I’m half Irish, and my most memorable St. Patrick’s days were spent in college, drinking green beer for breakfast!
Naturally occurring pigments in foods often have strong antioxidant properties, and dark beers are full of them. These flavonoids reduce heart disease and hypertension; both of which are of little interest to the average collegiate immortals (the only explanation for a lot of college behavior, including mine).
The Irish have always had a connection to green that, of course, stands today. St. Patrick, a 5th century Bishop, supposedly used a shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity. He also is falsely celebrated for banishing snakes from Ireland (although a legless lizard lives there that looks pretty snake-like to most people – seriously).
Pondering green foods to accompany your Irish beer, it’s difficult to find an unhealthy one, once you get away from green eggs and ham. With all due respect to Dr. Seuss, who was neither Irish nor a real doctor, his green food advice may be suspect.
“Greens” refers to dark green leafy vegetables: spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, chicory and Swiss chard.
Spinach is one of the best green foods around. In fact, it’s called a super food. Perhaps you remember Popeye, our first superhero, who got a curious instant forearm, fist pump from spinach, which he ate out of a can (opened with his teeth).
Fresh or steamed is better and the list of spinach benefits is long. Highlights include antioxidants, folate, iron, B6 and protein. Probably a little exercise will spread the pump to the rest of your muscles; and your dentist will be happy if you don’t use your teeth.
These dark greens also abound in carotenoids and flavonoids (organic pigments) that show promise in preventing cancer, and can (in theory) slow down the clock.
These days, dark mixed greens are easily found prewashed, packaged and ready to go in your local supermarket. If you eat like Roger Rabbit, there’s hope you may live a long life and meet someone like Jessica, his red-headed, presumably Irish girlfriend.
Potatoes are as Irish as Leprechauns, and are unfairly maligned for their derivative fast food products. Few foods gain healthful benefits from deep fat frying.
The potato is a good source of inexpensive complex carbohydrate calories, vitamin C and fiber. The health benefits are diluted by butter, sour cream, bacon crumbles and chives. Take a potato skin, fill it with greens, and you have the healthiest Irish Taco you will ever consume.
Corned beef and cabbage will grace the tables of many Irish on St. Patty’s Day. Corned beef is actually salt-cured beef, about halfway to beef jerky and almost as indestructible.
The “corn” refers to the small hard salt crystals. It was used extensively in World War II because it required no refrigeration and doesn’t spoil.
Although not the biggest concern when people are shooting at you, corned beef has all the cholesterol and saturated fat of beef, plus a sodium load best measured with the Richter Scale. The cabbage is of course a “green,” which by law of nature must be good for you.
And for dessert on St. Patrick’s Day, a jigger of Jameson Irish Whiskey would be appropriate. You can toast your health as an ounce of alcohol a day is good for you. It gets your good cholesterol up and slightly thins the blood.
Wear some green on March 17th and stay lucky!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Donald Bucklin, MD (Dr. B) is a Regional Medical Director for U.S. HealthWorks and has been practicing clinical occupational medicine for more than 25 years. Dr. B. works in our Scottsdale, Arizona clinic.
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