Baked Salmon with Walnut-Kale Pesto, Served over Quinoa
According to the research, oily fish, walnuts, dark leafy greens, and whole grains are just about the best foods you can eat for your heart. Why not squeeze all of them into one delicious meal? Here we have provided some research-based information on why these foods are so good for your cardiovascular health and an easy-to-follow recipe suggestion for incorporating them into your family’s mealtime repertoire.
Salmon. If you’ve been following Nutrition Alert, you may have noticed we have touted the health benefits of this superfood before. When it comes to heart health, we turn to salmon for its high omega-3 content. Omega-3 fatty acids are a special type of unsaturated fat that have been studied extensively for their benefits to heart health. While inflammation in the body can damage your blood vessels, leading to heart disease and stroke, omega-3s can help to reduce inflammation, thereby protecting your cardiovascular system . Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids may benefit heart health by decreasing triglycerides, lowering blood pressure slightly, reducing blood clotting, decreasing your risk of strokes and heart failure risk, and reducing irregular heartbeats .
Regular consumption of salmon, specifically, has been shown to help lower blood pressure in overweight individuals . Eating oily fish (such as salmon) regularly over one’s lifespan is also associated with accumulating fewer risk factors for cardiovascular disease in old age, including better lipid profiles, healthy arterial blood pressure, and normal blood glucose levels . In fact, the Mayo Clinic suggests that eating at least two servings per week can significantly reduce your risk of dying from heart disease, particularly of sudden death by heart attack . If you can’t stand eating seafood, but would still like to take part in the health benefits of omega-3s, taking a fish oil supplement is a secondary option for similar results .
Walnuts. Again, walnuts are a superfood with diverse benefits throughout the body. They are also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, of the 11 different types of omega-3s that exist, fish contain DHA and EPA, whereas walnuts contain the more common plant-derived omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. ALA has to be converted to either DHA or EPA in the body before it can be used, and this conversion is not very efficient in humans.
Nevertheless, eating walnuts has been associated with reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease such as lower LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels, reducing diastolic blood pressure, decreasing oxidative stress, and decreasing inflammation [4,5].
Walnuts are also the “number 1 nut for heart health” for another reason: antioxidants. Walnuts have a higher antioxidant content and contain more high-quality, powerful types of antioxidants than any other widely-available nut variety . Because damage by free radicals can contribute to the development of heart disease, eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help to protect against, or even repair some of that oxidative damage . Even better, a little goes a long way. Just one ounce of walnuts contains more antioxidants than what most people get from all of the fruits and vegetables they eat in a day . To top it all off, walnuts are a great source of fiber and micronutrients like magnesium, copper, and manganese. It’s important to be wary of the high calorie content of nuts, however, and pay attention to serving sizes for maximum benefits without maximizing the stretch potential of your waistband.
Kale. Leafy greens, cruciferous veggies (such as kale) have been linked in multiple studies to decreased risk and incidence of heart disease , and what kind of superfood meal would this be without kale? Kale is well known for its nutritional riches, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. In terms of cardiovascular health, kale is a great source of vitamin K, which helps to maintain healthy blood clotting, thereby protecting your arteries and risk of stroke . Kale also contains dietary nitrates, which support healthy blood pressure, arterial flexibility, and cellular function within blood vessels .
Quinoa. Yet another trendy ingredient with nutritional merit to back its popularity, quinoa is a heart-healthy whole grain that does a great job of providing neutral, nutty support for a wide range of flavors. Quinoa is a great replacement starch for white rice or pasta dishes, as it provides more protein and nutrients with fewer simple carbohydrates and empty calories.
As a “whole” grain, quinoa is higher in fiber than refined grains like white flour or rice, which may help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease the risk of heart disease . In fact, diets higher in whole grains have long been known to benefit heart health . A recent meta-analysis of 45 studies concluded that eating three more servings of whole grains daily was associated with a 22% lower risk of heart disease , while another study found that the same diet significantly decreased systolic blood pressure enough to reduce the risk of stroke by 25% .
Recipe (Serves 4, with extra pesto sauce)
- 4, 4oz. salmon filets
- 2 cups packed torn kale leaves, stems removed
- 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
- Juice of 1 lemon (about ¼ cup)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup toasted walnuts
- 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 ½ cup quinoa (uncooked)
- 3 cups chicken broth (can be substituted with water or vegetable broth)
- Grated Parmesan to sprinkle
If your walnuts are raw, you will want to toast them before starting your pesto sauce. Spread the walnuts evenly on a sheet pan and toast them gently in a preheated oven at 350°F for 8 to 10 minutes, checking regularly so they do not burn.
To make the pesto sauce, start by cutting or tearing kale leaves away from their fibrous spines. Tear the leaves into small enough pieces so they can fit into a food processor or blender. Add basil leaves, walnuts, garlic, pepper, ½ tsp salt, ½ cup grated Parmesan, and olive oil to the blender (or food processor). Start by pulse-blending the mixture, and continue to blend until the pesto is evenly-mixed, but still slightly chunky and not liquified. Add more salt to taste if needed.
While preheating your oven to 325°F for the salmon, start preparing the quinoa on the stove. Quinoa can be prepared with water, but it has a much richer flavor when prepared with chicken or vegetable broth instead. Add 1 ½ cups of dry quinoa and 3 cups of the liquid of your choice to a medium-sized pot and turn the stove to medium-high heat. Once boiling, cover the pot and turn the heat down to low. It should take about 15 minutes for the grain to absorb all of the liquid, and there should be about a 1 cup serving for each plate.
Place the salmon fillets on a baking sheet with space between them. Spoon a thick layer of pesto on the top of each salmon filet and sprinkle generously with Parmesan. Bake the pesto-topped fillets for 12-15 minutes at 325°F. If you choose to omit the additional cheese topping, know that the pesto will turn a browner shade of green with baking, so the dish may look slightly less appealing on your finished plate. It will still taste delicious, however.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Omega-3 in fish: How eating fish helps your heart”. Mayo Clinic Patient Care & Health Info. Sept. 28, 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/omega-3/art-20045614
- Ramel, Alfons, et al. “Moderate consumption of fatty fish reduces diastolic blood pressure in overweight and obese European young adults during energy restriction.” Nutrition 26.2 (2010): 168-174.
- Panagiotakos, Demosthenes B., et al. “Long-term fish intake is associated with better lipid profile, arterial blood pressure, and blood glucose levels in elderly people from Mediterranean islands (MEDIS epidemiological study).” Medical Science Monitor 13.7 (2007): CR307-CR312.
- Kris-Etherton, Penny M. “Walnuts decrease risk of cardiovascular disease: a summary of efficacy and biologic mechanisms.” The Journal of nutrition 144.4 (2014): 547S-554S.
- Banel, Deirdre K., and Frank B. Hu. “Effects of walnut consumption on blood lipids and other cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis and systematic review.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 90.1 (2009): 56-63.
- Doheny, Kathleen. “Walnut May Be Top Nut for Heart Health”. WebMD. March 28, 2011. https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20110328/walnut-may-be-top-nut-for-heart-health#1
- Pollock, Richard Lee. “The effect of green leafy and cruciferous vegetable intake on the incidence of cardiovascular disease: A meta-analysis.” JRSM cardiovascular disease 5 (2016): 2048004016661435.
- Maresz, Katarzyna. “Proper calcium use: vitamin K2 as a promoter of bone and cardiovascular health.” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal 14.1 (2015): 34.
- Kapil, Vikas, et al, “Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomized, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Hypertension 65.2 (2015): 320-327.
- Bazzano, Lydia A. “Effects of soluble dietary fiber on low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and coronary heart disease risk.” Current Atherosclerosis Reports 10.6 (2008): 473-477.
- Anderson, James W., et al. “Whole grain foods and heart disease risk.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 19.sup3 (2000): 291S-299S.
- Aune, Dagfinn, et al., “Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.” bmj 353 (2016): i2716.
- Tighe, Paula, et al., “Effect of increased consumption of whole-grain foods on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk markers in healthy middle-aged persons: a randomized controlled trial.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 92.4 (2010): 733-740.