Walnut, Parsley, Apple Micronutrient Pesto (Kid-Friendly, Dairy Free)
Updated: Nov 3, 2022
This nutrient-dense pesto is loaded with gut and brain-friendly vitamins and minerals (micronutrients). It also has a balance of healthy fats, plant protein, and phytonutrient-dense carbs to help balance blood-sugar. Read on to learn more about this powerful pesto!
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Since becoming the mom of an adorable and energetic little boy who happens to have Down syndrome, I am always in search of delicious and fun ways to boost our family's micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) intake through food.
When I wanted a way for my one-year old to safely munch on one of smartest foods on the planet, pesto seemed like a perfect choice. Walnuts hit the top of the nut charts. They are brain-boosting, neuroprotective, cardiovascular-friendly, antioxidant-rich, and anti-inflammatory. I also wanted my son to get a good dose of naturally occurring vitamin C (parsley is rich in this and other micronutrients) to help with iron absorption in his main dishes. This superfood herb/nut duo paired with apple, lemon and ginger make it even more potent and flavorful.
Happily, this medley turned out to be a winning combo for his GI tract (we call it Pooptastic Pesto here😁). There are no guarantees, but it tastes great and provides an impressive dose of key vitamins and minerals-- micronutrients.
This multivitamin pesto is very high in vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K and folate with decent amounts of vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, choline and vitamin E. It is also rich in electrolytes like calcium, magnesium and potassium as well abundant in other minerals like iron, manganese, phosphorus, copper and zinc. It's also loaded with disease-fighting phytonutrients and brain-healthy fats-- omega-3s.
We all end up fighting over it!
It's yummy and goes great on everything from meat to pasta, including zoodles, boodles and yoodles (zucchini, butternut squash and yam noodles), and it even perks up dry sandwiches, soups and makes a great dip. Since it includes all 3 macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) it makes a terrific blood-sugar balancing snack. Fats and protein help slow down the body's digestion of carbohydrates which can prevent inflammatory blood sugar spikes. You can play with the texture making it as crunchy or as creamy as you like.
Let's talk about what makes this pesto SO powerful!
Super Smart Ingredients
There are MANY reasons to add walnuts to your diet, but here are my top 5 reasons for choosing walnuts for this pesto. These are based on numerous studies:
Walnuts have been shown to improve brain function in regard to memory, cognition and motor skills! They can even support mood-- demonstrating an anti-depressant effect in some cases.
Walnuts can reduce oxidative stress, cell damage and inflammation. An in vitro study with walnut extract suggests this nut may prevent the accumulation of amyloid beta plaques in the brain. Amyloid plaques in the brain are a hallmark of Alzheimer's Disease. Those with Down syndrome (Trisomy 21) are at risk for accumulation of these brain plaques at an early age and thus Alzheimer's disease later in life due to an extra protein (Amyloid Precursor Protein-- APP) on chromosome 21. Walnuts are on the menu!
Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and have been shown to improve cardiovascular health including blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Walnuts are rich in magnesium and fiber-- both can support gut health and motility (pooping!).
Walnuts are high in melatonin, a hormone that not only supports sleep, but can fight certain types of cancer.
Most pestos are made with basil, but here are 5 reasons why I chose parsley:
Parsley is rich in antioxidants, including vitamin C. Among its many benefits, vitamin C helps with iron absorption. I love pairing this pesto with iron-rich foods (beef, lamb, dark meat chicken) for my son who struggles with low iron levels. This method (pairing iron and vitamin C foods) is not constipating like an iron supplement; it sometimes has opposite effect which is a BIG bonus, if you know what I mean. 💩
Parsley is loaded with vitamin K which supports bone and dental health since it helps calcium get deposited in the right places in the body-- like bones and teeth!
Parsley may help protect against the neurotoxicity of cadmium (according to a mouse study). Since cadmium is present in everything from silicon to plastic toys to contaminated soil and food, parsley is an excellent choice for regular food-based detox.
Parsley is full of vitamin A and phytonutrients to support eye health and vision, including lutein, zeaxanthin and beta carotene. It also has a high amount of the phytonutrient apigenin, a food compound which may support cognitive function in people with Down syndrome (according to a prenatal mouse study).
Parsley has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, and in oil form was shown in-vitro to inhibit growth of Listeria and Salmonella (both can cause food poisoning).
Note: Parsley is high in oxalates so for those with kidney issues, or those who follow a low-oxalate diet, you may want to sub for a low-oxalate herb like cilantro or basil.
I chose apples for this pesto in place of parmesan cheese to give it a creamy texture. I also wanted a slightly sweet flavor to help my son adjust to the sharper textures and stronger flavors of walnut and parsley. You can certainly use parmesan cheese if you tolerate dairy. But apples have some awesome superfood powers.
Apples are high in a prebiotic fiber called pectin which feeds your good gut bacteria (microbiome) which in turn helps your immune system.
Apples are loaded with antioxidants. The peels are rich in the antioxidant flavonoid quercetin, which has demonstrated both cardioprotective, anticancer and antihistamine properties.
Apples are high in malic acid which has also been shown to help bind up heavy metals such as aluminum for elimination in urine.
This pesto can be a great way to expose kids to raw apples without the choking hazard. We started with peeled apples and now blend the entire fruit with skin and all (cored). If your child has special feeding needs you can check with their pediatrician, feeding therapist or dietician to review the ingredients and texture of this recipe, which can be adjusted.
I chose ginger in place of traditionally used garlic since it can be easier to digest. In fact, ginger has been shown to support the GI tract in numerous ways such as reducing bloating, gas, nausea and heartburn/reflux. It also promotes movement of the intestines (digestion/elimination), boosts immunity, reduces inflammation and offers improved circulation for cardiovascular health.
In this recipe you use a peeled quarter of a lemon so you get the fiber and not just the juice. Lemon is extremely high in vitamins and disease-fighting phytonutrients which have been shown to scavenge free radicals (toxins) throughout the body. Lemon is particularly high in citric acid which is shown to bind to aluminum and other heavy metals for excretion in poop.
Soak Those Nuts!
Giving your nuts a bath has big benefits! Soaking nuts (or beans) in water and sea salt before cooking/consuming helps liberate them of a plant substance called phytic acid. It also improves their digestibility.
Phytic acid is a naturally occurring food compound found in grains, some nuts and seeds, beans and root veggies. It can interfere with the body's absorption of important minerals such as iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium. Whenever possible, I soak nuts and beans in a salty brine to remove as much phytic acid as possible while also helping the naturally occurring minerals stay in the food. Salt water prevents the food's minerals from leeching into filtered water in an effort to create homeostasis. Nerdy, I know, but it's an important step.
This recipe calls for minimum soak time of 4 hours, but I often soak longer or even overnight to remove more phytic acid and increase digestibility. It's easy to do and totally worth it. I always use these simple, non-toxic clear glass bowls for all my soaking projects. Since the nuts are in there for a while I want to make sure they are not absorbing any plastics, heavy metals or other contaminants.
Clean Pantry Staples
Below are some clean, nutrient-dense pantry staples I use for making this pesto and other recipes. I use both Jacobsen's and Saltverk sea salts for brines and cooking because they are hand-harvested, the flavors are excellent AND they are both 3rd party tested for heavy metals and microplastics. They are pricey, but worth it to me since we use salt in all our meals and add it to our filtered water.
Simply Organic Peppercorns (and all other spices except oregano) have tested low in heavy metals. Learning about heavy metals in salt and spices can be alarming so I try to switch out to cleaner options when we run out of a staple. Eating foods high in iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and fiber can help prevent our bodies from absorbing large amounts heavy metals and other toxins. This recipe fits the bill!
Life Extension Olive Oil is unfiltered and cold-pressed hours after being picked by hand in California. It's very high in disease-fighting polyphenol compounds. There are other GREAT cold-pressed olive oils out there, but I'm just mentioning what I use. Use whatever works easiest for your family!
Walnut, Parsley, Apple Micronutrient Pesto
Prep: 4+ hours soaking walnuts Chop/Blend: 10-15 minutes Total: 4+ hours + 15 minutes Serves: 4
The links in the recipe below are affiliate links chosen for product quality and purity.
1 cup organic walnuts (wholes, halves, or pieces) soaked for 4 + hours
2 cups or one bunch organic Italian parsley (curly is fine), roughly chopped, packed
1/2 medium-large organic apple of your choice (we usually use Fujis), cored and roughly chopped (skin on is optional; we peeled skin until my son mastered chewing)
1/4-1/2 inch organic ginger knob, peeled
1/4 organic lemon, peeled and seeds removed (you are using inner fruit with all its healing fiber, not just juice)
2 tablespoons organic extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1-2 grinds of freshly cracked organic black pepper
1 teaspoon + 1 pinch of sea salt for walnut brine and then to taste
Plan to soak walnuts up to 4 + hours ahead of time. 7 (or a bit more) hours is ideal so if you can remember to soak nuts the night before, or in the morning, you are set to make pesto for breakfast or dinner!
Put 1 cup of organic walnuts (wholes, halves or pieces) in a glass bowl.
Add 1 teaspoon of sea salt.
Cover with plenty of filtered water. I usually double the amount of water (visually) since nuts sometimes expand and soak up water. Cover with a plate.
Place on counter and soak for 4-7 hours or overnight. Rinse and repeat brine soaking process if you will soak them longer than 8 hours.
When soaking time is up and you are ready to make pesto, rinse nuts thoroughly in a colander. They will not be salty if you rinse them well.
You do not have to dehydrate these nuts which is a whole other process. You can use them wet which actually makes them easier to blend.
Pulse or blend to desired texture. Taste and adjust flavors as desired. If you want a smoother texture you can add more apple, citrus, olive oil or water.
What do you like to put in your pesto? Let me know in the comments. I'm always open to feedback and new ideas!
If you make this and want to share, tag me on Instagram @nourishandcherish.ntp
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Chauhan, A., & Chauhan, V. (2020). Beneficial Effects of Walnuts on Cognition and Brain Health. Nutrients, 12(2), 550. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12020550
Chauhan, N., Wang, K. C., Wegiel, J., & Malik, M. N. (2004). Walnut extract inhibits the fibrillization of amyloid beta-protein, and also defibrillizes its preformed fibrils. Current Alzheimer research, 1(3), 183–188. https://doi.org/10.2174/1567205043332144
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Guedj, F., Siegel, A., Pennings, J., Alsebaa, F., Massingham, L., Tantravahi, U., & Bianchi, D. (2020, October 23). Apigenin as a candidate prenatal treatment for trisomy 21: Effects in human amniocytes and the ts1cje mouse model. AJHG. Volume 107, Issue 5, 911-931. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajhg.2020.10.001
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Kumar, A., Singh, B., Raigond, P., Sahu, C., Mishra, U., Sharma, S., & Lal, M. (2021, February 02). Phytic acid: Blessing in disguise, a prime compound required for both plant and human nutrition. Food Research International, Vol. 142. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0963996921000922?via%3Dihub
Maodaa, S. N., Allam, A. A., Ajarem, J., Abdel-Maksoud, M. A., Al-Basher, G. I., & Wang, Z. Y. (2016). Effect of parsley (Petroselinum crispum, Apiaceae) juice against cadmium neurotoxicity in albino mice (Mus musculus). Behavioral and brain functions : BBF, 12(1), 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12993-016-0090-3
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About the Author
Roxie Daggett is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) with a virtual holistic nutrition practice in Sedona, Arizona. Her passions include studying nutritional research pertaining to brain health, gut health, genetics and longevity. When she is not geeking out on nutrition she enjoys cooking, hiking, organic gardening and hanging out with her wonderful husband, and her adorable, energetic son who happens to have Down syndrome. Learn more on her About page and stay in touch by grabbing your FREE BRAIN HEALTH BREAKFAST GUIDE above or below!