The MIND diet, derived from the Mediterranean diet and DASH diets, has been shown to help protect against some cognitive decline . If you would like to read more about it, click here for a link to our blog post. Basically, the diet prescribes 10 brain-boosting foods at certain rates per week and lists 5 food types to avoid. The recipe below for a Nicoise salad includes only MIND diet-approved ingredients, looks beautiful, and tastes delicious. It’s a treat for both your brain and your palette.
Health Benefits of Salade Niçoise
What could be more Meditteranean than a port town originally founded by the Greeks on the shore of the Mediterranean sea? Nice, France (pronounced like the word “niece”) is just such a city, and also happens to be the birthplace of an iconic, hearty dinner salad: Salade Niçoise.
Once you see how easy and delicious the dressing is, you’ll never go back to store-bought. Store-bought dressings often hide a high sugar content, numerous preservatives, and even unexpected allergens like gluten. The dressing in this recipe is not only MIND diet appropriate, but it is also Whole30 and keto-friendly as it has no added sugar (you won’t miss it).
With fish, potatoes, and hard-boiled eggs, this salad is going to leave you feeling satiated. With leafy greens, green beans, tomatoes, onion, and olives, you’ll also be getting a diverse and plentiful dose of nutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
As Nice is coastal, fresh fish would certainly be truer to the origin of the recipe, but it is just fine to use canned tuna. It’s less expensive, still provides valuable nutrition, and you may already have some in the cupboard. If you are purchasing new cans of tuna, look for skipjack or albacore packed in water without added salt. We will add our own salt and olive oil and it’s better nutritionally to be in control of the amounts. Yellowfin (or ahi tuna) is typically higher in mercury than skipjack and albacore . Albacore is higher in calories and lower in protein and B-vitamins than skipjack . If you can afford to spend a little extra, try to find a sustainably caught product that uses pole-and-line or troll fishing outside of the Western and central Pacific ocean sanctuaries. Greenpeace offers a tuna shopping guide here (http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/oceans/tuna-guide/) rating the level of responsibility taken by each tuna brand.
The MIND diet recommends eating fish at least once per week. Tuna is a great option as it is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s help to build the membranes that protect cells like brain neurons . People who eat more omega-3s tend to have better blood flow to the brain, and their consumption has also been linked to stronger cognition .
Eggs are also a brain-food. While not specifically mentioned by the MIND diet, eggs are an excellent source of methylation cofactor vitamins B-6, B-12, and folate. These vitamins may help to slow age-related brain atrophy and cognitive decline . Additionally, eggs are a great source of inexpensive, lean protein, and contain all nine essential amino acids.
Another staple of the Nicoise salad is the haricot verts, or “green beans” in English. Green beans, whether canned, frozen, or fresh, provide a rich source of vitamins A, C, and K, folate, and fiber. If you do use canned beans, be sure to rinse them well before eating to remove excess sodium. For the longevity of our cardiovascular health, it is best to be cognizant of how much salt we add to our food.
Because you eat both the pod and the immature beans inside, green beans fit nicely into both the category of “non-leafy green vegetables” and “beans” encouraged by the MIND diet.
Colorful Fruit and Vegetables
Other non-leafy vegetables in the salad include red onions and potatoes. Olives and tomatoes are all technically fruits, not vegetables. However, they are all very low-sugar content fruits with valuable, diverse nutrition to offer. Typically, the more colorful your salad, the more diverse the nutrients, as many pigments are tied to different nutritional elements.
Lycopene, for example, which gives tomatoes their red hue, has been the object of scientific study for over 70 years. Over 400 publications have touted its health effects in humans. Meta-analyses show that higher lycopene consumption is linked to lower risks of many types of cancer and cardiovascular disease, most likely due to its antioxidant activities . Possible benefits of lycopene have also been shown in studies on sunburn, gingivitis, bone fractures, asthma, and psychiatric disease .
The slightly lesser-known compound, naringin, also found in tomatoes, has demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties . Anti-inflammatories and antioxidants are the two most recognized protectors of brain health .
Salade Niçoise Ingredients (serves 2-3, can easily be multiplied to feed more)
1 can tuna
2 boiled eggs (medium to hard, depending on preference)
1 cup trimmed green beans
1 cup (red or gold) potatoes, quartered
¼ red onion, sliced thin
1 cup diced assorted tomatoes
½ cup olives (black or kalamata) halved or whole
2 tablespoons capers
2 big handfuls lettuce (spring mix, butter lettuce, or your preferred variety)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fresh herbs, finely chopped (oregano, thyme, tarragon, and/or basil)
¼ cup lemon juice (or juice of 1 lemon)
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Salade Niçoise Directions
Salade Niçoise is a salade composée, meaning it is composed or plated as opposed to tossed. To use another french phrase, your mise en place (preparing each ingredient and having it ready, “in its place”) is most of the work. Use this recipe as a guideline, but feel free to add whatever fresh and colorful veggies (cucumber? bell pepper?) you have at home.
Put the potatoes in a medium pot and fill it until 2 inches of water cover the potatoes. Salt the water and bring it to a boil.
Add the green beans to the same pot for 3-5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the green beans from the boiling water when their color has brightened, but they are still slightly crisp. Put them directly into a bowl of ice water to shock them. Drain the beans when cooled. This will help to maintain that crisp texture and bright color.
Potatoes continue to boil until they are soft enough to insert a fork (about 10 minutes from boiling point). Drain the potatoes and put aside in a small bowl to be dressed.
To make the dressing, mix garlic, dijon, lemon juice, and herbs in a small bowl. Whisk vigorously as you slowly pour in olive oil to create an emulsion. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour one third of the dressing over your potatoes and toss to coat.
Add one third of the dressing to your drained tuna and incorporate with a fork.
Save the last third for drizzling over the whole salad.
Make a bed of lettuce on your platter, pile the tuna close to the center, and plate sections of each of your other prepared ingredients in an artful fashion. Sprinkle the whole platter with capers and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette just before serving. Et voila! Bon appetit.
- Morris, Martha Clare, et al. “MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging.” Alzheimer’s & dementia 11.9 (2015): 1015-1022.
- Weingus, Leigh. “The Best Canned Tuna For Your Health, According To Experts”. Huffington Post. April 28, 2020. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/best-canned-tuna-health_l_5ea09fa3c5b6b2e5b83c510
- Burgess, Lana. “12 foods to boost brain function”. Medical News Today. January 2, 2020. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324044
- Amen, Daniel G., et al. “Quantitative erythrocyte omega-3 EPA plus DHA levels are related to higher regional cerebral blood flow on brain SPECT.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease 58.4 (2017): 1189-1199.
- Smith, A. David, et al. “Homocysteine-lowering by B vitamins slows the rate of accelerated brain atrophy in mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial.” PloS one 5.9 (2010): e12244.
- Story EN, Kopec RE, Schwartz SJ, Harris GK. An update on the health effects of tomato lycopene. Annu Rev Food Sci Technol. 2010;1:189-210. doi:10.1146/annurev.food.102308.124120
- Bharti S, Rani N, Krishnamurthy B, Arya DS. Preclinical evidence for the pharmacological actions of naringin: a review. Planta Med. 2014;80(6):437-451. doi:10.1055/s-0034-1368351