Here’s a tasty way to get in more leafy greens. Eat it in a sauce! This recipe is a healthy twist on traditional pesto that was originally made with crushed basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil.

This pesto is made with sunflower seeds instead of the traditional pine nuts. Of all nuts and seeds, sunflower seeds are highest in vitamin E (7.4. mg per ounce which is 49% of what you need each day). The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is 15 mg for adults. Vitamin E an important nutrient for the health of your blood, brain, skin, and vision.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and may help protect your cells from free radical damage. Free radicals weaken and shorten the life of your cells making you more prone to disease and illness. Exposure to free radicals causes a process of oxidation (think of rust on your car) at which point aging accelerates in your body.

What’s In It…

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (1.5 oz)
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh baby spinach*, packed (1.5 oz)
  • 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds, toasted (Buy raw and toast yourself. Often times, roasted sunflower seeds are roasted with oil.)
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)

*Spinach is high in lutein and zeaxanthin (antioxidants for healthy eyes) and is better absorbed when eaten with a healthy fat, such as olive oil or avocado. Spinach also contains non-heme iron (iron from plants not animals) which is better absorbed with vitamin C which makes this pesto freshened with lemon juice a perfect pairing. See KRON 4 | The Cataract Diet.

How It’s Made…

  • Toast raw sunflower seeds in a small sauté pan on medium-low heat for a few minutes until lightly browned. Let cool.
  • Pulse basil, spinach, sunflower seeds, garlic, salt, and pepper in food processor until finely ground. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • While the processor is running, slowly add the oil until it is fully incorporated.

How to Eat It…

  • Brush it on bread instead of butter.
  • Smear it on breakfast toast and top with an egg.
  • Layer it on a sandwich instead of mayo and mustard.
  • Mix with olive oil for a flavorful salad dressing.
  • Put it on veggies (especially grilled tomatoes!), spiralized veggies, mashed potatoes, cauliflower rice, whole grains, tofu, chicken, fish, tortilla pizza, pasta, casseroles, or wrap.

Karen’s Fit Tip:

Buy raw sunflower seeds and toast your own. It only takes a few minutes. Store-bought roasted sunflower seeds are often roasted in oil. Also, I like to weigh my greens on a food scale to keep the proportions consistent.

Karen Owoc

Karen Owoc is a certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist specializing in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and lifestyle medicine. Her science-based approach to longevity, nutrition, and muscle health has made her the go-to source for health seekers and medical professionals alike. Karen's best-selling book on functional longevity, "Athletes in Aprons: The Nutrition Playbook to Break 100", and her transformative perspective have mended many minds, hearts, and spirits.

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