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Come Kale or High Fiber

A superfood darling that can be hard to stomach

By Melanie Peters   |   September 06, 2016

So-called “superfoods” are everywhere and leading that charge for some time has been kale. High in vitamins A, B (especially folic acid), K, calcium and dietary fiber, it’s easy to understand how this formerly humble member of the Brassicaceae family has risen to such heights. From ready-made salads to smoothies to chips, this virtuous veggie has become a mainstay of the healthy eating scene. Of course, whole grains are also a great source of dietary fiber, but as many Americans have embraced the gluten-free craze, kale seems like the answer to all of our nutritional needs.


Not everyone is a fan of kale, though, and for good reason: some people have a hard time breaking down dietary fiber, which can create painful and embarrassing gastric distress. We’ve asked Christine Zoumas, RD, director of the Healthy Eating Program at Moores Cancer Center at UC San Diego Health, how to keep fiber in your diet, even if kale isn’t.

Fiber is an important part of a healthy, balanced diet but many people avoid it because they can’t digest it well. Why is that?

Fiber is a very important component of our diet and comes from plant-based food sources (fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains). Different food sources contain different types of fiber and resistant starches and the side effects depend on the individual's microbiome (gut bacteria). Instead of avoiding fiber altogether, you may want to identify the certain types of food that cause the distress. 

If your body has a hard time breaking fiber down, what are some alternatives? Should they just avoid fibrous vegetables all together?

A diet rich in high fiber foods and vegetables is very beneficial. Taking time to identify the vegetables and the methods of preparation that cause the distress is better than eliminating fibrous vegetables. If the problem is gas, over the counter products, like Gas X, may be helpful. Kale is often highlighted because it is a good source of carotenoids and is a cruciferous vegetable. Spinach and many other dark green, leafy vegetables would be a good substitution for kale and its carotenoid content. There are also many cruciferous vegetables that can be substituted, such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts and cabbage.

Is kale really the be-all, end-all of superfoods?

My short answer is that there is no such thing as a superfood. I think the idea of a superfood appeals to so many because it gives us an easy solution to a more complicated issue — it is easier to focus on getting one food in our diet than creating and maintaining a healthy dietary pattern. Eating a variety of vegetables can provide greater nutrients than just focusing on consumption of one food item. Additionally, there are so many nutrient-rich vegetables that you will be okay if kale is not one of the items that hits your plate.

And on that nutritional note, here are three recipes that, while kale-free, are just as super:

avocado toast

Photo courtesy of

Avocado Toast with Egg, Spinach & Salsa (Courtesy of EatingWell):
Start your day off right with this quick and easy spin on an egg sandwich. Spinach, as Zoumas explained, is a good substitute for kale, avocados are high in potassium, folate and omega 3s and eggs are a delicious, low-calorie source of protein.

Heirloom Tomato and Chicken Toss (Courtesy of
When you have left-over chicken, it’s too hot to cook and you have a crowd to please, this easy salad is a perfect choice. Serving up to six people, this refreshing salad is full of good for you herbs, like basil and the star ingredient, tomatoes, are high in lycopene, which some studies suggest may reduce the risk of cancer. Tomatoes are also a great source of anti-oxidants and dietary fiber.

Creamy Polenta with Ratatouille (Courtesy of
What could be better than a meal in a bowl? This hearty dish is a great way to eat a variety of vegetables in one meal: zucchini, eggplant, chickpeas and tomatoes are sautéed until soft and spooned over creamy polenta. This dish is easily adaptable to dietary needs: if avoiding dairy, you can cut out the milk in the polenta; and for vegetarians, substitute the chicken broth with vegetable broth.

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Healthy Eating Program