Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Garlicky Kale Pesto (+ Lung Health)

Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Kale Pesto

As Promised, a post dedicated to lung health! Whether you live in the city or an area prone to forest fires, you or someone you know smokes, or whether you are experiencing grief or sadness (more on that later), there are many reasons to want to consider the health of your lungs.

This site is dedicated to heath-promoting foods, so that is where we are going to start. There are many other factors when considering the health of our lungs though, so we are going to get a bit wild and branch out today.

Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Kale Pesto

The good news is, if you already eat a whole-food diet rich in vegetables and fruit, you’re likely already giving your lungs the antioxidant-filled love that they crave. There are a few foods which have been studied specifically for their effect on lung health (we have linked out relevant recipes below each one to give you a little inspo):

Garlic –This is a big one for lung health! Raw garlic, consumed 2 or more times per week has been shown to almost HALVE the risk of lung cancer. It’s a bit less effective if you smoke, but not by much (about 30%). It’s most effective when minced up very small and left on your cutting board for up to ten minutes before consuming (as opposed to eating it right away). There haven’t been as many studies done for cooked garlic, but if raw garlic gives you the creeps, start with cooked and slowly lead up to raw.

I never used to eat raw garlic, it made me feel hungover, I hated garlic burps etc. After studying nutrition and learning the benefits, I started to incorporate it more and more until those symptoms disappeared. You have to train for it, sort of like coffee (but obvs better for you). I’m still not a ten cloves of garlic in my hummus person, but maybe 2-4. And twice a week, that’s enough! PS -it’s great at preventing other types of cancer and improving your overall health too. (Garlic is a natural blood thinner, so check with your Doctor about your volume of garlic consumption if you are due for surgery).

Broccoli Caesar Salad
Smashed Asian Cucumbers

Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Kale Pesto

Orange/Yellow/Red Veg & Fruit –foods that are rich in carotonoids, the pigment that includes antioxidants lycopene, beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A), lutein, zeaxanthan, capsanthan and canthaxanthin. Beta-carotene is the one most researched in its prevention of lung cancer, but all of them seem to have some positive effect. These brightly coloured food choices include the obvious colour-scheme options like bell peppers, sweet potato, mango, winter squash, carrots and golden beets, but also pumpkin seeds, rainbow chard, chili peppers and green foods (the green chlorophyll masks the lighter orange) (think fall leaves; as the green drains away, we see the beautiful red, orange and golden yellow hues hiding underneath).

Cigarette smoke can actually cause a vitamin A deficiency, which can lead to emphysema. There is also evidence showing that a diet full of carotenoid-rich foods can lead to decreased incidence of lung cancer. This may explain why some smokers get emphysema or lung cancer while others don’t. It may also explain why so many anti-cancer diets encourage carrot juice consumption, despite its higher natural sugar content -you can consume the carotenoids from several pounds of carrots in just one glass. If you’re tired of nagging your loved one to quit smoking when they have no intention of doing so, maybe regular carrot juice dates might be a nicer way to spend time with them (and throw some ginger and turmeric in there for good measure –the flavours were made for each other).

Carrot & Jalapeño Soup
Sweet Potato Toast

Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Kale Pesto

Ginger & Turmeric –Ginger improves circulation to the lungs and also helps to eliminate pollutants from them. Both ginger and turmeric are highly anti-inflammatory. Turmeric, specifically has been shown to reduce airway inflammation, lowering the chances/progression of lung cancer. Also, check out its colour –beta-carotene party (see orange foods, above). Ironically, it will dye your fingers yellow, making you look like a smoker while giving your lungs (and the rest of your body) lots of love.

Ginger & Turmeric Tea
Massaman Thai Curry

Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Kale Pesto

Cruciferous Vegetables
–I know that you guys are already eating tons of these! Also well studied for their effect on cancer prevention, this superstar vegetable family (boasting kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, bok choy, mustard and so many more), thanks to their abundance of antioxidants and blood-cleansing cholorphyll, has also been shown to cut your risk of developing lung cancer in half and slow down its progression. It’s hard to find a recipe on this site that doesn’t include some form of mighty crucifer. Here are a couple:
Garlic Chili Cabbage
‘Honey’ Mustard Brussels Sprouts

Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Kale Pesto

Apples and Grapefruit
–sort of random? But they support your lungs for different reasons. Apples are rich in quercetin (antioxidant flavanoid), vitamin C, fiber and vitamin E, all of which help to protect your lungs. Plus they’re arguably the easiest fruit to eat every day. So do it! They’re also easy to incorporate into recipes. Grapefruit apparently helps to mop things up once someone quits smoking. Both the pink and white varieties carry cancer-crushing enzymes. (Check with your Doctor to make sure you’re not taking any medication that interacts poorly with grapefruit, there are several).

Grapefruit Fennel Salad
Celeriac & Apple Remoulade

Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Kale Pesto

Guess what? You don’t have to be a smoker to get lung cancer. Here are some other factors that can play a role in your lung health:

Environment –Air pollution; living in a city, close to a factory, close to a highway or with a smoker are all good ways to pollute your lungs without actually being a smoker. Indoor air pollution is also a thing, caused by household cleaners, new furniture/carpet/electronics, fireplaces, mould and mildew etc. Besides moving into a tree house or living a furniture-free life, there are a few things that you can do to make a difference:

-Did you know that thanks to the ability that trees have to turn carbon dioxide and contaminants into oxygen, if you walk on a tree-lined street instead of a tree-free street, the air would be cleaner? This makes it worth re-routing your walk or bike commute to work. It would also make a good deciding factor regarding where to live in a city. Trees also help with our mental health, which supports our overall health too (see below).

-Household cleaners/chemicals. It’s so easy to switch them out for cleaner options now, there are so many alternatives. Even just vinegar, baking soda and water do a great job at cleaning most things. If you hire someone to clean your house, either make sure they bring cleaner cleaning products or supply them with them. It’s so worth it; your house will be just as clean and your lungs (and hormones) will thank you.

-Leave windows open (even just a little bit when it’s cold) and leave a bathroom fan on overnight or during the day. This will suck in fresh air from wherever it can find it (an open window) as it sucks the old air out. Throw open windows and doors wide open in warmer weather.

-Air filters for your home come in handy, especially if you live in an urban area and your lungs aren’t performing at their best. You can purchase good quality free-standing ones that are worth it, especially if you have trouble breathing when it gets hot and smoggy (or if forest fires are a risk in your area).

-Certain plants make great, natural air filters too. Have lots in each room (especially your bedroom, think about how much time you spend in there!) and marry someone who treats plants like they’re his children (I often take this for granted, but it’s awesome). Also, keep them well dusted. They can’t do a good job if their leafy pores aren’t open and breathing.

–this falls under environmental but gets its own category because it’s less known, totally invisible and actually the leading environmental cause of lung cancer. It’s a radioactive gas that forms when uranium in the earth decays. It apparently exists everywhere but there is such thing as too much. Because you can’t see it and it has no taste or smell, the only way to detect it is with a radon detecting kit. Creepy, right? These kits are available at hardware stores (like Canadian Tire if you live in Canada) and are pretty straightforward to use.

Exercise –Exercise! Aerobic activity, breathing exercises/techniques, anything that gets you breathing is great for your lungs and lung capacity. Try to do it in clean air and/or amongst the trees.

Emotions –Specifically sadness and grieving. It may sound crazy (it took me a long time to believe in this) but our emotions have a powerful impact on our overall health. Some believe even more so than food and the environment. Different emotions are connected to different areas of the body and for the lungs it’s sadness. There is a great book by Louise Hay called ‘You Can Heal Your Life’ (lofty title, I know) if you’re interested in learning more. It’s worth it even just in order to make subtle connections in your own life to events you’re going through and levels of wellness.

Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Kale Pesto

Our recipe today includes carotenoids (in the kale and the sweet potato), cruciferous veg (kale), garlic-o-rama, chili peppers and lots of happiness (the opposite of sadness). The hasselback style of cutting helps the pesto to infiltrate it, but you could also bake the sweet potato normally and scoop the pesto on top. Or bake sweet potato wedges and dip them into the pesto. We also bake some pesto right onto the hasselback-ed potato in case raw garlic gives you the willies (even though, as discussed above, its more nutritionally potent that way).

Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Kale Pesto


Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Garlicky Kale Pesto (+ Lung Health)
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 5
Kale Pesto
  • 4-5 Lacinato Kale leaves (or any kale, just remove the stem if not using lacinato)
  • 6 Garlic Cloves
  • 2 Tbsp Capers
  • 3 Tbsp Dulse
  • 1 Lemon, zested
  • 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
  • ½ tsp dried Chili Flakes (leave out if sensitive to spice or nightshades)
  • ⅓ c Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Sea(weed) Salt, to taste
Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes
  • 5-6 Sweet Potatoes (try to find ones that are on the skinny side...)
  • 2 tsp Extra Virgin Coconut oil
For the Pesto:
  1. Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor until chunky/smooth
  2. Taste and adjust seasoning (salt)
  3. Top off a baked sweet potato or roast tomato or bowl of soup.
  4. Freezes well!
For the Sweet Potatoes:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350*F
  2. Wash the potatoes and trim both ends off (they tend to taste mouldy).
  3. Place a chop stick (preferably disposable so that you don't ruin your good ones) on either side, lengthwise, of the potato.
  4. Make cuts through the potato, horizontally, stopping once your knife hits the chop sticks (see picture).
  5. Continue to make cuts, about ¼ inch apart, across the whole length of the sweet potatoes.
  6. Rub with a small amount of extra virgin coconut oil.
  7. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 60 minutes or until the middle slices become very soft.
  8. Top with pesto as soon as they come out of the oven.


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4 Responses to Hasselback-ed Sweet Potatoes with Garlicky Kale Pesto (+ Lung Health)

  1. Dana McIntyre June 6, 2017 at 10:27 pm #

    Thank you Mer! What a great testimonial -I totally agree -safer, cheaper and more effective. I’m intrigued by your tea floor stain, I might have to give that a try…

  2. Dana McIntyre June 6, 2017 at 10:25 pm #

    Thanks Skye! That’s a very good place to start :)

  3. mer June 5, 2017 at 9:37 am #

    Hi Dana, a huge thank you for all this amazing lung information! If it helps inspire anyone to try letting go of chemical cleaners, I grew up on a farm where the only cleaning products we used were white vinegar, baking soda and a natural dish soap. Our home was sparkling clean. 50+ years later, I still only use those same 3 products (plus sometimes I add a few drops of essential oil for the aromatherapy benefit). And every once in a while I cook up a batch of strong black tea and mop it over the hardwood floors for a little ‘polish’. Not only are these natural ingredients safer for the environment, our lungs, pets and children, they are also so much cheaper than all the chemical products.
    THanks for all your inspirations today.

  4. Skye June 5, 2017 at 8:01 am #


    This is spectacular! Thank you for the very informative post. I m inspired to make a change in my daily routine to give my lungs some much deserved love….starting with a re-routing of my morning ‘coffee walk’…off to breathe with some trees.

    Best, Skye

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