Friday, March 14, 2008


Eating right on St. Patrick’s Day takes more than just the luck of the Irish

Being part Irish I grew up celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with the traditional feast of corned beef and cabbage. The enticing aromas and flavors from this dish made it a holiday favorite in my family. Many restaurants, no doubt, will offer this dish as a special on March 17.

But before you place that order, consider what the term “corned” really means. It has nothing to do with the vegetable you can eat on or off the cob, but everything to do with salt.

Back in Anglo-Saxon times meat was preserved by dry curing it with coarse “corns” of salt. Pellets of salt (some as large as corn kernels) were rubbed into beef to keep it from spoiling. Dry-curing has now been replaced with the process of “brining” or using a salt-water bath to flavor and preserve meat.

In practice I have had patients ask me if they should avoid corned beef on a low salt diet.

I think this is best answered by providing some basic facts: According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines (2005), individuals with hypertension, African Americans, and middle aged and older adults may be more “salt sensitive” than others and should aim to consume less than 1500 mg of sodium per day. For younger individuals and those without hypertension, consume less than 2300 mg per day. Consider that a 3 oz piece of cured, cooked corned beef brisket contains 964 mg of sodium. If you go for seconds on the corned beef and you have high blood pressure you could easily exceed your recommended sodium allowance for the day.

What to do?
 Look for lower sodium brands of corned beef; have a small portion (2 oz) and forego adding additional salt in cooking, at the table, or in the form of condiments (like relish and mustard).
 Think beyond corned beef and cabbage and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by eating vegetables in shades of green. Green veggies will not only help you get in the spirit, they’ll provide color, texture and flavor to your meals. Low in calories, green vegetables can be a good source of nutrients like Vitamin C, folate, potassium and Vitamin K, to name a few. Protective compounds found in green vegetables may promote eye health and lower your risk of heart disease and some cancers, too.

There are many ways to incorporate more green vegetables into your St. Patrick’s Day feast, or any other meal for that matter:
 Serve grilled or roasted fish, chicken or meat on a bed of wilted greens like
 Snack on raw broccoli spears or green peppers.
 Experiment by adding different lettuces to sandwiches i.e., romaine, green-leaf, baby spinach.
 Add broccoli slaw to salads, sandwiches or stir-fries.
 Enjoy sides of steamed asparagus, crisp snow-peas, or sautéed collard greens.
 Add chopped broccoli or spinach to lasagna or manicotti fillings.

However you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, keep your healthy eating goals in sight and you just may find good luck at the end of the rainbow.

Catherine Schneider is a Registered Dietitian in the Food and Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Ms. Schneider and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

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