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By Cheryle Jones Syracuse
Family and Consumer Science Staff
NC Cooperative Extension Service
Brunswick County Center
On St. Patrick’s Day, seek out naturally green foods for a celebration of health.
Green fruits and vegetables contain many health-promoting phytochemicals, as well as vitamins and minerals. They can help protect against certain cancers and help maintain vision health and strong bones and teeth. Eating green (and all other colors, too) vegetables and fruit as part of a healthy diet can also reduce your risk of some diseases, such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
Consuming different colors of fruits and vegetables each day offers satisfying tastes and textures, as well having healthy benefits. Fruits and vegetables are generally low in calories and sodium, high in water content and contain no cholesterol. Many are good sources of dietary fiber, which helps to satisfy hunger and enhance bowel health. Most fruits and vegetables contain very little fat and fruit has natural sweetness.
Antioxidants in green vegetables such as asparagus, avocados, spinach and broccoli, helps protect DNA and RNA from oxidative stress and strengthen the immune system.
Folic acid, a B vitamin found in dark green leafy vegetables, reduces the risk of heart disease and helps prevent birth defects. Iron, vitamin K, magnesium and calcium are found in many green vegetables. They help keep bones and teeth strong and promote healthy blood.
Eating fruits and vegetables rich in potassium as part of an overall healthy diet may lower blood pressure and may also help reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and help to decrease bone loss. Some green foods that are high in potassium are spinach, lima beans, soybeans and beet greens.
Asparagus, broccoli and green beans derive their rich green color from a pigment called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll masks any orange colors if present, which makes green especially good for you! Dark green veggies, like spinach, cucumbers and green bell peppers, may help decrease the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.
In addition, strong smelling cruciferous green vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts, are helpful for prevention of certain types of cancers.
How many green fruits and vegetable can you name? Here are a few: leafy greens, asparagus, green peppers, broccoli, green beans, peas, cabbage, green onion, Brussels sprouts, okra, zucchini, Chinese cabbage, green apples, green grapes, honeydew melon, kiwifruit and limes.
Some “green” ideas for St. Patrick’s Day (or any day) include:
•Tossed lettuce salad. Add extra green with green peppers, cucumbers, green onions and avocados, if you like.
•Make a big batch of split pea soup.
•Corned beef with cabbage is a natural for St. Patrick’s Day.
•Find new ways to serve broccoli. Add it to your favorite Waldorf salad or toss into pasta salads or entrees.
•Include some kiwi fruit, green grapes and/or honeydew melon in your fruit salad.
•Add avocado slices to salads and sandwiches. To maintain avocados’ green color, eat them immediately or sprinkle them with lemon or lime juice. Though two tablespoons of avocado have about five grams of fat, it’s mostly heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
•Enjoy your favorite veggie dip with broccoli florets or a favorite fruit dip with green apple slices.
•Try a vegetable pizza with green peppers and chopped spinach.
•Add chopped spinach, green onion, cilantro and some grated cheese to rice for a green side dish.
•Serve thinly sliced green onions over rice, pasta dishes, broiled or baked fish, and soups. You’re limited only by your imagination!
•Sneak grated zucchini or chopped bell pepper into meatloaf, quick breads, or pasta sauce.
•Let lettuce or par-boiled cabbage leaves “wrap” up cubes of cheese, meat bites, rice balls, or condiments.
•Toss frozen peas or string beans into canned soup. Same idea works for mac ‘n cheese as well.
•Use the salad bar to make a veggie sandwich; a dash of balsamic and you’ve got a great “grab and go” lunch to munch.
•Check out the pre-washed vegetables. Broccoli florets and celery sticks are not just for parties anymore, they’re for lunch boxes, “at your desk” nibbles, and loves to go to the park in a picnic basket.
•Asparagus signals spring. Toss spears with fresh tarragon, drizzle with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or place on your grill or under the broiler for just a couple of minutes.
After St. Patrick’s Day, you can go back to eating different colors of fruits and vegetables each day. By eating all colors, you’ll be getting not just a variety of flavors, but also a broad range of nutrients. You can search fruits and vegetable by color at the Fruits and Vegetables More Matters website. See green on St. Patrick’s Day and throughout the year.
Resources: Color Me Healthy: Enjoying Fruits and Vegetables, Kansas State University; Taste a Rainbow www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org, Communicating Food for Health and Food Reflections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.