It’s easy to have visions of wreaths and Christmas trees dancing in your head this time of the year when you think green – but the green I’m thinking about is the leafy kind.
I practically live on greens, so you can imagine my concern when I walked into my favorite grocery store last week and encountered a wall of empty space in the produce department. That’s right; no romaine, no spinach, no arugula. Not even a measly bag of insipid iceberg lettuce.
Lettuce has been in the news a lot lately with recalls and warnings against consuming contaminated romaine. Romaine happens to be my favorite form of lettuce, but I also eat spinach and kale and Swiss chard and the occasional bit of arugula, so I knew I could still get my greens even if I had to avoid it. I’m not sure whether the absence of all lettuces that day was related to food safety, a missed delivery (this was right after the big snowstorm), or another reason, but my first thought was “Where am I going to get my greens?”
The news about E. coli and other contaminants in lettuce may have you thinking you should just skip them. I think that would be a mistake. Dark, leafy greens are one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. They contain a high percentage of vitamins, minerals, and protein (yes, protein!).And did you know that chewing greens releases nitric oxide into the blood stream that keeps veins and arteries relaxed and lowers blood pressure?
Foodborne illness makes the news in the U.S. because it is rare. Still, it’s a good idea to minimize your risk.
Advice from the CDC:
• Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly
• Avoid cross-contamination by using clean cooking utensils and dishware
• Keep raw meat away from other food
• Do not defrost meat on the counter but in the microwave or refrigerator
• Refrigerate leftover food immediately
• Do not prepare food if you have diarrhea or are otherwise contagious
• Most importantly, always wash your hands and practice good hygiene!
Cooking is one way to destroy most foodborne pathogens, so the scare with E. coli contamination of romaine lettuce was most concerning as lettuces are usually consumed raw. If you would like to avoid raw lettuces for that reason keep in mind that cooked greens are just as beneficial.
Although there were no lettuces for sale on the day I was shopping there were bags of prepared turnip greens and kale. I bought the turnip greens and added them to a hearty vegetable soup.
Also keep in mind that the people who become sickest from exposure to foodborne illness are those who may already have a compromised immune system. Support your immune system by eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of physical activity, and quality sleep.