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Published March 12, 2010, 12:00 AM

Promise of spring turns thoughts to greens

At this time of year, I start thinking in shades of green. I wait for the time when leaves, grass and outdoor plants burst into color.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

At this time of year, I start thinking in shades of green. I wait for the time when leaves, grass and outdoor plants burst into color.

I don’t think I’m alone in wishing for some green foliage at this time of the year.

I realize that I have to engage some patience before spring officially arrives.

So, I’m going to begin by looking at my plate. I can add more leafy greens and eat them, too. Just like leaves and grass, green vegetables are colored by the plant pigment chlorophyll.

Adding green veggies to your plate is like adding a touch of spring.

Did you just add leafy greens to your grocery list? If not, maybe I need to be more convincing about the value of green veggies.

People tend to shortchange themselves on dark green vegetables, along with orange vegetables. While orange vegetables, such as carrots, get most of the credit for promoting and maintaining good eyesight, green vegetables should get the spotlight.

For example, spinach contains a natural plant chemical, lutein, which works with another natural plant chemical, zeaxanthin, to keep eyes healthy. Lutein also is found in green peppers, peas, cucumbers and celery. Getting enough lutein and zeaxanthin may help reduce our risk of age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness.

Cabbage is another green vegetable group with health-promoting properties. To the ancient Greeks, cabbage was known as a medicinal food.

Cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, contain isothiocyanates, which are sulfur-containing compounds. These compounds are responsible for some of the health benefits.

In a study of more than 18,000 Chinese males ranging in age from 45 to 64, eating more cruciferous vegetables was associated with a lower risk of lung cancer. Cruciferous vegetables also are linked with reducing the risk of prostate and stomach cancer.

Besides thinking of cabbage as a medicinal food, the ancient Greeks also had a saying, “Cabbage twice cooked is death.”

That’s a good reminder to prepare cabbage and its relatives properly. Cabbage has a mild flavor in the raw state. It becomes more aromatic during long cooking because it contains sulfur compounds that form hydrogen sulfide gas during cooking.

Have you smelled a rotten egg? Overcooked cabbage releases the same compound.

Cooking cabbage too long also can leave you with an olive-green side dish. The color reaction occurs when natural acids in cabbage react with chlorophyll, the green pigment in cabbage.

Cook cabbage quickly in as little water as possible. Leave the cooking pot at least partially uncovered to allow the sulfur compounds to escape.

Cabbage remains an economical menu item. Cabbage is a good source of vitamin C and is low in calories at 15 calories per half-cup. It also can be fermented to form sauerkraut to lengthen its shelf life while preserving the vitamin C it contains. Sauerkraut, however, is much higher in sodium.

At the store, look for solid, compact cabbages with no signs of wilting, unusual colors or aromas. Use it as soon as possible after purchase in either fresh or cooked form. Cabbage loses flavor the longer it’s stored.

When preparing cabbage, remove the outside leaves and cut out the core. Wash well under running water, place it in a plastic bag or wrap it in plastic and place it in a vegetable crisper.

Here’s a tasty twist on coleslaw. The recipe is from the Maryland Food Supplement Nutrition Education Program.


Asian Coleslaw

1 pound shredded cabbage or 16-ounce bag of coleslaw mix

1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges, drained

½ cup peanuts (optional)

Dressing ingredients:

2/3 cup light Italian dressing

2 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce

Mix together the cabbage or coleslaw mix, nuts and mandarin oranges. In a separate bowl, stir together the Italian dressing and soy sauce. Add dressing to the coleslaw mixture and toss well.

Makes 12 servings of ½ cup each. Each serving has 45 calories, 2.5 grams (g) of fat, 6 g of carbohydrate, 1 g of fiber and 40 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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