find black kale at the farmers' markets in your area, you can always grow your own cavolo nero, either as full-sized mature greens or as mini-sized baby greens (or microgreens). You can order cavolo nero seeds from Amazon here (if you live in the US) or here (if you live in the UK).

Book You May Like
Brassica Cookbook
Even though the health benefits of Brassica vegetables have been documented in numerous studies, many home cooks still find these green veggies a little intimidating. In Brassicas: Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables, Laura Russell teaches home cooks how to bring out the wonderful flavors of these super-veggies without burying them under unhealthy ingredients like cheese. Brussels sprouts, for example, develop a wonderful sweet flavor when they are roasted, while watercress comes into its own in salads that can benefit from a little peppery kick. To learn more, or order a copy, go to Amazon.