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Get the Benefits of Green on St. Patrick's Day

green vegetables, macular degeneration

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

We often wear or decorate with green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by. So why not eat green foods as well?

With spring on everyone’s mind, we hope to soon enjoy the colors of spring, including the sprouting grass and flowering trees. Did you know that your food choices and physical activity levels help you maintain the ability to see clearly and enjoy the colors around you?

Green foods get their color from a pigment called “chlorophyll.” Phytochemicals (“plant chemicals”) have many health benefits including antioxidant effects and wound healing. The phytochemicals in green vegetables are known as indoles and isothiocyanates which along with antioxidants also can help your body fight against cancer-causing agents.

The lutein in some green foods is good for your eyes and helps prevent macular degeneration as we age. In wound healing, it can slow the growth of some bad bacteria.

Green leafy vegetables are good sources of riboflavin, beta-carotene, vitamin C, iron, vitamin K, folate, B vitamins, potassium, calcium and fiber.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease affected by lifestyle choices. The macula is an area in the back of our eyes. It’s about the size of a capital “O” (in 12-point font). The macula is made up of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are pigments we get from our food. Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness. Check out the Amsler grid in “Look After Your Eyes” (www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/foods/fn710.pdf).

Some risk factors for AMD are not in our control. For example, advancing age, being female, having light skin and/or blue eyes and having a first-degree relative with AMD are risk factors we cannot prevent, but eating eye-healthy foods can reduce our risk. Do you have any of these risk factors for age-related macular degeneration?

•          Do you smoke?

•          Do you spend a lot of time in the sun?

•          Are you sedentary?

•          Is your diet low in fruits and vegetables?

Protect your eyes from injury. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your eyes. Be sure to wear a hat with a brim or sunglasses labeled “UV absorption up to 400nm” or “Meets ANSI UV Requirements” when out in the sun. Wear protective eye gear to prevent mishaps when working with chemicals or machinery or playing sports.

If you’re serving for a party or your family, provide appetizing, bright-colored fruits or vegetables. To enhance the green of your vegetables, such as raw broccoli or green beans, blanch them before serving.

To blanch veggies, briefly dip them in boiling water, then quickly put them cold water to stop the cooking process if you are serving them raw. If you prefer cooked vegetables, blanching (boiling) or steaming are great ways to bring out color. However, cooking greens for longer periods of time can cause them to lose their bright color and take on an “olive green” appearance, which may be less appetizing.

Source:  Tracey Dillon, Dietetic Intern and Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service

 

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