At stylish restaurants in California, leafy kale has replaced ordinary lettuce in the classic Caesar salad. In some parts of New York, kale smoothies are more common than bagels, while at Whole Foods supermarkets nationwide, kale chips have crept into the snack aisles.
That doesn’t exactly have junk food purveyors chewing their fingernails. Last year Americans spent 15 times more on corn chips than on kale. Out of the total $4.2 billion spent on corn chips, Doritos made up just under half, about 43 percent, according to Information Resources Inc. a Chicago-based market research firm.
Ubiquitous and cheap, junk food would seem to hold a cost advantage over more nutritious food. But even that’s not true. If fresh kale and Doritos competed head-to-head, the price per pound would be about the same. A pound of the leafy green super vegetable has a price point comparable to the best-selling corn chips: around $3 a pound.
On the health front, there is no comparison. With little effort, fresh kale can be chopped into a salad, wilted in a skillet or even baked into chips. Kale is loaded with fiber and vitamins that experts believe are highly beneficial. A simple corn chip, on the other hand, consists mainly of processed corn flour, vegetable oil and salt. Doritos have three dozen or so additional ingredients, including MSG, corn syrup and artificial coloring. Even with a science degree, it would be hard to understand the effects of all those additions.
While kale’s popularity has increased, it isn’t just lagging corn chips. Americans consume roughly one-tenth as much kale as romaine lettuce, which lacks kale’s nutritional punch. According to the Department of Agriculture, consumers eat on average 0.4 pounds of kale a year. That’s the equivalent of about three kale salads.
Americans’ love of junk food is one reason close to 70 percent of adults are either somewhat overweight or obese. If science can bring us an almost irresistible corn chip, perhaps one day we’ll convince those brilliant minds to pay some attention to kale.