Kale shakes are popular for breakfast, due in large part to my friend and comedian Joe Rogan, who has one every morning with his Bulletproof® Coffee. Kale has nutrients that make people feel healthier, lose weight, and just kick more ass. It’s a huge upgrade over toxic sugar-filled cereal, muffins, and yogurt commonly known as “breakfast.”
People turn to raw kale shakes because they want to start their day with a massive dose of nutrients and a revved up digestive system. But what if kale had a dark side, and knowing about it could make your kale shake even better, with more health and performance benefits?
Believe it or not, there are some long-term problems that come with daily raw kale shakes. I learned about them when I was a raw vegan with a daily blender full of kale, before I discovered the Bulletproof® Diet.
The good news is that you can totally bulletproof your kale shake by removing kale’s natural self-defense mechanisms and increasing your vitamin absorption from it. Biohacking your kale shake will blow up the nutritional benefits and send your energy level through the roof.
A raw kale shake is easy to make – just blend together some raw kale and whatever other raw fruits (aka high fructose wet candy) or other vegetables you like. This common formula raises a few biohackers red flags in terms of optimizing health and human performance. As nutritious as kale is, it has a much darker side. That’s why I hacked the recipe to overcome the problems and upgrade your kale to seriously bulletproof your body and mind!
The Dark and Light Side of Raw Kale
What Oxalates in Raw Kale Do to You
Raw Kale’s Dark Side
- Kale’s oxalic acid can cause muscle weakness
- Raw kale can cause painful sex
- Kidney stone risk
- Gout risk
- Lowered thyroid function (goitrogenic)
Raw Kale’s Light Side
- 180% RDA of vitamin A
- 1000% RDA of vitamin K
- High concentration of antioxidants
- Sulphur-based nutrients
- Carotenoids and flavonoids
- Lutein and zeaxanthin for your eyes
Oxalic acid forms in kale to protect kale from predation by animals, insects, and fungi. Animals that eat too much of it die unpleasantly unless they have well-developed oxalic acid detoxifying systems. Oxalic acid is also a mycotoxin – a toxin produced by the fungus aspergillus and the common yeast candida. Candida is the cause of most yeast infections and some gut problems.1
Oxalic acid crystals can form anywhere in your body when oxalic acid binds to calcium to form crystals, causing muscle pain. It’s very similar to the way uric acid crystals form in joints in cases of gout. I suspect that many people with diagnosed gout, especially at a young age, also have oxalic acid problems. Oxalic acid also causes most kidney stones when it binds to calcium in the kidney. Low-grade fungal infections happen quite often in relatively healthy people, and they increase your oxalic acid burden.2
It sounds hard to believe, but oxalates also cause painful sex in some women when oxalic acid crystals form in the vagina. Before my wife Lana went Bulletproof, she suffered greatly from an oxalic acid related condition called vulvodynia.2 She had lived in a water-damaged home with oxalic-acid-raising mold, and added to her burden with ate a lot of raw spinach and kale, and had fertility problems. She’s fine now, but doesn’t eat raw kale or spinach anymore. Vulvodynia is a “mystery condition” in Western medicine with links to yeast problems, antibiotic use, and emotions.
Unfortunately oxalates are not just in kale. Other high sources of oxalate are, from highest to lowest, – buckwheat, black pepper, parsley, poppy seed, rhubarb, amaranth, spinach, chard, beets, chocolate, most nuts, most berries, and beans. (Yes, chocolate. That’s why my chocolate is from low-fungus crops that naturally produce less oxalic acid. I’ll get my oxalic acid – and way more antioxidants – from chocolate, not kale, thank you very much!)
In short, oxalic acid is something you should minimize no matter where it comes from.
Symptoms of oxalate poisoning are muscle weakness, burning in the mouth, eyes, ears, nose, and throat, and in the gastrointestinal system, it causes abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.2 Oxalate poisoning does not sound pretty, but you’re unlikely to get acute oxalate poisoning, unless your chronic (daily) consumption of oxalates is so high that your body fails to clear it.
Adding to your oxalic acid burden by eating raw kale regularly is a bad idea. There’s no reason to burden your body with oxalic acid without getting a large benefit at the same time.
Try “Calcium Loading” with Kale
The bulletproof perspective on calcium is that most people have too much of it compared to magnesium, so supplementing it is not recommended for most people. But for kale fans, we change the rules. Supplementing is still a bad idea, but adding it, along with magnesium, to your blender with kale is a great idea.
Because oxalic acid binds vital minerals in the gut, long-term consumption of foods high in oxalic acid can lead to nutrient deficiencies. When calcium supplements are taken with foods high in oxalic acid, the oxalic acid actually precipitates in the gut and drastically reduces the levels of oxalate absorbed by the body. Some cases show as much as a 97% decrease in oxalate levels.2
Additionally, a 1997 study showed that “mineral water containing calcium and magnesium deserves to be considered as a possible therapeutic or prophylactic agent in calcium oxalate kidney stone disease” I suspect the study used my favorite water, San Pellegrino, but the study just says “French mineral water containing calcium (202 ppm) and magnesium (36 ppm)” Each of 80 subjects provided 24-hour urine collection samples daily for the study, and drank mineral water for 3 days, then tap water for 3 days. The water with minerals improved nine risk factors for kidney stones.3
The best way to calcium load is not to take pills or drink water, but to toss your calcium carbonate and magnesium oxide supplements in the blender with your kale. Let the harmful oxalic acid precipitate out in the blender, so your body can filter it out when you drink it. If you allow free oxalic acid into your body without minerals at the exact same time, it will absorb into your body, then, depending on your genetics, infections, history, and your oxalate load, it can form crystals in your muscle tissue, kidneys, or vagina.
Raw Kale is a Goitrogenic Food that Disrupts Thyroid Function
Kale and other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc. can block production of thyroid hormones. Basically, goitrogens inhibit uptake of iodine into the thyroid gland, which slows the production of thyroid hormones.4
Disrupting thyroid hormones is so NOT the way to be Bulletproof – it’s essentially anti-bulletproof. Thyroid hormones such as T3 and T4 play an incredibly important roll in regulating your metabolism. If thyroid production slows down, your metabolism slows down, and your fat burning ability slows way down. Being Bulletproof is all about minimizing the things that sabotage your hormone system and maximizing the things that rebalance your hormone levels.
Not only do goitrogens disrupt the thyroid, they may also increase your risk for thyroid cancer. Studies show that high consumption of raw cruciferous vegetables paired with iron deficiencies may contribute to higher incidences of thyroid cancer,4 even while the sulforaphane compounds in them fight other cancer types.
Goitrogens are no joke. Reducing the amount of uncooked cruciferous vegetables (i.e. kale) you eat will reduce the amount of goitrogens you let in your body. But there is a safe way to get the good stuff from kale. Read on…
Kale’s Light Side – What Kale Nutrients do for You
With kale’s dark side in focus, it’s also important to acknowledge kale’s light side. Steamed kale provides a wealth of vitamins to support good health and performance.
Most of kale’s health benefits are linked to high concentrations of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K. Just one cup of chopped steam kale contains 885 mcg of vitamin A (exceeds recommended dietary allowance for women and almost completely meets it for men) and 10,652 mcg of beta-carotene (a phytonutrient necessary for vitamin A production). Vitamin A and beta-carotene promote healthy eyesight, tissue growth, and skin and hair repair. It also helps protect against infection from pathogenic organisms.
The vitamin C found in kale facilitates tissue repair, boosts the immune system, and provides antioxidant protection against pathogens and toxins. Except, well, one vitamin C capsule will kick your kale’s ass. So add some ascorbic acid (vitamin C) powder to your smoothie too.
Kale is incredibly rich in vitamin K. Studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition say that vitamin K can reduce the overall risk of developing or dying from cancer.5 Vitamin K is necessary for a wide variety of bodily functions, including normal blood clotting, antioxidant activity, and bone health.
Because kale contains an abundance of health and performance optimizing vitamins, you should view it as a Bulletproof food – BUT only if you take action against its built-in problems.
Eat Kale with Fat for Optimal Absorption of Vitamins
Many vitamins and micronutrients are fat-soluble, meaning they are not well absorbed without the presence of adequate fat. One study showed that people who consume salads with fat-free salad dressing absorbed far less of the helpful phytonutrients and vitamins from spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots than those who consumed their salads with salad dressing containing fat.5
Another study of over 1.700 Swedish men showed that consumption of fruits and vegetables was associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, but only when combined with full-fat consumption like full fat butter.6 Recommendations from this study include adding 1-2 tablespoons of butter to all freshly cooked vegetables.
People always tell their kids to eat their vegetables but few parents realize that children also need to consume an adequate amount of fats with vegetables to fully support proper physical and mental development. Without adequate fat in the diet, children are literally starved of the nutrients necessary for development. My kids would be horrified at steamed vegetables NOT dipped in butter.
Bottom line – Add some sort of fat (i.e. grass-fed butter, Upgraded™ MCT oil) to your kale and all other vegetables for that matter so your body can use them all the way. If you still eat raw kale after reading this far, you can put Upgraded™ MCT oil in the smoothie.
Steam Your Kale to Reduce Oxalates and Goitrogens
In 2007, a study found that a half-cup of steamed kale is medium oxalate, while a half-cup of steamed and drained kale is low oxalate.1 With all the potential damage high oxalates in the body can cause – steam and drain your kale!
Lightly steaming kale and other cruciferous vegetables for up to 30 minutes (far less helps) also significantly reduces the amount of goitrogens and nitriles.6 Reducing goitrogens in your kale reduces the likelihood of disruption to your thyroid and risk of thyroid cancer.
Lightly cooking vegetables also helps break down the cellular structures to increase the digestibility and nutrient absorption of nutrients in the vegetables. Nutrient absorption is also important in terms of the amount of energy your body is actually getting from the food you eat. Studies also show that women who predominantly eat raw food have lower energy intake and higher rates menstrual irregularities than those eating predominantly cooked food.8
After going over all the abundance of vitamins kale has to offer, it is definitely smart to better your chances of absorbing them all by simply steaming your kale.
Don’t Eat Curly Kale or Battered Kale
Dinosaur kale is much lower oxalate than curly kale.1 So eat that variety in your morning kale dose. Battered kale is not a new recipe…it’s what happens to kale that is roughly treated in the field. Kale that is stressed by the environment – insect predation, fungal infestation, or draught and heat problems – will create more toxins, including oxalic acid. So pick the prettiest dinosaur kale you can find.
Summary: How to Upgrade Your Kale to be Bulletproof
- Choose the right species (dino kale, not curly kale) – Dino kale is much lower oxalate than curly kale.1
- Cook it – Cooking it and throwing out the water reduces kale’s oxalate levels by 2/3.2
- Add fat – Grass-fed butter is a great source of fat to optimize the absorption of vitamins in kale while also boosting cognitive function and gut health. Upgraded™ MCT oil is also another premium sources of fat to add to your kale because it improves the body’s absorption and use of Vitamin E, calcium, and magnesium. It also works directly in cells to give you an extra boost to maximize your performance.
- Calcium load – Add about a gram of calcium carbonate and 500mg-1000mg of magnesium oxide to your blender to reduce your absorption of oxalates. Or at least swallow a capsule as you are eating it.
Upgraded Kale Recipe to Supercharge Your Body and Brain
Biohackers know cooking is one of the variables that leads to better personal performance. It’s not just the quality of your food, it’s how it’s prepared.
This upgraded kale recipe shows you how to serve your kale shake warm, not cold. It tastes amazing without any sugar or fruit, carries protein well, and fuels your body and mind to levels of performance beyond what you probably believe you’re capable of. I eat this recipe regularly, and it is in Upgraded™ Chef, but without calcium loading.
Ingredients (serves 1):
- *optional ingredients
- 1 bunch of steamed dinosaur kale
- 2-4 Tbs grass-fed butter
- 1-2 Tbs of Upgraded™ MCT Oil
- 1 tsp or a lot more Onnit Himalayan salt*
- 2 Tbs (more or less) of high quality heat stable protein (I recommend Upgraded™ Collagen)
- 1-4 tsp Apple Cider vinegar to taste
- Herbs of choice (oregano rocks!)
- Calcium-Magnesium 1:1
- Steam kale with about a cup or so of water until cooked (about 5-7 minutes).
- Drain water. Add more fresh hot water if you want a thinner consistency.
- Blend drained kale with cal:mag, salt, herbs, vinegar, grass-fed butter and Upgraded MCT oil until super creamy.
- Lastly, for added protein, add Upgraded Collagen or other heat stable protein to the mixture and lightly blend until the protein is mixed in. Or just add pastured raw eggs!
(NOTE: Be sure to add the protein last and only slightly blend – you don’t want to mechanically damage that expensive protein. You’ll ruin it!)
NOTE: Using a high-speed blender (e.g. Blendtec) is best, you’ll be happy with this functional, time-reducing, texture-enhancing investment.
For this upgraded kale recipe there is no need to add sugar, fruit, or other carbs for it to taste great and make you feel BETTER than a fruit/kale smoothie.
In fact, this recipe can either be eaten as a quick shake to fuel up for the day or add some ground grass fed beef or lamb to make it as a hot soup to share for lunch or dinner. Either way, this low-toxin and high-nutrient upgraded kale shake or soup recipe will leave you feeling satisfied, nourished, and energized! This recipe is adapted from my book, Upgraded™ Chef: 12 Core Recipes to Supercharge Your Body & Brain
If there’s a way to get more out of something, then why not?!
Click to read the complete list of references.
- What are Goitrogens and How Do they Affect the Thyroid?, Mary Shomon, author of Your Guide to Thyroid Disease
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20361352 – Role of dietary iodine and cruciferous vegetables in thyroid cancer: a countrywide case-control study in New Caledonia.
- (Holmberg et al. Food Choices and Coronary Heart Disease: A Population Based Cohort Study of Rural Swedish Men with 12 Years of Follow-up. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. October 2009.)
- Bearers of the Cross: Crucifers in the Context of Traditional Diets and Modern Science”
- Carmody, Rachel N.; Wrangham, Richard W., The energetic significance of cooking. Journal of Human Evolution 2009,57, 379–391
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