Super-Powered Spinach Pesto

I’ve been looking forward to sharing this spinach pesto recipe with you because it’s one of my all time favorites.  It’s Italian, it’s delicious, and it’s packed with so much goodness that your body will be screaming with joy!
This spinach pesto recipe fits nicely in the highly-recommended and increasingly-popular mediterranean diet.  There are many benefits to the dish and today’s highlight will be about the Power of Polyphenols. So first let me give you the recipe, then we can dive into the rest.

Ingredients
1 bunch spinach
1 bunch parsley
2 or 3 cloves of garlic (Did you know: garlic kills bacteria)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp black pepper
2 or 3 black pepper cloves for an even bigger kick
½ cup walnuts (or pine nuts)
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp lemon zest
1 cup water

Just add all the ingredients to your blender and tweak as per your desired taste. One of my favorite ways to use Spinach Pesto is to toast slices of baguette drizzled with garlic oil, top with spinach pesto, and finish with sun-dried tomatoes and crumbled blue cheese. Yum!
(Can be kept up to five days when sealed and refrigerated, and up to 6 months in the freezer.)

The Breakdown

Polyphenols are a class of phytochemicals, a fancy word for compounds produced by living plants. These naturally-occurring compounds help plants grow and protect them from damage due to predators and insects, and other harmful factors like UV rays and pollution. 

More than 8000 types of polyphenols have been identified. They have been classified into four main categories based on their chemical structure: flavonoids, phenolic acids, lignans and stilbenes.  

Flavonoids (almost 60%) and phenolic acids (almost 30%) are the most common and account for roughly 90% of the polyphenol intake in a typical balanced diet. Although stilbenes and lignans are less common, one of the best studied naturally-occurring polyphenols is resveratrol, a stilbene found largely in grapes and red wine.  (Cheers to resveratrol! My favorite polyphenol!)

 

Resveratrol is a polyphenol
Resveratrol Structure

The Benefits

Unlike other protective plant compounds that may be harmful, polyphenols are beneficial to your health and play a role in reducing inflammation, keeping blood sugar in check, and aiding digestion by encouraging good bacteria in your gut.

Science-backed polyphenol health benefits include:

  • Supports Brain Health Function: Flavonoids have been shown to boost brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a powerful protein that helps protect your brain cells and encourages growth between them. These polyphenols also protect your brain from neuroinflammation (inflammation of the brain) and have the potential to promote memory, learning, and cognitive function. [1]
  • Promotes Gut Health: Polyphenol rich foods like hazelnuts and green tea can aid digestion by helping grow the amount of good bacteria in your gut microbiome, and can even act as a natural constipation remedy. [2]
  • Supports A Healthy Heart: Higher polyphenol intake is linked with lowered risk of cardiovascular disease types. [3]
  • Helps Manage Blood Sugar: Dietary flavonoids and phenolic acids may help reduce blood sugar spikes and lower type 2 diabetes risk factors. [4]
  • Keeps Your Weight Under Control: A variety of polyphenols, including those in green tea and turmeric, may make it easier to maintain or lose weight. [5]
  • Fights Inflammation and Pain: Certain dietary polyphenols also work to neutralize the effects of free radicals, the unstable molecules that cause stress and aging in your body which leads to pain and inflammation. [6]
  • Supports Anti-Aging: By reducing the inflammation that is thought to be the root cause of many diseases, including some cancers, polyphenols can improve quality and longevity of life. [7]

Foods with Polyphenols

herbs with polyphenols

As we said earlier, polyphenols are nutrients that come from plants and are what gives those plants their vibrant colors. Some plants have more of these compounds than others. The amount and type of polyphenols in each also depends on its origin, ripeness, and how it was grown, transported, stored, and prepared.  So the best source is to go for a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. For best results choose foods with fewer antinutrients (natural compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients) like green tea, coffee, spinach, citrus fruits, avocado, dark chocolate (<85%), olives, all the berries, and fresh herbs & spices like cinnamon, turmeric, and oregano.  

Here is a link to another one of my favorite polyphenol-packed recipes, which also includes a chart of foods with polyphenols and their ‘potency’.

What’s the best dose of polyphenols?

That answer can be tricky and can depend on many factors associated with your diet as well as how efficient your body may be in absorbing certain phytochemicals; however, we should strive for a well-rounded, polyphenol-rich diet, because chances are, you’re probably not eating enough. As always, supplements are there to help! A broad spectrum polyphenol supplement can ensure you are getting a regular dose of these nutrients and help fill the gaps. You can also:

  1. Eat organic: Industrial agriculture lowers polyphenol levels in food compared to organic farming.
  2. Enjoy the flavor of different herbs and spices: These seasonings contain more concentrated polyphenols than other fruits and vegetables.
  3. Go for variety:  Eat the rainbow!  Eat a range of plants, fruits and vegetables.
  4. Supplement with a high quality broad spectrum polyphenol supplement or other, based on your health needs. I always have a packet of Energybits and Atrantil near by.
  5. Eat more quality fats: Studies show eating fat makes it easier for your body to absorb the goodness of polyphenols and nutrients in general. Condiments such as avocado oil or a rich olive oil can do just the job.

The Double-Edged Sword

double-edged swordToo much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Polyphenol-rich supplements can grant many benefits, but in high-doses they may elicit toxicity that can potentially disrupt your hormones, impair proper thyroid function, or prevent the absorption of essential nutrients and minerals such as iron. Various polyphenols can interact negatively with certain medications; therefore, always talk to your doctor about how your diet may affect your medical regimen. Allergies or other medical conditions can influence how your body uses them, too.

The Last Drop

In summary, polyphenols are extremely beneficial to your health and are one of the many great reasons to include a wide variety of whole foods into your diet. Mama was right when she said “Eat your veggies!” Get into the habit now and reap the benefits later. This spinach pesto recipe will help you do just that because it is so simple to make, and packs a powerful punch of polyphenols to help you be your healthiest you.  


 Here are some other polyphenol recipes for you to enjoy:

Açaí Bowl

An easy way to prep for the day

Colorful Bone-Building Salad

Pomegranate and Walnut Salad

Buckwheat Blast

Scrambled Tofu

Blueberry Salsa 

Sweet & Sour Beet Smoothie

Matcha-Strawberry Latte

Polyphenol-rich Drinks


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Hana Zarour

Founder of Kaldzar
Movement Specialist; Specialist in Sports Nutrition, Exercise Therapy, Weightlifting Performance Coach.

Specialist in – Trigger Point Therapy, Crossfit, Animal Flow, TRX RIP, Kettlebell, Kineso Taping, Pre/Post Natal, 


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