Updated: Jan 28
Ma che cavolo! If you speak Italian you got the joke, if not - a colloquial Italian remark 'what the hell', or literally 'what a cabbage!'. Joking aside, cavolo nero is far from just a cabbage, it is a fantastic vegetable originating from Italy as far back as 600BC. Little known outside of Italy, this beautiful dark leafy vegetable (also known as Tuscan kale or dinosaur kale because of the texture of its leaves) provides many of the same benefits as ordinary kale but with a higher polyphenol content.
Delicious in Tuscan cuisine, cavolo nero is a versatile ingredient which can be used in stews, soups, gratins and salads.
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Like all members of the Brassica family - such as cabbage, broccoli, kale and pak choi - cavolo nero contains glucosinolates which are important to human health as they are a pre-cursor to isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates may have anti-cancer properties (1) and could aid in chemotherapy treatments, especially bladder cancers. (2) Studies have also shown that cavolo nero contains neuroprotective and immunomodulatory properties in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, an animal model for multiple sclerosis, though further research is needed before definitive conclusions can be made. (3)
Cavolo nero contains high levels of anti-oxidants which protect against cancers by eliminating free radicals (highly reactive molecules which cause havoc in the body). The unstable nature of these molecules means they travel around the body creating oxidative stress which, over time, can damage the body’s cells and lead to a range of diseases and maladies. In fact, cavolo nero scores higher on the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scale than regular kale, albeit by three points. (4)
Vitamin, Mineral & Phytochemical Content (per 100g):
Vitamin K - 325% RDA
Vitamin K is the name given to a group of fat soluble vitamins (vitamin K1 and vitamin K2) responsible for healthy blood clotting, dental health and heart function. Vitamin K1 is most commonly found in plants whereas vitamin K2 is found in animal products such as organ meats. Humans can convert vitamin K1 to vitamin K2 in the gut and other areas of the body.
Vitamin C - 156% RDA
Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is important for tissue repair, skin health and immune function.
Vitamin A - 106% RDA
Vitamin A is the name given to a group of fat soluble organic compounds such as Retinol, and provitamin A carotenoids (converted in the body to vitamin A) mainly beta-carotene; these are primarily responsible for eye health.
Manganese - 40% RDA
An important mineral in the human body responsible for healthy bones and metabolic function. Manganese also acts as a co-enzyme and enzyme activator. Arguably the most important property of manganese is that of the principal antioxidant enzyme in mitochondria. The mitochondria consumes up to 90% of oxygen used by cells and is, therefore, especially susceptible to oxidative stress.
Lutein and Zeaxanthin - 8198µg
Lutein and Zeaxanthin are two carotenoids responsible for eye health and could protect against age-related macular degeneration. (5)
Quercetin - 2.58mg
Quercetin is a polyphenol derived from plants which shows good potential for numerous health benefits. Though more research is needed, quercetin may contain anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and anti-carcinogenic qualities. (6)
How To Use
Cavolo nero can be eaten raw, however, like many other green leafy vegetables, cooking reduces the level of oxalates - a potentially harmful toxin found in kale, spinach, broccoli and other vegetables. (7) Consequently, it might be worth replacing regular kale (and definitely raw spinach) with cavolo nero in your green smoothie (if that is your thing). Kale can also be quickly sautéed in garlic and chilli flakes or used in stews or a healthy minestrone. Be sure to wash them thoroughly to remove soil and pesticide residue.
Cavolo nero is a healthier version of kale which can be easily incorporated into your diet, so venture to your local supermarket or farmers market to find this versatile leaf.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Maitland is the co-founder of 'The Evolved Way.’ A personal trainer with over 10 years’ experience, he has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEOs, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.
Co-founder of 'The Evolved Way', and experienced personal trainer, Samson practices what he preaches. His own healthy lifestyle, which informs this site, is based on understanding the right way to eat and exercise, not excluding of course going out and enjoying life knowing you can still feel and look good.