Why the Color Green Belongs on Your Plate All Year Long

St. Patrick’s Day is this week, and every store and restaurant is having deals on the traditional Irish corned beef and cabbage…and also on green-dyed food and drinks. A lot of people probably feel the pull to buy those festive foods because it feels as if we can ONLY get that green-tinted cookie/cake/donut/beverage/milkshake ONE day a year. But, let’s be honest…those foods appear on the shelves weeks (or even months!) before the actual holiday, and we end up indulging in more than one-day’s worth of green treats.

Maybe those desserts don’t appeal to you…but if you can’t remember the last time you ate something green (we’re talking vegetables, not desserts), then we’re here to help you understand why the color green deserves to be on your plate all year long.

“Eat more greens” is one of the most common recommendations we make to athletes – green vegetables pack a powerful nutrient punch, boasting phytochemicals, fiber, calcium, iron,  and other vitamins and minerals, and they also have very little calories. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans for 2015-2020 were recently published and highlighted the fact that the majority of Americans aren’t eating enough vegetables, including dark green vegetables. That means the majority of Americans (including athletes) are also missing out on all those awesome health benefits that green vegetables provide.

Recommended amounts of dark green vegetables. 1 cup-equivalent = 1 cup raw, cooked, or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of leafy greens! The average weekly intake is under one cup for many, especially kids and adolescents under 18. 

When athletes ask, “How many vegetables do I need?”, the answer is usually, “As many as possible, the more variety, the better.” 

The “MyPlate” recommendations encourage people to fill up 1/2 their plate with vegetables and fruit (mostly vegetables), or about 3-5 servings of vegetables per day, coming from the dark-green, red-orange, legumes and beans, starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn and peas), and other vegetables.

For 19-30 year old males, the Dietary Guidelines are recommending 2-2.5 cup equivalents of dark-green vegetables per week, which equates to eating a couple salads, greens on your sandwiches, green smoothies, or cooked broccoli with dinner each week. Of course, there are other colored vegetables to include in your diet, but if you really break down the recommendations to eating a serving per meal, or filling half your plate with vegetables, it becomes easy to eat enough of those foods. It doesn’t mean eating salads every day –  green vegetables can be one of the easiest types of vegetables for people to incorporate into their diets. 

Green Recipes for St. Patrick’s Day and Beyond

Shamrock Shake Green Smoothie from Brianne at Cupcakes and Kale Chips (It has Greek yogurt in it, so it would make the perfect post-workout treat, without eating 73 grams of sugar.)

You can add spinach to ANY berry smoothie (like this blueberry one!) to hide greens, which works great for kids and even adults who don’t like vegetables.

Superfood Shamrock Smoothie or Vegan Cauliflower Colcannon from Kara at The Foodie Dietitian

Colcannon is a traditional Irish dish made from mashed potatoes with kale or cabbage. This healthified version looks awesome!

Nourish Bowls or Massaged Kale Salad, 3 Ways from McKel at Nutrition Stripped

Massaged kale sounds like a silly new trend, but massaging the kale really just means you add dressing to your kale (olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar, salt and pepper, etc.) and actually “massage” it into the leaves, which makes the kale leaves softer and easier to chew. You can use the massaged kale as a super nutritious base for any salad recipe!

Photo by Ryan, a Registered Dietitian who writes at i.run.on.nutrition

Collard Green Wraps from Ryan at I Run On Nutrition

You can substitute regular wheat wraps with collard green leaves. Try adding your regular sandwich fixings to the leaves!

14 Green Breakfasts from the Kitchn

Adding spinach/kale/collards to your eggs in the morning for extra nutrition

Tempeh and Broccoli Stir Fry from Dietitian Debbie Dishes

Tempeh is a great soybean protein that meat-lovers and vegetarians enjoy. It has a great texture and absorbs the flavor of whatever sauce and seasonings you’re using – try subbing out your usual meat in stir fry and try this plant-based protein instead!

Picture by Brittany at Eating Bird Food

Okay, so maybe this recipe for Creamy Lime and Avocado Tarts from Brittany at Eating Bird Food DOESN’T contain any green vegetables, but it DOES contain super-healthy avocados and nuts, and it’s green, so it deserves to get included in case you’re looking for a St. Patrick’s Day recipe.