Joanne Smith and Kylie JamesA highly nutritious food we rarely hear about anymore is the green pea, but this wasn’t always the case. About 10,000 years ago, the green pea (a legume, not a vegetable) was one of the first cultivated crops by agricultural societies. Five thousand years later our Egyptian ancestors worshipped this valuable food source so much that they buried peas with pharaohs so they could take them into the afterlife. Rome’s first cookbook celebrates these green gems with nine elaborate recipes. The English children’s rhyme — Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old — is a tribute to peas, as they helped sustain the masses during the 16th century famine. And for almost 200 years, a single pea has been the focus of one of the most famous children stories of all time — Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess and the Pea.

With such a rich history and so much nutritional value, it surprises me that we don’t hear more about the powerful pea. It has a lot of essential nutrients and health benefits for people with SCI. Peas are …

• a healthy source of protein to help maintain skin integrity,
• complex carbohydrates that help sustain blood sugar levels for energy,
• low in fats and cholesterol to help maintain healthy lipid levels,
• low in calories to help maintain ideal weight,
• high in fiber to help support bowel function/routines,
• high vitamin C content to help boost immune system,
• rich in calcium and magnesium that help support bone health,
• less likely to cause gas than other legumes,
• inexpensive compared to other nutrient-dense foods.

The culinary potential of the pea is endless. They can liven up any of your favorite stew, soup, casserole, salad or curry dishes. And their versatility goes beyond consumption — you can put a bag of frozen peas on sore or injured limbs to help reduce inflammation.
So please, give peas a chance.

peas Spring Pea Dip
1-1 ½ lbs.  fresh pea pods
(or 2 cups frozen peas)
1/3 cup      ricotta cheese
¼ cup        fresh mint
2 tbsp.        Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Shell fresh pea pods (or use frozen). Boil three to four minutes until they are bright green. Strain peas and place in blender with mint. Blend until mushy. Transfer into bowl, add salt and pepper. Fold in cheeses. Garnish with a few raw peas.

Tips to easily shell peas: press thumb against fullest part of outside seam at bottom of pod, then split open pod. Slide peas out. Or tear stem end and pull string down along the pod (like a pull tab). Pod opens easily and you free the peas with a run of the thumb. For optimal results, tear stem backwards and pull down along indented side. This removes the sturdiest bit of string and unzips the pod.
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Joanne Smith and Kylie James are co-authors of the book Eat Well Live Well with SCI and Other Neurological Conditions. For more information on nutrition for neurological injuries, go to www.eatwelllivewellwithsci.com.