As I'm sitting here in Groundswell Cafe in Salisbury MA, I am handed this tuna salad atop a bed of spinach accompanied by avocado, farmer's cheese and tomato. The beauty of the dish brought up such an excitement of anticipation for what was about to enter my mouth and satisfy my taste buds. The familiarity of the tuna salad made me feel comforted since I ate so much of it as a kid, and knowing the health benefits of everything in there only added to the excitement of this meal- satisfying the nutritionist in me.
The more I'm learning about brain health and how to feel good overall, the more I'm realizing the importance of consuming foods that nourish your brain on more levels than those that are just "brain healthy". What I've been learning about are the heart-brain and the gut-brain connections. Both the gut and the heart have a major influence on the brain.
There are literally direct channels from each that communicate with the brain and the brain communicates back to them, in this feedback loop system.
So you know what that means to me??
Eating and making food that fills my heart with happiness, explodes my taste buds, that's good for digestion and has brain-specific nutrients.
And you know what? Ever since I started eating this way, I feel so much happier than I have ever felt, I have less cravings and I have lost a ton of extra weight without any effort at all. Whenever anyone asks me what my secret is for looking so radiant and losing the excess weight, my answer is "happiness". Of course, everything in balance is of upmost importance. The key I have found, is the allowance of eating what I want to while turning it into a healthier version and making sure my body is absorbing the nutrients by focusing on my gut health.
The following recipe reminded me of why I eat the way I do and how far I've come in the process of finding the balance for myself. I'm altering it a little bit to add in the probiotic piece as well as some brain-specific herbs. I always take some form of bitters (Urban Moonshine is sold in many stores and is delicious) to help with my liver and bile health which helps absorb and breakdown the nutrients in my body. I highly recommend getting yourself some of these, or making your own!
Here's the recipe for you! Enjoy :)
The Best Tuna Salad Recipe
1 4-ounce can tuna (I like Vital Choice and Wild Planet)
2 tbs capers, drained and roughly chopped
4 tbs red onion, minced
1/4 c celery, chopped
1 tsp dijon mustard
3 tbs olive oil or homemade aoli (recipe to follow)
1 tbs sauerkraut juice
1 tsp rosemary, finely minced
Freshly ground pepper to taste (I've found that I don't need to add any salt)
Spinach, arugula or mixed greens
1/2 small-medium tomato, diced
1/2 avocado, diced
1/4 c goat, feta or crumbled cheese of choice (optional)
Combine ingredients from capers to salt and pepper in a bowl.
Place the salad greens on the plate, top with tuna salad, tomato, avocado and cheese (optional). Option to drizzle with a little extra olive oil, salt and pepper.
Garlic Aoli recipe
(adapted from the Heal Your Gut Cookbook by Boynton and Brackett)
Makes 1 1/2 cups
3 pastured egg yolks
1 tsp dried mustard
3 cloves garlic
juice of 1/2 small lemon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 c extra virgin coconut oil
3/4 c quality olive oil
2 tbs whey, sauerkraut juice (optional, but recommended)
In a food processor, pulse to mix the yolks, mustard, lemon juice and salt. Melt the coconut oil just slightly so that it becomes liquid (if heated too high, the eggs will start to cook). Add to olive oil. Then, with your food processor on, slowly pour in the oil mixture until it emulsifies; start with 1-2 drops, then a few more, then a few more, then begin a slow, steady stream. Add whey, briefly blend until incorporated. Using a rubber spatula, put the mayo in a jar and keep in the fridge. Use within a week.
Benefits of the ingredients
Really great source of quercetin which is a powerful antioxidant. Quercetin has been shown to enhance cardiovascular support and slow down neurodegeneration. It has been shown to preserve vital brain cell function by preventing oxidation and therefore inflammation in the brain, limiting the cell death that produces neurodegenerative diseases.
A polyphenol found in olives and olive oil (oleocanthal) has been linked to reduced risk of Alzheimer's while enhancing clearance of brain-damaging amyloid protein. Olive oil also has healing and anti-inflammatory properties, it stimulates bile flow which helps breakdown fats, it activates liver enzymes, has antioxidant activity as well as anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and it helps in membrane development, cell formation and cell differentiation.
Sauerkraut provides essential probiotics for our gut. It's really important to keep your gut healthy to keep your brain healthy for many reasons. They help with absorption (if you're eating healthy and not absorbing the nutrients, then what's the point?), they help keep the friendly bacteria population at a good number which keeps out the pathogenic yeasts and bacteria that cause detrimental effects in our systems. I try to eat something fermented as often as possible to keep the constant flow of beneficial bacteria in my gut.
Tuna is a great dietary source of omega-3 fatty acids which are lacking many American diets. Omega-3's help keep inflammation down in our bodies which is extremely important for brain health. They also provide neural support by maintaining the integrity of the myelin sheath- the myelin sheath aids in the transmission of signals down the neuron- and if it's not functioning properly then response time or movement is affected.
Most salad greens (spinach, arugula, mixed greens) contain antioxidants, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Consuming fresh greens is good for your body by providing essential nutrients, fiber helps keep digestion flowing properly, antioxidants prevent oxidation in the body and brain keeping it healthy. Green is also good for your heart- just looking at the color green your heart becomes happy and nourished on an energetic level- so eat those greens and spend time outside!! Your entire being will feel more energized, joyful and at peace :)
Rosemary helps increase circulation to your brain, essentially delivering oxygen, which in turn provides energy and nutrients to the brain. Rosemary is well known to increase memory as well, so smell some when you're studying or need to remember something!
The healthy fats in avocados help keep your brain cell membranes flexible. The monounsaturated fats help protect the nerve cells in the brain, providing support to the information-carrying nerves. Avocados also improve blood supply and oxygenation to the brain.
Tomatoes contain carotenoids which are antioxidants that help protect the brain by eliminating free radicals that cause inflammation. The antioxidants also help support heart health which in turn keeps the brain healthy.
Goat cheese is a great alternative for those who cannot consume cow's milk. The fat globules in goats milk result in a softer curd, enabling digestive enzymes to break it down more rapidly. My body has an easier time digesting goat's milk than cow's, so this is definitely my go(at)-to cheese :)