Eat Well Mar. 22. 2013

Massaged Kale Salad

Mar. 22. 2013
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

A super simple and nutrient-dense dish: the massaged kale salad.

Meet my favorite way to eat raw kale–the massaged kale salad. I bet that title caught your attention! Massaged Kale Salad is one of my weekly, if not daily, go-to salad recipes. It’s full of fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants and is incredibly satisfying from the king green itself, kale. This recipe is super simple, made from only very few clean ingredients. But what does it mean when it’s “massaged?” Read on for what I mean, plus how to make this delicious (and nutrient-packed) meal.

What’s a Massaged Kale Salad and Why Do You Massage It?

Kale is a fantastic leafy green, because of its texture which lends to a variety of ways to work with it. Kale is great for steaming, sauteing, adding to soups or stews for a more hearty mouthfeel, finely chopping and adding to a salad, or of course enjoying it blended in a green smoothie. For this salad, massaging is a process of physically breaking down the kale to make it easier to digest. Think of it in this way: Digestion starts in your mouth, and kale has a very rough texture which takes a lot of mastication (aka chewing) before we can swallow it. Massaging prior to eating is like pre-digesting the kale. All you have to do is give your kale some love by using your hands.

The kale will visually change before your eyes while massaging. It will start to wilt which is due to the cellulose (plant fibrous structure that holds it together). It will become more vibrant green and softer in texture as well. Because of its tough texture, another wonderful quality of kale is that it will stay in the refrigerator for a good week even after massaging. Unlike other more delicate leafy greens which tend to wilt and become soggy after chopping or physically “breaking” down, kale will keep it’s soft but chewy texture without becoming mushy.

The Benefits of a Massaged Kale Salad

Kale touts antioxidants, anti-inflammatory benefits, cancer-protective compounds, cholesterol-lowering properties, as well as flavonoids which ward off inflammation and oxidative stress and support the body’s detoxification system. The ability of kale to lower cholesterol is due to its fiber content.

When steamed, the fiber can actually bind to the bile acids which are then excreted from the body. Kale is part of the cruciferous vegetable family which has been studied in relation to their protective compounds in cancer development (including colon, breast, bladder, prostate, and ovarian types) mainly due to the anti-cancer nutrients glucosinolates.

Taking you to a quick organic chemistry lesson here, glucosinolates are basically a chemical compound containing sulfur and nitrogen. It’s easy to relate this compound to the cruciferous veggie family, as most of these vegetables have a sulfur smell which is also responsible for the bitter taste you get when you eat broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts (my fave). Isothiocyanates (ITC) made from glucosinolates also kick-start Phase I and Phase II enzymes, which are needed for detoxification, hence the advantage of cruciferous vegetables like kale in the role of detoxification.

Kale’s Role in Thyroid Function

When eaten in very large quantities and in their raw form, cruciferous veggies like kale may impair thyroid function. If you’re someone who suffers from thyroid dysfunction or hypothyroidism, it’s best to keep the cruciferous veggies limited in your diet when they’re in their raw state (aka uncooked).

You can, however, cook or steam to inhibit the thyroid compound found in kale that may interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis, which is very important for the overall health and function of your thyroid! People who have no issues with their thyroid should still play it safe with limiting such large quantities (I’m talking in smoothies, juices, salads, and in snacks all day, every day), but most healthy individuals are perfectly fine to munch on cruciferous veggies throughout the day!

This kale salad is hands down, a staple in my kitchen. I have it almost every day in some form or another, whether incorporated into my breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Most of the time I enjoy this as the base of a salad, but if you’re new to kale simply try adding a handful into your other favorite mixed greens to boost the nutrient content and then gradually have this salad as the base to add upon. I typically will make a large batch of kale salad to last me a good week and it keeps very well in a large airtight glass container!



You get vitamins A, K, and C in abundant amounts from one cup of kale. Vitamin A supports vision, immunity, and organ health, while K helps with blood clotting to help control excessive bleeding. Vitamin C helps with healing and is necessary for forming blood vessels, cartilage, muscle, and collagen.

Anti-Cancer Compounds

Glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables, like kale, are compounds that help protect against cancer development. These are chemical compounds containing nitrogen and sulfur.

Nutrition Breakdown of Kale

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6
  • Folate
  • Manganese
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Carotenoids | Beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin
  • Flavonoids | Quercitin, kaempferol
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, linolenic acid (0.18g/100g)
  • Omega-6 fatty acids, linoleic acid (0.13g/100g)
  • Fiber

The Recipe




2 heavy handfuls (2-3 cups) of organic raw kale leaves (try the lacinato a.k.a. “dino” variety)

1 teaspoon of olive oil (or truffle oil)

1 lemon, juiced

1 teaspoon of sea salt


Step 1

De-stem the kale leaves from the stem by simply placing your index finger and middle finger (in the shape of a claw), and “claw” down the center of the leaf to de-stem while simultaneously pulling the leaf away from you with your other hand.

Step 2

In a large bowl, combine the de-stemmed kale leaves with the remaining ingredients.

Step 3

Lightly pour an additional 1 tsp. of olive oil onto your hands to coat.

Step 4

Using a massaging action (similar to kneading bread dough), start to tear the leaves apart and massage. Continue massaging for about 2-5 minutes or until the leaves are softened, the leaves will also turn a more vibrant green.

Use this as a salad base or add toppings of your choice for a complete meal in a bowl.

Love the Salad?

Have you tried kale in this way? What’s your favorite recipe or way to get kale into your diet? Leave a comment below or tag #nutritionstripped on social. I’d love to hear!

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