Why a traditional St. Patrick’s Day spread is one of the healthiest meals you can eat
St. Patrick’s Day is one of the most globally celebrated national holidays. And it may surprise you to learn that it’s also one of the healthiest.
It’s a good night for the bars, of course. But aside from beer and whiskey, which have their own health benefits—as I often report— a traditional St. Paddy’s Day meal contains virtually every nutrient you need to live a long and healthy life.
So let’s take a closer look at how you can celebrate the Irish—and your health—this March 17.
Cabbage is at the head of the nutrition class
Cabbage is the centerpiece of traditional Irish meals, which is no surprise since it’s been cultivated for thousands of years in Ireland.
Cabbage—together with other Brassica or cruciferous vegetables—originates from the wild mustard plant, which for hundreds of years farmers have bred into dozens of vegetable varieties. These include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, which were all cultivated from various parts of the mustard plant including its leaves, florets, sprouts, stalks, or stems.
And even though cabbage looks similar to lettuce, it’s far more nutritious.
As with most fruits and vegetables, the darker and more colorful the cabbage (due to plant pigments called carotenoids), the more nutrients it has. For instance, while all types of cabbage contain at least half of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin C, red cabbage has about one-third more C than green varieties.
In addition to its many health benefits, vitamin C helps your body absorb the iron found in plants like cabbage. This is critical because you should only get your iron from food sources, not supplements.
(Iron supplementation can actually help boost the amount of iron in your body to dangerous levels, increasing your risk of cancer, infections, heart disease, and chronic organ failure.)
Red and purple cabbage also contain a whopping 36 different kinds of anthocyanins, potent plant pigments containing powerful health benefits like protection against heart disease.
And all types of cabbage, like other cruciferous vegetables, have high levels of disease-fighting antioxidants, in addition to other essential nutrients for overall health, like: B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin K (which is only found in a limited number of food sources).
One simple leafy vegetable’s wide-reaching health benefits
Aside from its rich nutrient profile, cabbage also helps with a wide array of impressive health benefits.
If you’re trying to lose weight, cabbage is an ideal food. It’s very low in calories (only 22 calories per cup).
It can also help with digestion, as it contains both soluble fibers (which are easily absorbed and help prevent diarrhea) and insoluble fibers (which help promote movement through the digestive tract to keep you regular).
Plus, the natural fiber and other constituents in cooked cabbage (especially sauerkraut and kimchi) are prebiotic, meaning they help feed the “good” probiotic bacteria in your gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome. And as I always say, a balanced microbiome is the foundation to good overall health.
Speaking of GI health, I recently reported on how the microbiome and immune system work together to keep chronic inflammation in check.
And cruciferous vegetables like cabbage contain constituents shown to reduce chronic inflammation. Researchers also report that eating cabbage lowers levels of pro-inflammatory blood biomarkers.
Of course, we all know that inflammation is associated with almost every chronic disease, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and osteoarthritis.
Research also shows that cabbage helps lower blood pressure—a major risk factor for heart disease. That’s because, as I mentioned earlier, cabbage is a good source of potassium, a key nutrient in balancing blood pressure levels.
Cooking (and going raw) with cabbage
Another benefit of this vegetable is that it’s really easy to add to your diet. Raw cabbage can be eaten in salad or coleslaw (just be sure to skip the sugar).
You can add cooked cabbage to most stews. Plus, the leftover water you use to boil cabbage is high in nutrients, making it a good vegetable stock for soups.
One of my other favorite cooked cabbage dishes is stuffed cabbage. This mainstay of Italian and Eastern European cooking can be spiced up with hot peppers or paprika.
I also like to cut a cross-section of cabbage and sauté it as a “steak,” with olive oil or butter, garlic, onion, thyme, black pepper, and sea salt—all spices shown to produce serious health benefits. (To read more about the pros of using these spices, search my archives on www.DrMicozzi.com.)
For one of my most beloved family recipes, see page 3.
Corned beef—healthier than you might think
Now I’d like to talk about another deliciously nutritious St. Patrick’s Day must-have: Corned beef.
Of course, corned beef and cabbage has long been a traditional holiday staple. But it’s really an Irish-American dish. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find beef on the menu in Ireland, where the cows are mainly used for dairy.
Corned beef was most likely introduced to the American St. Patrick’s day menu in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Irish immigrants lived side-by-side with Jewish immigrants in densely populated urban areas like New York.
And fortunately, this Irish-American dish is rich in vital nutrients.
First of all, beef is one of the best natural sources of protein. It’s also a great source of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and E, along with vitamin B. And it’s rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which I’ll talk more about in just a moment.
This meat is also loaded with magnesium, selenium, and calcium—which I always advise you get from food rather than supplements.
Grass-fed beef also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has been shown to help lower your risk of breast, prostate, colon, liver, and skin cancer.
What mainstream doctors won’t tell you about meat
In a recent Daily Dispatch e-letter (“Avoiding red meat is sabotaging your health”), and again earlier this month, I reported on a huge analysis of 24 different studies on red meat. The researchers found that eating meat does not increase major risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including blood pressure and blood lipids.
In fact, the omega-3s and vitamin D you get from meat can protect you from cardiovascular disease—and virtually every other diet-related chronic disease, including Alzheimer’s, cancer, and diabetes.
The salt in corned beef also gets a bad rap from people who really ought to know better. As I’ve said many times before, the government’s ridiculously low guidelines for salt consumption are actually more dangerous than eating too much salt.
I wrote in the August 2017 issue of Insiders’ Cures (“The Great Salt Scam finally makes the ‘news’”) about evidence showing that lack of salt can compromise kidney and thyroid function. It can also cause weight gain and insulin resistance—both of which can increase your risk of Type II diabetes. And low salt consumption may actually cause heart disease.
Meaning a nice serving of well-salted corned beef can actually protect your heart rather than harm it.
Keys for the healthiest, heartiest corned beef
Traditionally, corned beef is made from beef brisket and “corns” of rock salt that are brined in pickling juices, water, and lots of sugar. Of course, all but the sugar is good for you.
To recreate the corned beef sweetness in a healthier way, I like to make my own brine of celery juice, garlic, and apple cider. And make sure you use grass-fed, organic beef brisket, which contains more nutrients and isn’t riddled with the antibiotics given to conventional cattle.
Making your own corned beef also means you won’t have to buy the processed version, which can contain deadly nitrites. These chemicals are added to processed meats to keep them pink and supposedly “healthy” looking, and also to delay spoilage. But plenty of studies link nitrites to colon and stomach cancer, along with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Of course, mainstream medicine will tell you that even something like an unprocessed corned beef brisket is dangerous for your health. But study after study shows they’ve been all wrong, all along.
As for other preparation methods, I also like to make a corned beef sauce from whole mustard seeds, chiles, paprika, and turmeric.
Of course, corned beef is great in Reuben sandwiches. But choose a whole-grain bread and swap out the unhealthy Thousand Island dressing for mustard and/or horseradish.
You can also make your leftover St. Paddy’s Day corned beef into a hash. I like mine with plenty of onion and some red bell peppers, and unskinned russet potatoes. Pair your corned beef hash with a couple of free-range eggs for a delicious and ultra-healthy breakfast.
Hashing out the nutritional truth about potatoes
It’s hard to imagine the traditional Irish diet without the potato, which the Spanish first brought to Europe from South America in the mid-1500s.
Families of Basque sailors began to cultivate potatoes in northern Spain, and the crops caught the eye of Sir Walter Raleigh. He brought potatoes to Cork, Ireland in the late 1500s. Potatoes became widespread in Europe during the late 1700s and early 1800s through the efforts of the French agronomist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. In fact, “Parmentier” is listed in the Oxford English dictionary as “a dish made with or accompanied by potatoes.”
By the mid-1600s, potatoes had become a staple in the Irish diet. That’s why the potato famine of 1848, at the same time as political upheavals in Europe, led to devastating and long-lasting consequences.
Of course, potatoes are very popular in the American diet as well. But there’s a lot of confusion surrounding whether they benefit or harm your health.
The government can’t even decide whether to consider potatoes a starch or a vegetable. They run around in circles with their recommendations. One day they’re okay to eat—the next, they’re not. Well, let me settle this once and for all…
Potatoes are indeed a starch, but they’re far more nutritious than other starchy, high-carb foods.
One reason is because potatoes are also loaded with fiber, which helps regulate how fast starch enters your bloodstream. Spuds don’t make your blood sugar “spike” like simple carbs such as white bread or sugary foods. Instead, they provide a slow, long-lasting source of energy long after you’ve eaten them.
This means that the high levels of fiber can actually help you manage blood sugar and lower your risk of diabetes. And, as with cabbage, the fiber in potatoes helps promote gastrointestinal health and improve digestion, which in turn helps you better absorb all the nutrients from your potatoes.
Potatoes are also excellent sources of vitamin C. One potato contains 45 percent of the RDA for C—as much as an orange. And a potato has 10 percent of the RDA for vitamin B6.
In addition, potatoes are a good natural source of iron, and have more potassium than a banana. Plus, they’re rich in antioxidants, which can lower your risk of chronic disease.
Potatoes come in various skin colors. As with cabbage, the darker the color, the more nutrients it contains. But regardless of the color, the key is to always eat potatoes with their skins on, because that’s where you’ll find most of the nutrients.
Since potatoes have more carbs than most vegetables, it’s best to eat them in moderation. Fortunately, potatoes rank high on the satiety index (meaning you feel full and satisfied after eating them). And with 150 calories in a medium potato, you can’t go wrong!
Potatoes present a variety of culinary possibilities
It’s like Bubba Gump said with shrimp: You can eat potatoes scalloped or au gratin, in a soufflé, potage, or vichyssoise. You can eat them baked, boiled, mashed, or herb roasted. And you can eat them as hash browns, latkes, pierogis, or gnocchi.
Just don’t eat them fried. Instead, try to combine them with other vegetables and herbs. Like baked potato skins with roasted broccoli, caramelized onions, scallions, and a dollop of full-fat sour cream.
And of course, you can add potatoes right into the pot, or as a side dish to classic corned beef and cabbage.
I can’t think of another meal that’s more nutritious than this traditional St. Patrick’s Day spread. Especially when it’s followed by a whiskey toast to another year of good health. Sláinte!
Baked Corned Beef and Cabbage Hash
Great recipe for leftovers. Serves 8.
- 1 wedge leftover cooked cabbage
- ¼ tsp. kosher salt (2 ¼ tsp if using fresh cabbage)
- ¼ tsp. black pepper (preferably freshly ground)
- 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 8 oz. leftover corned beef
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ c. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 lb. unskinned russet potatoes
- 6 oz. Gruyèrecheese
Heat oven to 375°F. If using fresh cabbage, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tsp. salt and cook for 5 minutes; drain the squeeze out any extra moisture.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and
¼ tsp. each of salt and pepper. Cook covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the corned beef and garlic
and cook, stirring occasionally for
Remove from heat and fold in the cabbage and parsley.
Coat a deep 8×8 in. square baking dish with olive oil. In a bowl, whisk together the heavy cream and mustard.
Lay a third of the potatoes in the baking dish, slightly overlapping them. Top with a third of the corned beef and cabbage mixture (about 1 c.) and sprinkle with a third of the cheese (about 1/3 c.). Repeat once.
Top with a layer of potatoes and cabbage mix. Pour the cream mixture into the dish.
Cover the baking dish with foil, place on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 45 minutes.
Uncover, sprinkle in the remaining cheese, and bake until the potatoes are tender and the top is a golden brown, about 20 to 30 minutes more. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
1“A satiety index of common foods.” Eur J Clin Nutr. 1995 Sep;49(9):675-90.