St. Patrick's is a great occasion to go green with leafy vegetables


St. Patrick’s Day is March 17 and is celebrated by many with shamrocks, corned beef, cabbage, a goofy little leprechaun and the color green.

That’s a lot of Irish in one day. So I thought this year, being the good Scot-Irish that I am, I would celebrate the color green all month, not just one day.

Every day during March, I am going to eat at least one green vegetable or fruit. A few months ago I talked about the importance of eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables and how different colors have different vitamins and minerals. It is important to get a variety of color in our meal plan. So while we still want to do that, how about joining me in making at least one of those colors green every day during March?

One particularly notable group of green vegetables that get a lot of attention from dietitians and health professionals are the leafy, green vegetables. These vegetables, such as spinach, kale, romaine lettuce, leaf lettuce, mustard greens, collard greens and chard, are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals and plant-based substances that may help protect you from heart disease and diabetes. Vitamins A, C and K are found in many of these greens. They are an excellent source of fiber and provide a wide range of carotenoids, or organic plant pigments, specifically beta carotene.

Researchers believe that carotenoids may prevent cancer by acting as antioxidants that scour potentially dangerous “free radicals” from the body before they can do harm. Scientists also have found that people who eat dark, leafy green (and dark yellow) vegetables often have a lower risk of developing common cancers of epithelial tissue such as those of the mouth, pharynx and larynx. Some have suggested that carotenoids found in dark green, leafy vegetables may even inhibit the growth of certain types of breast cancer cells, skin cancer cells, lung cancer and stomach cancer. For additional information, visit the American Institute for Cancer Research (www.aicr.org).

However, older adults taking certain medications should be aware of interactions with some dark green, leafy vegetables. Warfarin medications, such as Coumadin, are prescribed by physicians to make your blood less likely to form clots. Some foods such as leafy, green vegetables change the way warfarin works in your body because they contain Vitamin K, which plays an important role in helping the body with blood clotting.

This may interfere with the medication and cause clotting or bleeding problems. You don’t have to avoid these foods, but try to eat or drink only small amounts of them and be consistent about the daily amounts of leafy, green vegetable you consume such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, raw green cabbage, lettuce, spinach, parsley, scallions, Kale and other greens. Don’t make drastic changes to your diet and make sure you consult with your doctor (www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/patientinstructions/000292.htm).

So in my pursuit of making sure I have plenty of green vegetables for my own little “March Madness,” I made a sweep of all the green vegetables and fruits that I had in my kitchen. I found grapes, cucumbers, avocados, green beans, green peppers, green chiles, scallions, parsley, asparagus, broccoli, artichokes, apples, limes, kiwi, pears, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, spinach and zucchini. I found some other, rather unusual fuzzy, greens in my refrigerator too, but I couldn’t name them. Nor will I eat them. I think Dr. Buttner, my microbiology professor, calls it Aspergillus. And by the way, it isn’t even closely related to asparagus, so you might want to stay clear of that green if it’s in your refrigerator.

Annie Lindsay is an associate professor and exercise physiologist at the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She conducts research and programming in adult fitness, physical activity, body image, substance abuse for women and childhood obesity prevention. Contact her at lindsaya@unce.unr.edu.