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It’s easy. Just eat some lucky foods on New Year’s Day.
Okay, that might not actually work, but people in many countries eat certain foods on the first day of the year to bring them luck all year long. While it may not guarantee more wealth or love, eating special foods on New Year’s is an optimistic, hopeful way to start the year. And, in the case of health, there might actually be some truth to it, according to recent research at the College of Health Solutions.
But it can’t just be any old food. Only certain foods are auspicious, depending on the country you’re in, but there are some common themes and symbolism universal to almost all lucky foods:
Red. Green. Gold. Many of the foods eaten for luck on New Year’s have these colors. Red is the color of blood, necessary to life and also a color symbolic of fertility. In Vietnam, for example, they eat watermelon. Green is the color of money, so eating leafy green vegetables for prosperity is typical in many countries. In Eastern European countries they eat kale or cabbage. In the U.S., especially in the South, collard greens on New Year’s are common, and those lucky collards are usually accompanied by cornbread because it’s the color of gold coins which is sure to make the eater even more prosperous.
Round or rings. Round because coins are round (think money again), and rings because they symbolize the full circle of the old and new meeting, as the old and new year meet on the first day of the year. In Greece, they smash a pomegranate--both round and red for double luck-- and then eat a few of the seeds. Ring-shaped food includes desserts like the kransekake, or wreath cake, eaten in Norway and Denmark, made by stacking rings of almond cake held together with royal icing.
Pork. Fish. Beans. Never chicken or crab. Animals that move forward are lucky, so chicken and crab are no-nos, because chickens scratch in a backward motion, and crabs and other crustaceans scuttle sideways. However, pigs root and fish swim forward, so meat eaters dig into many dishes featuring pork and fish, such as cotechino, a special sausage eaten in Italy, and herring in Scandinavian countries. Non-meat eaters have beans and other legumes for luck because they swell when cooked, symbolizing prosperity. For that reason black-eyed peas are common in several countries, especially the U.S., Portugal and Greece, while in India, Brazil and Italy, they eat lentils.
So maybe you won’t get more money or love if you eat pork, red fruit, or beans on New Year’s Day, but better health may be attainable with at least one category of lucky food: leafy greens.
A recent study at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions found that postmenopausal women with high blood pressure who consumed a fresh salad of romaine lettuce, spinach leaves and celery twice a day increased their plasma levels of nitrates. Nitrates promote nitrous oxide production, a chemical that improves the flexibility of blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure.
It’s the same principle as water through a garden hose, says Carol Johnston, professor and associate director of the college’s nutrition program. “When you restrict the flow of water through a hose, pressure builds up. If you can expand the hose, pressure decreases. When blood vessels are constricted, there’s a smaller opening for blood, so blood pressure goes up.” Nitrous oxide makes it easier for blood vessels to expand, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure. It’s the same benefits marketers are touting for the current beetroot juice craze, Johnston adds, but beetroot juice is expensive and highly processed. “This study looks at the benefits of food you can eat every day for hardly any money. Everyone can eat a fresh salad every day.”
Eat a lucky salad for a healthy new way to ring in the New Year? Why not, especially since the lucky colors red, green, and yellow indicate the presence of phytochemicals, substances found in plants that protect them from environmental stressors such as UV rays or pollution. Eating colorful fruits and vegetables protect the body in the same way. So add a tomato or a radish to your romaine, spinach and celery salad to boost your luck and health in 2018.
Make red lentil dahl, a recipe created in the nutrition kitchen at the College of Health Solutions by Chef Kent Moody, instructional retail kitchen coordinator.