Another month means another recipe for my work newsletter! This month's theme was Alzheimer's, which was a little perplexing, given that Alzheimer Awareness Month is in January. (July and January both start with "J" and end with "y", same same, right?)
Often when we talk about healthy eating, we focus on foods that are good for our heart - limiting the saturated fats and boosting the unsaturated fats (particularly omega-3s) in our diet helps us manage our cholesterol; cutting out the sodium in our diet lowers our blood pressure and the antioxidants in fruit, vegetables and other plant-based foods keep free radicals from causing damage to our heart.
But what do we have to eat to make sure our brains stay healthy and that we stay alert as we age?
Fortunately, we don't have to choose between saving our hearts and saving our brains - a heart-healthy diet is also brain-healthy!
For example, not only does high cholesterol increase your risk of stroke (which increases your risk of vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia behind Alzheimer's), but a diet high in saturated fat causes our brain cells and cell membranes to become more rigid, affecting their ability to function properly. Choosing healthy fats are important as 60% of our brain's dry weight is made up of fat. Omega-3s (particularly DHA and EPA) have been found to play crucial roles in brain development in infants and young children, and so scientists are now looking into whether they could prevent cognitive decline as well.
The results do look promising - population studies have found that people who eat fish (the primary source of DHA and EPA in our diet) even just once a week have a significantly lower risk of cognitive impairment and dementia compared to those who never or rarely consume fish. Strangely however, studies that have looked at the effect of supplementing with omega-3s have found no overall effect, so getting your nutrients through food is the best bet.
This lentil salad is full of heart/brain healthy nutrients - the red pepper and tomato (and lemon in the dressing) provide vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant.
The salmon provides vitamin B12 (which keeps homocysteine, a marker of slowed cell regeneration, in check) and omega-3s, of course.
The lentils provide folate and vitamin B6 (also related to homocysteine levels).
And the dill... well dill is just tasty.
Actually, the whole salad is tasty - lentils and salmon are apparently a very common French bistro pair, and the lemon mustard dressing takes the lentils from being a hearty winter food to a lighter, summery food. The original recipe calls for ½ cup of chopped red onion, but I don't like raw onion, so I eliminated them in favour of some other vegetables - feel free to add them back.
Lemony Lentil Salad with Salmon
Adapted from EatingWell
Makes 6 servings (about 1-1½ cups per serving)
- ⅓ cup (85 mL) lemon juice (yield from 2-3 lemons)
- ⅓ cup (85 mL) chopped fresh dill
- 2 tsp (10 mL) Dijon mustard
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
- ⅓ cup (85 mL) olive oil
- 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 cup (250 mL) diced seedless cucumber
- 1 cup (250 mL) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 3 cups (750 mL) cooked brown, green or Du Puy lentils*, or 2 x 398 mL (14 oz) cans lentils, drained and rinsed
- 1 x 418 g (14 oz) can salmon, drained and flaked, or 1½ cups flaked cooked salmon
*A heaping cup of lentils makes 3 cups of cooked lentils. Pick through lentils for rocks and other debris and rinse before placing in a saucepan, covering with water and bringing it to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until just tender, about 20-30 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water.
- Whisk lemon juice, dill, mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Add bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, lentils and salmon; toss to coat.Nutrition Info (per serving): 316 calories, 14 g fat (2 g saturated), 47 mg cholesterol, 24 g carbohydrate (9 g fibre, 4 g sugar), 23 g protein, 252 mg sodium. An excellent source of vitamin C, thiamin (vitamin B1), folate (vitamin B4), vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese and selenium. A good source of niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), vitamin B6, calcium, zinc and copper.