Besides shamrocks and leprechauns, many people think of food when it comes to Saint Patrick’s Day and for good reason. It is a feast day honoring Ireland’s patron saint. Sadly, artificially colored foods like green cupcakes and green beer catch the North American public’s attention more than does actual traditional Irish food. But you’re in luck! We’re here to direct your eyes to the healthiest foods actually eaten in Irish culture.
Potato – The main staple on the island served in a variety of ways (e.g. champ, colcannon, galettes, and boxty pancakes), the humble spud is rich in naturally gluten-free carbohydrates that contribute to good digestion. Potato is an excellent source of vitamin C and is a good source of vitamin B6 and potassium which helps control blood pressure.
Cabbage – Different varieties of this winter cruciferous vegetable grow year-round in Ireland and are part of dishes such as colcannon, stews, and casseroles. Cabbage is an excellent source of vitamins C and K, is a good source of fiber and provides cancer-preventive phytochemicals.
Oats – A staple grain dating back to before potatoes became popular, oats are the star of porridge in the Republic. Oats are a good source of B vitamins and several minerals such as magnesium. Whole grain oats contain a powerful soluble fiber that helps reduce cholesterol and manage blood sugar.
Leeks – A milder relative to green onion, leeks are a complement to potato dishes. Leeks are rich in vitamin K, are a good source of manganese, and contain disease-fighting phytochemicals. Their flavonoid, polyphenol, and sulfur compounds protect cells of the circulatory system and the rest of the body from chronic inflammation. Best served boiled or steamed, leeks can also be stir-fried or sautéed.
Lamb – This classic meat is a significant export from Ireland. According to the Irish Food Board*, lamb “is extremely rich in vitamin B12 and vitamin D, very rich in zinc, high in CLA’s and rich in desirable omega-3 fatty acids.” Look for grass-fed lamb for a better ratio of fatty acids and more selenium to combat inflammation and oxidative stress.
Oysters – A bivalve mollusk with serious nutrition, oysters contain low-fat protein and several essential vitamins and minerals, notably zinc. Eaten a number of ways – mostly on the half shell or in seafood chowder – oysters help manage cholesterol levels, fight osteoporosis and support the immune system. To get the most from this pricey delicacy, add a squeeze of lemon and use other condiments sparingly.
Fish – Whether white fish or oil-rich fish, a variety of finned fare abounds from the sea around Ireland. Authentic dishes include smoked salmon on potato slims, breaded haddock, cod fillet, and baked hake. Fish is a good source of the minerals zinc, iodine, and selenium which contribute to a healthy immune system and metabolism. Two servings a week of omega-3 rich fatty fish help protect from heart disease and stroke.
Baked beans – A choice for breakfast on toast or to accompany dinner, this simple fare of beans in honey-sweetened tomato sauce with perhaps vinegar or spice is nutrient dense and satisfying. Baked beans boast fiber and protein, plus iron and B vitamins with very little fat. The polyphenols in legumes help combat inflammation. Drain off most of the sauce to keep sugar content down.
Grilled tomatoes & sautéed mushrooms – Included with a traditional breakfast, this fruit and fungi combo are more than just garnish. Tomatoes are high in Vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium, folate and lycopene while the mushrooms provide copper, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and folate. Together they help protect against cancer and maintain healthy blood pressure and blood sugar.
Tea – The beverage of choice among the Irish, tea tops coffee and ale as number one. A ‘cuppa’ antioxidant-rich black tea contributes to protection from heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. Steep for at 3-5 minutes for a perfect brew.