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As we eagerly count down the days to St. Patrick’s Day, a jubilant day filled with spirited parades, toe-tapping tunes, dancing, food, drinks and a whole lot of green, which foods can be turned festive and promoted to consumers, either in the grocery store or soaking in the festivities elsewhere? 

Vegetables are essential components of a healthy diet, offering a wide array of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. While there is no single “most healthy” vegetable, incorporating a variety of vegetables into consumers’ meals can significantly improve overall health and well-being. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines, adults are encouraged to incorporate a variety of vegetables into their diet, aiming to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables. 

The history of dark green leafy vegetables in America traces back to the early 1600s when the first Africans arrived in North America. They introduced these nutritious greens to the continent, which subsequently became integral to African American diets. Over time, cooked greens evolved into a staple in Southern regional cuisines and are now enjoyed across the nation, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service

Imagine that the end of the rainbow this St. Patrick’s Day not only promises pots of gold, but also a bounty of green treasures promising wealth of a different kind — a wealth of health. Here’s 10 green produce items to promote for St. Patrick’s Day. 

10. Peas 

Peas, characterized by their sweet and starchy taste, offer a nutritional punch with 134 calories per cooked cup. Rich in fiber, providing 9 grams per serving and protein, offering 9 grams per serving, peas also boast vitamins A, C and K, along with certain B vitamins. Their status as a good source of plant-based protein makes them particularly valuable for consumers adhering to vegetarian or vegan diets. Additionally, peas and other legumes contain fiber, which supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, promoting regular bowel movements and a healthy digestive system. Furthermore, the presence of saponins, plant compounds found in peas, may contribute to protecting against oxidative stress and potential cancer development. 

Incorporating peas into one’s diet is convenient and versatile. Keeping a bag of peas in the freezer allows for easy integration into various dishes, such as pasta dishes, risottos and curries, to enhance their nutritional profiles. Alternatively, consumers may enjoy a refreshing pea and mint soup, showcasing the flexibility of this nutrient-rich vegetable in culinary creations. Whether added to hearty entrees or crafted into appetizing soups, peas offer both flavor and health benefits, making them a valuable component of a balanced diet. 

9. Broccoli 

Broccoli, a member of the cruciferous vegetable family, stands out as an incredibly nutritious option, offering a mere 30.9 calories per cup of chopped and boiled servings. Packed with essential nutrients, broccoli fulfills the daily requirement of vitamin K and provides twice the recommended amount of vitamin C, making it a valuable addition to any diet. Notably, research from the National Cancer Institute suggests that the presence of indoles and isothiocyanates in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli may hinder cancer development in various organs, including the bladder, breasts, liver and stomach. These compounds exhibit potential in protecting cells from DNA damage, deactivating cancer-causing agents and imparting anti-inflammatory effects, although human research outcomes have yielded mixed results. 

Fortunately, broccoli’s versatility allows for diverse culinary preparations, making it easy to incorporate into daily meals. Whether roasted, steamed, fried, blended into soups or enjoyed warm in salads, broccoli offers a flavorful and nutrient-rich addition to any dish. Its adaptability ensures consumers can savor its health benefits in various forms, contributing to a balanced and wholesome diet. 

8. Asparagus 

Asparagus is a beloved and flavorful vegetable renowned for its abundance of filling fiber and diverse micronutrients. With just 26.8 calories per cup, asparagus is a nutritional powerhouse, boasting essential vitamins such as vitamin K, vitamin A and folate. Preparing asparagus is straightforward: Trim the ends, then bake, pan fry or grill with consumers’ choice of seasoning. It serves excellently as a side dish or a delightful addition to pastas and salads. 

7. Brussels sprouts 

Brussels sprouts, belonging to the cruciferous vegetable family, boast a wealth of nutrients and antioxidants. Their high fiber content supports digestion and promotes satiety. A single cup of Brussels sprouts contains approximately 37.8 calories and is a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin K and folate. Although Brussels sprouts can be consumed raw in salads, they are often roasted or baked, offering a delightful flavor profile when seasoned with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. This cooking method enhances their taste and texture, making them a popular and nutritious addition to meals. 

6. Swiss chard 

Swiss chard, a nutrient-dense dark leafy green, boasts a rich antioxidant profile including vitamins C, E and polyphenols. With just 6.84 calories per cup, Swiss chard is a good source of essential nutrients such as vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium. Incorporating Swiss chard into dishes is simple; consumers can add it to stews, stir-fries or pasta dishes. To enjoy its flavors and benefits fully, consumers can chop the leaves and add them in the final minutes of cooking, allowing them to wilt gently. 

5. Avocado 

Avocado is a versatile superfood packed with healthy fats, antioxidants, and numerous vitamins and minerals. Regular consumption of avocados offers various health benefits, including improved satiety, weight management, heart health, diabetes prevention, enhanced nutrient absorption, digestive health, brain function, eye protection and even potential anti-cancer properties, according to Health. Avocado intake has been associated with positive changes in lipid profiles, gut microbiome, and cognitive performance. Additionally, avocados are a rich source of nutrients like folate, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium and magnesium. 

Avocados can be blended into fruit smoothies or chocolate pudding, and added to tacos. Additionally, avocados can substitute butter in baking recipes, with each tablespoon replaced by half a tablespoon of avocado. This substitution not only reduces calories but also enhances the nutritional value of baked goods while maintaining a creamy texture, providing a satisfying alternative for health-conscious individuals. 

4. Spinach 

Spinach stands out as a leafy green vegetable, offering an array of essential nutrients crucial for overall health. With its rich calcium, vitamins A, C and K, iron, magnesium, folate and antioxidants, spinach serves as a valuable addition to any diet. Notably, its low-calorie nature, with just 6.9 calories per cup of raw spinach, ensures that consumers can obtain vital nutrients without compromising their calorie intake. Particularly beneficial for those following meat- or dairy-free diets, spinach provides essential iron and calcium for bone health and energy production. 

However, consumers taking blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin) should exercise caution with their spinach consumption due to its high vitamin K content, which can affect medication efficacy. Maintaining consistent vitamin K intake is advised for such consumers to ensure stable blood clotting levels. Nevertheless, spinach remains a versatile and nutrient-dense option, whether enjoyed raw in salads and smoothies or cooked as a flavorful addition to various dishes, making it easy to reap its numerous health benefits as part of a balanced diet. 

3. Kale 

Kale, a widely popular leafy green vegetable, boasts numerous health benefits and a low calorie count of 7.35 calories per cup of raw leaves, making it an excellent addition to any diet. Rich in essential vitamins A, C and K, kale offers a diverse array of nutrients. Particularly noteworthy is its potential to benefit consumers with high cholesterol, as demonstrated by a 2021 study showing that treatment with kale juice powder over 8 weeks resulted in increased HDL cholesterol and decreased LDL cholesterol. 

However, consumers on blood thinners such as Coumadin should approach their kale consumption with caution due to its high vitamin K content, which can interfere with medication effectiveness. Maintaining a consistent intake of vitamin K while on these medications is essential to avoid fluctuations in blood clotting levels. Nevertheless, kale presents itself as a versatile ingredient, commonly incorporated into pasta dishes, salads and sandwiches or enjoyed in alternative forms like kale chips or juice, ensuring consumers can reap its health benefits in diverse and delicious ways. 

2. Green beans 

Green beans are perfect for St. Patrick’s Day because the holiday’s color is right in the vegetable’s name. Green beans, also known as snap beans or string beans, have varieties beyond just green, including yellow and purple. Originating from the Americas, they’re now grown worldwide and available year-round, with peak seasons from May to October. 

Green beans are low in calories but rich in nutrients like antioxidants, fiber and vitamins, offering various health benefits such as improved heart and gut health, support for healthy pregnancies, bone health and mood regulation, according to WebMD. They also provide essential nutrients like vitamins A, C, K and folate. However, precautions include potential interference with blood thinners due to vitamin K content, lectins causing digestive discomfort and phytic acid inhibiting mineral absorption. Canned varieties may contain added salt, necessitating rinsing before consumption. Green beans can be prepared in numerous ways, including sautéing, roasting or incorporating them into casseroles and stir-fries. 

  1. Collard greens 

Similar to green beans, collard greens are also perfect for St. Patrick’s Day because of the name. Collard greens, a leafy green vegetable belonging to the Brassica genus, alongside broccoli, cabbage and kale, are native to North America and have long been part of Southern American diets. Like other Brassicas, collard greens are rich in nutrients and offer various health benefits when consumed regularly, according to WebMD. Collard greens are packed with vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber, promoting digestive health by absorbing cholesterol and supporting efficient digestion. They aid in improving bone health due to their vitamin K content, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Rich in antioxidants, collard greens may help prevent certain diseases by neutralizing free radicals. Their folate content is crucial for preventing birth defects, making them essential for pregnant women. Collard greens boost immune health with their vitamin A and C content. 

Collard greens are potassium-rich, regulating heartbeat and muscle function, with a low glycemic index suitable for managing blood sugar levels. Due to their toughness, collard greens benefit from cooking to soften them. They’re versatile and can be used in various dishes, such as wraps, chili, soups, stir-fries, pesto, sautés or smoothies. 

In conclusion, the celebration of St. Patrick’s Day provides an opportunity to not only indulge in festive foods, but also to promote the consumption of nutrient-rich green vegetables. From spinach to green beans, these vegetables offer a wealth of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants essential for overall health and well-being. Understanding the nutritional benefits and potential considerations associated with these green produce items is vital for health and wellness professionals. By possessing comprehensive knowledge about various vegetables and their impact on health, professionals can effectively educate and empower consumers to make informed dietary choices. Whether it’s advocating for a balanced plate or addressing specific dietary needs, dietitians and health and wellness professionals play a crucial role in promoting the consumption of green vegetables not only during St. Patrick’s Day, but throughout the year. 

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