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Eating Your Greens for Luck and Better Behavior

Happy New Year! I hope that it is a healthy and prosperous one. In thinking of what health information would help your New Year start off on the right foot, I thought of health habits that while simple, can make a big difference in overall health. One of the most important health habits to adopt in my view is to eat more vegetables, particularly dark green leafy vegetables. So you can imagine my good fortune when I learned of a more compelling way to present all of this to you -eating more greens on New Year’s day is considered lucky! Cooked greens are consumed in a number of different countries for the New Year holiday as they are considered a symbol of economic fortune (the folded green leaves are said to look like folded money).  So now eating your greens are not only healthy (we will discuss more why in a moment), but also lucky!

The collard pesto recipe below can be a great way to consume a lot of greens in a meal, but first, let’s go over why dark green leafy vegetables are so healthy. Not only are they rich in fiber, Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins (particularly vitamins A & C) and minerals (calcium, iron and magnesium to name a few), but they also contain a host of beneficial phytochemicals (betalains, organosulfides, indole-3-carbinol and more…). The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) features ‘Cooking Greens’ as one of their ‘Fruit and Vegetables of the Month’.This site is a great resource for nutritional information, recipes and interesting historical information on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

A study examining the association between dietary patterns and mental health in early adolescence investigated the effect of leafy green vegetables on behavior.The researchers assessed behavior of 14 year old males and females (n=1324 (i.e. 1.324 participants)) in a population-based cohort study using the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). The CBCL measures mental health status, with lower scores representing higher mental status/better behavior and higher scores representing poorer mental health status/behavior. Food intake was assessed using a 212-item semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire (with leafy green vegetables as one of the items). The results showed that lower CBCL scores (i.e. improved behavioral scores) were significantly associated with increased intakes of leafy green vegetables (and fresh fruit). Not surprisingly, those consuming a ‘Western dietary pattern’, with increased intakes of fast foods, red meat and sweets (candies and chocolates) had higher CBCL scores.3

So if you are thinking about including more greens in your diet this year, the following recipe may be of help:

Collard-Green Olive Pesto4

(This recipe is an adaption of a recipe found in Gourmet magazine)

  • 1 3/4 lb collard greens
  • 7 large green olives, pitted (preferably preserved in oil)
  • 2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/3 cup water (you can use any water left from cooking the collards)
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp. salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup (at least) extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 oz (or about a 1/2 cup) Parmesan cheese (optional)

Steam collard greens (coarsely chopped) above (or in a small amount of) water. You can remove the stem and center ribs of the collard greens if you like, but I leave them in for added flavor, texture and fiber. Steam just until cooled but still vibrant green in color- about 3 minutes or so. Remove from heat promptly, and strain (rinsing with cold water as necessary to prevent them from being overcooked). Blend olives and garlic in food processor until finely chopped. Add collards, water, vinegar, salt, cayenne and pepper and pulse until finely chopped. Add oil in a steady stream with motor running. If using cheese, add to the mix, pulsing to combine. This recipe will make enough for almost 2 pounds of pasta.

Here’s to a healthy New Year…!

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1 Salkeld, Lauren. (2012, Jan.). Lucky Foods for the New Year. Our guide to feasting for future fortune. epicurious. Retreived from

2CDC Fruit & Vegetable of the Month (n.d.). Vegetable of the Month: Cooking Greens. Retrieved from

3Oddy, W.H., Robinson, M., Ambrosini, G.L., et al. (2009). The association between dietary patterns and mental health in early adolescence. Preventive Medicine, 49, 39-44.

4De Rupa. (2004, Mar.). Letters. Sugar and Spice. Collard-Green Olive Pesto. Gourmet, LXIV(3), 30.


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Designed by Dr. Mary Fry, Developed by Jerry DeFoe