Suzanne Leyden, qualified nutrition, health and wellness coach and owner of The WellNow Co. outlines what’s in season this month and highlights some healthy, simple and delicious recipes.

March, the month of St. Patrick and all the green and Irishness that goes with it. For this month's 'How to shop in season in Ireland’ I have focused on some traditionally Irish ingredients for this time of year (cabbage is the big one!), but I wanted to also consider what ‘green’ is in a foodie context.

What is organic and can it be beneficial? Should we consider shopping in this way in the first place and how to go about it.

We have already touched on the sustainability aspect of eating in season and local foods in this series. But what does the impact of eating organic fruit and veg have on our personal health and wellbeing? And what’s the impact on the planet and eco systems?

Firstly, let’s look at what’s in season this month in Ireland and then we’ll dig a little deeper.

Here’s what’s in season in March in Ireland

  • Apples - cooking and eating
  • Butterhead Lettuce
  • Cabbage
  • Cucumber
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Parsnips
  • Potatoes
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Swedes

Why organic?
When growing fruit and vegetables chemicals are used during their growth to ensure bountiful, healthy crops. These chemicals can be used to kills weeds (herbicides), kill insects and pests during growth and control them for shipping and storage (insecticides & fumigants). Then there are chemicals to control mold and fungi growth (fungicides).

In Europe, in particular, there are stringent regulations that keep the levels of chemicals used, whether in organic or non-organic food production, within scientifically approved acceptable levels for safe human consumption.

Some chemicals used in the production of food can remain in the soil, and in turn the whole eco system for years after its use. Organic food production can often reduce the impact on the overall eco system.

How do I choose the best organic food?
Organic definitely does not mean cheaper. Ultimately, it is the consumers preference as to what they choose. Not many household budgets can stretch to an entirely organic diet though. So, how do we decide on what to prioritise?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created two lists for consumers to use to decide on what to choose. They are more pertinent in the USA but many people refer to them who are looking to choose organic for some products.

The first list is the Dirty Dozen. This shows fruit and vegetables that are known to absorb more chemicals than others, like strawberries for instance. Then they have the Clean 15 which shows the least affected fruit and veg by chemicals, like bananas.

Ultimately, there may be little difference between consuming organic or non-organic produce scientifically. It means the choice is entirely up to you, and you don't need to attach any guilt to that choice.

Recipes

Cabbage
Green cabbage is considered high in chlorophyll, folic acid and vitamin C while red cabbage is high in vitamin A and C. Because it contains selenium it is considered a and antioxidant. And with minerals sulphur and chlorine it makes cabbage a detoxifier.

David McCann's fillet of Hake with savoy cabbage, toasted almond and bacon vinaigrette

Lorraine Fitzmaurice's cabbage with garlic, chillies and shallots

Swede & Potato
Swedes, like Turnips are high in potassium, have some B vitamins and vitamin C and A along with some other minerals and phytonutrients. Potatoes are a great source of potassium and also high in C and B vitamins.

Rory O'Connell's gratin of swede turnips, potatoes, bacon and parmesan

Potato & Spinach
In addition to the benefits of potatoes (see above), this recipe has the iron powerhouse of spinach to pack a punch. Spinach is also high in vitamin A, folic acid and vitamin C. It’s a great source of fibre too.

Kevin Dundon's potato and spinach omelette

Apple, parsnip & leek

This recipe has a broad range of nutrients from the fruit and veg and while I’m not always a big fan of sausages, if you can be sure of the quality of the product then as an infrequent part of a meal they are a good source of protein.

Apples are a high source of fibre, have detoxifying qualities and moderate amounts of a range of vitamins. Some of the nutrients will be lots in the cooking process, but still a worthy ingredient nonetheless.

Parsnips are a starchy veg that don’t have a dominant nutrient, but have a good range of vitamins namely B, C and A and are high in potassium.

Leeks are a fibrous source of carbohydrate, leeks are also a source of potassium, folic acid, iron and calcium. They contain other vitamins and phytonutrients too. They are related to the onion and can be easier on your digestive system than their cousins.

Donal Skehan - McCarthy's Bramley Apple Bangers with Parsnip and Leek Mash, Sage and Cider Gravy with Black Pudding Crumble

Plan what works best for you
It always must come down to what works best for you in terms of choosing what to eat. It’s important to strive to eat a variety of fruit and veg across the week in your diet – think of "eating the rainbow".

Keep it simple and plan ahead so as not to be overwhelmed. Meal planning is key to making feeding you and your family as simple as possible. Most of all, enjoy what you’re eating!