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King of the Kale Crowd

By Angela Arsenault
Posted On Jan 30, 2014

Can the food we consume really translate to better moods and increased mental performance? According to Columbia University’s Dr. Drew Ramsey, author of The Happiness Diet and 50 Shades of Kale, the connection is undeniable.

By:  Andrew C. Stone


Of all the food trends to come along in recent years, no item has rallied the health conscious masses and shaken up the salad line like kale—that cruciferous vegetable whose vibrant leaves offer maximum nutrition with minimal calories. Drew Ramsey, MD, assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, has long been fascinated by the link between nutrition’s effect on the brain (as evidenced by his first book, The Happiness Diet). As the enthusiasm surrounding kale hit its fever pitch—concurrent with the popularity of E.L. James’ saucy book, Fifty Shades of Kale—Dr. Ramsey and co-author Jennifer Iserloh got to work on 50 Shades of Kale: 50 Fresh & Satisfying Recipes That are Bound to Please.


Arguably kale’s greatest champion—yes, he is one of the founders of National Kale Day (October 1; nationalkaleday.org)—and a frequent guest on shows such as The Today Show, Dr. Ramsey is up to his eyeballs in leafy greens. We stole time with the handsome doc for the low-down on pleasurable food preparation.


NEW YOU: Dr. Ramsey, how did your cookbook, 50 Shades of Kale, come to pass?

DREW RAMSEY, MD: People are looking at food a little differently, and focusing on the connection between looking great and feeling great. The book Fifth Shades of Grey was exploding in popularity at the same moment that kale was getting lots of attention. The doctor in me thought it would be a great intersection. As a psychiatrist, I’ve been very interested in the brain food effect; foods that make a person feel happier, lighter, and more energetic. And everyone—from those who follow the Paleo Diet to vegans—agrees that kale is incredibly good for you in this respect.


NY: What are some of the nutritional basics of kale?

DR: First off, it’s really versatile—great for juicing, smoothies, chips, soups, and of course, salads. It’s a good source of plant-based protein. It offers a high dose of vitamin K, a nutrient involved in the biochemical pathways that affects mood and anxiety and is also an antioxidant. Kale’s a top dietary source of calcium, beating out even milk. It offers plenty of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and phytonutrients. One cup of kale also offers 143 percent of your required daily vitamin C intake. It’s also really filling, and can replace a lot of other caloric sources that are bad for the brain.


NY: When did you first experience kale, yourself?

DR: The first time I ate it on a regular basis was in 1999 when I was a medical student, working in a hospital in Kenya. I was living with my fiancé, who is now my wife, and I was a vegetarian at the time. There were not tons of vegetarian choices in rural Kenya, so I wound up eating a dish called sukuma wiki, made with sautéed kale, daily. I didn’t think much of it again until three or four years ago, when I found myself shopping more and more at farmers markets in New York City.  I began seeing a lot of kale—especially from Farmer Dave of Muddy Farm at the Abingdon Square Farmers Market in the West Village. I was fascinated by the variety of leaves. There are over 50 varietals of kale. From there, kale captivated me as it did many people. It became my muse, and ever since I’ve been drowning in green. I see it as a great lens through which we can think about how our healthcare system and food system intersect. If we eat by simple rules and rely on simple whole foods and plants from small farms, we are all going to be healthier.


NY: Your career seems to have endless possibilities at the moment. What’s in the works, beyond kale?

DR: I’m working with EVEN Hotels from the Intercontinental Hotel Group [evenhotels.com] on their food and beverage concepts. They’re really committed to helping people stay healthier on the road. I’m doing a presentation at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health [kripalu.org] on the link between mind, food, and mood. Meanwhile, I’m working on a third book that’s focused on the idea of what people can do in their everyday lives to improve brain health. While I have been focused on food in recent years, ultimately I am a general psychiatrist, and have been treating patients for over a decade. These patients deal with everything from hardcore depression to anxiety to relationship issues. All the while I’ve been doing TV appearances, which is a fun challenge. I am on this quest to make brain science exciting and interesting, and give people actionable ways to live happier, healthier lives.