Nutrition with Jane McClenaghan: St Patrick's day stew is healthy fare

An Irish stew, typically made with lamb, potatoes, carrots, onions and leeks

ST PATRICK'S Day is the perfect time to start thinking about coming out of hibernation, to take a look at what we are eating and make a few changes to adapt to the seasons.

March weather often dictates that the season for stews and soups is still with us, but if Mother Nature decides to spring some warmer weather upon us, our appetite will soon switch to lighter meals and healthier stuff.

Most of us change our diets at least a little with the change of seasons. Eating fresh, local, seasonally produced foods can help make sure our plate is packed with the best nutrition nature can offer.

Going back generations, we knew what was in season and changed the food we ate accordingly. Now we can find most foods on the supermarket shelves most days of the year. Although this gives us a lot more choice and variety, it is not necessarily better for us.

Fewer food miles gives us a lot more nutritional bang for our buck as seasonal produce is packed with vitamins, minerals and trace minerals, not to mention the positive effect it has on our farmers and small producers.

:: How many food miles?

Take a closer look at your shopping basket and check out where your fruit and vegetables are coming from. If your grub has had an arduous journey half way around the globe to its final destination on your breakfast bowl and dinner plate, then it is unlikely to be the tastiest, most nourishing produce you can find.

Take strawberries as an example. Ripe, juicy Irish strawberries are a mouthwatering treat in July and August but at this time of year they are more likely to be coming from southern Europe or further afield. They will be picked before they have had a chance to ripen so they don't go mushy in transit.

As strawberries don't ripen after picking, these imported strawbs will be a tasteless, bland, poor imitation of what will be available later in the year.

Not only is seasonal food better for us, it is better for our planet too. With a reduced carbon footprint, eating local produce puts us back in touch with the changing seasons throughout the year and tends to be better value too.

:: A healthy St Patrick's Day

St Patrick's Day fare usually revolves around Irish stew and a pint of Guinness. Let's leave the health virtues of Guinness for another day(!), but think about the ingredients in our national dish. Spuds, carrots, onion, leeks and lamb with plenty of parsley. This is the sort of stuff we have been fed for generations. Nowadays of course we know that too many carbohydrate-rich dinners and plenty of spuds on the plate might not be the best nutritional choice, but the ingredients are stalwarts of an Irish diet.

The harvest is not plentiful in early March, but take a closer look and you will find some seasonal offerings in the form of cauliflower, turnip, scallions, kale, leeks, sprouting broccoli, spinach and rhubarb. It is also the best time of year to eat blood oranges and kiwis – usually not grown on Irish soil, but they will be at their best at this time of year.

Of course it's not just fruit and vegetables that are seasonal, but meat and fish have an optimum time to be enjoyed too. Springtime is the best time to eat lamb, mackerel and seabass. The Marine Stewardship's website or app gives low-down on what fish is in season and sustainable.

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