The 12 Best Heart Healthy Foods

The heart is a remarkable organ that beats around 100,000 times a day. It is only the size of your fist yet supplies every organ and cell in your body with oxygenated blood. Damage to the heart can reduce its pumping power, forcing it to work harder to keep up with the demands of the body. Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States and one of the top killers worldwide. The first step in preventing yourself from becoming a part of this statistic is to live a heart healthy lifestyle.

There has been a great deal of misinformation over past decades regarding the causes of heart disease with much of the blame being misplaced on saturated fats and cholesterol. We now know that chronic inflammation is the root cause of heart disease. While certain dietary components do play a large role in heart disease risk, eating in a way that is anti-inflammatory is one of the best ways to mitigate heart disease risk.

Heart Healthy Diet

The best diet to address this inflammation and reduce your risk of developing heart disease is the anti-inflammatory healing diet. This diet is a plant-emphasized diet of real food, including low glycemic vegetables and fruits, clean meat, and healing fats.

This style of eating helps to address one of the leading causes of chronic inflammation, blood sugar imbalance. In fact, a ketogenic diet may be even more powerful for mitigating your risk of heart disease.

In addition to a meal plan that stabilizes blood sugar, it is critical to consume foods that have been shown to support and protect the heart. This article will discuss the 12 best heart healthy foods and the foods you must avoid if you want to protect your most vital organ system.

Heart Healthy Foods

What are the Causes of Heart Disease?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. “Heart disease” actually refers to several types of heart conditions, including coronary artery disease which is the most common type. Coronary artery disease occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart. Heart failure, irregular heartbeat, and heart valve problems are also types of heart disease.

Chronic inflammation is at the root of most, if not all chronic diseases including cancer, ALS, and heart disease (1). Chronic inflammation is systemic inflammation that can last for months or years. Many things can contribute to chronic inflammation including inflammatory foods, environmental toxins, excess weight, and stress.

Chronic inflammation occurs when our bodies are repeatedly exposed to these influences, and inflammatory mediators are produced throughout the body. The immune system becomes overwhelmed as the ongoing stimulus results in more cell recruitment, increased inflammation, and changes to cells. White blood cells will eventually start attacking internal organs or other necessary tissues and cells. This inflammatory response continues unless and until the cause of the inflammation is addressed.

Heart Healthy Cholesterol?

After years of misinformation from flawed theories, we now know that saturated fat and cholesterol do not cause heart disease. In fact, some of the healthiest foods for your heart contain saturated fats and cholesterol.

Dietary saturated fat and cholesterol have been shown to improve hormone regulation and cell membrane function, raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and change LDL particles from the dangerous to benign particles (2). In fact, a large portion of the brain and myelin sheath (nerve insulation) is made up of saturated fat and cholesterol. Cholesterol is also necessary to protect the internal lining of the arteries from damage caused by inflammation and oxidative stress.

Lifestyle & Heart Disease

Rather than focusing on saturated fat and cholesterol for heart disease prevention, it is important to consider lifestyle factors that contribute to heart disease. A 2016 study found that healthy lifestyle factors can reduce the risk of heart disease by 46% regardless of genetic risk (3).

Smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, obesity, excessive alcohol use, and not exercising are all lifestyle factors that increase your risk for heart disease. These factors cause high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure, and elevated LDL cholesterol levels which raise your risk of developing heart disease.

The Anti-Inflammatory Healing Diet

Food provides biological information to our cells and DNA. It also provides critical building blocks for different physiological processes in the body. It is critical to focus on an anti-inflammatory nutrition plan to improve your health and overcome chronic health conditions. This nutrition plan is a plant-emphasized diet with healthy fats and clean protein.

An anti-inflammatory diet is a heart healthy diet. In fact, eating in a way that stabilizes blood sugar, provides and abundance of nutrition, and reduces exposure to toxins, will likely improve just about every aspect of your health. The foundational steps to an anti-inflammatory diet are as follows:

Eat Real Foods

The first step to a healing diet is to eat whole, unprocessed foods. You should remove refined sugars and grains that increase blood glucose levels, upregulate inflammation, and create extra acidity in the tissues. Instead, add a variety of low carbohydrate, low glycemic fruits and vegetables to your diet. These fruits and vegetables contain powerful nutrients to improve energy, rid our bodies of excess weight, and overcome illness.

This style of eating should have a heavy emphasis on non-starchy vegetables, herbs, spices, and sprouts of various types to load the body up with antioxidants.

Eat Healthy Fats and Remove Harmful Fats

The second step to a healing diet is to eat more healthy fats and remove harmful fats from the diet. Healing fats are fats found in coconut, olives, avocados, and their oils. Omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found in wild caught salmon and grass-fed beef and dairy are healing fats. These healthy fats are an efficient source of fuel for the body to combat inflammation and support brain function.

Unhealthy fats are man-made saturated fats, particularly trans fats, such as those found in margarine and partially hydrogenated oils. Highly processed oils, such as canola, peanut, and grapeseed oils, oxidize easily and should also be avoided.

Make Healthy Meat Choices

The third step to a healing diet is to choose grass-fed, pasture-raised, wild-caught meats and fish, rather than grain-fed, farmed, conventionally-raised meats and fish. When choosing meat and fish, it is important to look at the food these animals and fish eat as well as the conditions in which they are raised. These factors directly influence the nutritional value of the meat and therefore what your body receives from consuming it.

To protect your heart from inflammation and heart disease, it is critical to incorporate this healing, anti-inflammatory diet into your life. By eating real foods, avoiding sugar and processed foods, eating healing fats rather than harmful fats, and choosing grass-fed, pasture-raised, wild-caught, organic meats and fish, you can go a long way in supporting a healing state in the body.

Now that we have covered the three steps to an anti-inflammatory, let’s look at the best heart healthy foods.

The Best Heart Healthy Foods

To prevent heart disease, it is important to eat anti-inflammatory foods rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and essential fatty acids. This will lower oxidative stress and help fight free radical damage in your body. The following foods are my top picks for heart healthy foods.

Coconut Oil

Despite years of misleading information, we now know that certain fats are heart healthy. Coconut oil is one of the best heart healthy fats. Studies have shown that coconut oil has cardio-protective effects through many mechanisms.

Coconut oil contains small to medium-chained saturated fats called medium chained triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs permeate cell membranes to provide energy without the need for carrier proteins or special enzymes. In other words, they are a good source of readily available energy for the body. These fatty acids also have an immune boosting effect through their antiviral, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties.

Coconut oil is also rich in lauric acid which helps balance blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Coconut oil is the most stable source of fatty acids due to its high amount of saturated fats (92%). Coconut oil’s high saturated fat content actually supports healthy levels of HDL and LDL (4). By increasing the HDL in the body, coconut oil helps promote heart health and lowers the risk of heart disease (5). Coconut oil also helps lower high triglycerides providing additional heart healthy benefits.

It is best to use organic, unrefined coconut oil to reap the many benefits of coconut oil. Coconut oil is great for cooking because it has a higher smoke point than many other oils (like extra virgin olive oil). Rather than oxidizing, coconut oil remains stable and does not lose its antioxidant properties under high temperatures.

Hawthorn Berry

Hawthorn is called the “heart herb” for its ability to protect the heart. Hawthorn berry is a medicinal herb loaded with a wide array of powerful antioxidant nutrients, including numerous flavonoids. Flavonoids are polyphenolic compounds that have been shown to effectively decrease inflammation and boost immune function.

Hawthorn berry is widely used in Europe as a natural remedy to treat heart disease. There are numerous studies showing the ability of hawthorn to treat angina, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, irregular heartbeat, and congestive heart failure (6).

Look for the whole plant, leaves, flowers and berries, when purchasing hawthorn. The berries contain more proanthocyanins and the flowers and leaves contain more vitexin. Proanthocyanidins are powerful antioxidants that remove harmful free radicals from cells. Vitexin is an apigenin flavone glucoside with additional antioxidant properties.

Grass-Fed Butter

Grass-fed butter is a nutritious, healthy fat with many healing properties. It contains short- and medium-chain triglycerides which support the immune system and boost metabolism. Grass-fed butter contains high levels of butyrate, arachidonic acid (ARA), and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). These acids have a myriad of health benefits.

Butyrate is a 4-carbon chain saturated fatty acid that is remarkably heart healthy in that it provides a direct source of energy for the heart. Butyrate also has anti-inflammatory effects on the entire body, promotes energy production, and benefits digestive health.

ARA and CLA are both important to overall immune system function. CLA is a type of polyunsaturated fat that helps reduce belly fat, improve immune function, and reverse atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Studies have found that a higher percentage of CLA in the blood is associated with significantly reduced risk of heart failure (7).

Grass-fed butter is also a rich source of vitamin A which is good for the thyroid, adrenal glands, and cardiovascular health.  It is also an excellent source of vitamins D and K2. Vitamin K2 may reverse arterial calcification. Grass-fed butter contains beneficial vitamin E tocopherols and other carotenoid antioxidants which help reduce oxidative stress in the arterioles.

Many Americans choose margarine rather than butter under the false belief that margarine is healthier for your heart. The reverse is actually true. Studies show that margarine consumption increases your risk of heart disease, while consuming butter is not associated with heart disease (8).

Dark Leafy Green Vegetables

Dark Leafy green vegetables are packed with an array of vitamins, minerals (including trace minerals), and fiber. Some of the most nutrient-dense leafy greens are spinach, kale, chard, arugula, bok choy, and collards.

Spinach, kale, chard and other dark leafy green vegetables are true superfoods. They contain almost 400% of the recommended daily value of vitamin A in just one cup. They also contain vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, and folic acid. Vitamin K has been shown to positively affect heart structure and functioning (9).  The abundant antioxidants in leafy greens protect cells from damaging free radicals.

Many leafy green vegetables are in the cruciferous family. Kale, swiss chard, collard greens, arugula, spinach, bok choy, and mustard greens are cruciferous vegetables. They have a characteristic bitter taste and pungent aroma. Leafy greens in the cruciferous family are full of phytonutrients, carotenoids, and flavonoids that help combat free radical damage and neutralize toxins in the body.

Cruciferous vegetables also contain glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that are broken down into metabolites that trigger specific enzymatic reactions. These reactions help detoxify the body by increasing its ability to remove carcinogens and heavy metals from the blood.

There are a variety of ways to prepare and consume leafy green vegetables. Leafy green vegetables are delicious roasted or sautéed in coconut or avocado oil or steamed and topped with grass-fed butter or extra virgin olive oil or used raw in salads.

It is important to combine leafy greens with healthy fats for better absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins. You can also consume a high-quality greens powder for a convenient option to absorb the nutrients in leafy greens.

Strawberries

Strawberries are one of the most popular fruits for many reasons. Even with their delicious sweet taste, strawberries are a low-glycemic fruit and do not cause blood sugar spikes for most people. They also contain dietary fiber and numerous vitamins and minerals.

Strawberries are an excellent heart healthy food because they contain bioactive compounds with antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, and anti-inflammatory effects. The most abundant of these are ellagic acid and certain flavonoids, including anthocyanin, catechin, quercetin, and kaempferol (10).

Antioxidants help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease by inhibiting LDL cholesterol oxidation, promoting plaque stability, improving vascular endothelial function, and decreasing the tendency for thrombosis (blood clotting) (10).

Strawberries are delicious added to shakes or as a healthy snack or dessert. It is very important to buy organic strawberries due to high pesticide levels in conventionally grown strawberries. Frozen organic strawberries have the same health benefits and are a convenient option.

Turmeric

Turmeric is a powerful herb with abundant cardiovascular protective effects. Turmeric is good for the heart due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-thrombotic, and antimicrobial properties. Many of these benefits are attributed to a compound called curcumin.

In the fight against inflammation, turmeric can be a powerful weapon. Turmeric’s anti-thrombotic, anti-proliferative, and anti-inflammatory effects protect against changes occurring with atherosclerosis. Curcumin also effectively balances serum cholesterol levels by eliminating excess LDL cholesterol from the arteries and blood vessels. This can also help prevent atherosclerosis.

The curcuminoids in turmeric have antioxidant properties. The antioxidant effects of turmeric have been shown to reduce cardiotoxicity and prevent cardiac complications (11). Turmeric has even been shown to boost the body’s natural antioxidant capacity which fights damaging free radicals.

Turmeric powder should be added to foods after cooking to maintain its potency as an anti-inflammatory. Add a dash of black pepper and eat with healthy fats to allow for better absorption of the beneficial compounds.

Avocados

Avocados are nutrient and phytochemical dense superfoods for the heart. Numerous studies have found that avocado consumption is a heart healthy choice (12).

Avocados have numerous antioxidant phytochemicals, including beta-sitosterol, glutathione, and lutein. Glutathione is the body’s most powerful antioxidant and is critical for lowering inflammation. Beta-sitosterol helps lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol. These antioxidants phytochemicals prevent free radical damage.

Avocados are also rich sources of vitamins B and C, important trace minerals, healthy fats, and antioxidant compounds carotene and lutein. They also contain a compound called oleic acid which may help the body absorb carotenoids for further anti-inflammatory benefits.

Avocados are loaded with healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and contain healthy cholesterols, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL), which the body needs for proper function. Studies have shown that dietary MUFAs are protective against metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease risk factors (13).

There are many ways to incorporate avocados into your diet. You can add them to smoothies or puddings for creaminess. Consuming guacamole made from avocados, cilantro, lime juice, and shallots would be great for the liver. Avocado oil is a fantastic choice for a heart healthy oil.

Pomegranates

Pomegranates are fruits with a high fiber content and filled with many small seeds. They are nutritional powerhouses, full of vitamin C, potassium, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), and antioxidant phytonutrient polyphenols. The anthocyanins in pomegranates protect cells from oxidative and environmental stress and damage. Pomegranates have been shown to protect against heart disease, boost immunity, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure (14).

It is best to consume pomegranates in their fresh, whole form due to the high sugar content in pomegranate fruit juices. If you do consume the juice, limit it to a 2-ounce shot. Even a small amount is beneficial because of the potent antioxidants in pomegranates.

Wild-Caught Fish

Wild-caught fish, especially salmon, are fantastic for heart health. They contain the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA which have been shown to help reduce risk factors for heart disease. Fatty acids found in fish help to reduce high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high triglycerides (fats in the blood) (15).

Fish consumption is associated with lower risk of death, subsequent heart attack, stroke, and abnormal heart rhythms in people who have already had a heart attack. The oils in wild-caught fatty fish also help prevent and treat atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) by slowing the development of plaque and blood clots, which can clog arteries. They may also have antioxidant properties that improve endothelial function and contribute to heart health.

The omega-3 fatty acids in wild-caught fish help reduce inflammation in the body. It is critical to have the optimal ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. While omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, most omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation in the body. Studies show that higher dietary omega-6 to omega-3 ratios are associated with worsening inflammation over time (15). The ideal ratio is between 4:1 and 1:1.

Pecans

Pecans are nutritionally-dense, consisting of a unique blend of fatty acids, bioactive compounds, and essential nutrients. Nuts are concentrated with powerful heart healthy plant compounds that fight inflammation in the body. Frequent consumption of nuts is associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Pecans are rich in monounsaturated fats. In studies, the frequent consumption of pecans has been shown to decrease total and LDL cholesterol levels, reduce triglyceride levels, and increase HDL cholesterol levels (16).

Pecans contain different forms of the antioxidant vitamin E, known as tocopherols, plus numerous phenolic substances with antioxidant abilities. Eating pecans increases the number of healthy antioxidants in the body which has the protective benefit of preventing development of heart disease (16).

Dark Chocolate

Many people are surprised to find that the right kind of chocolate is actually very heart healthy. Dark chocolate contains many nutrients including fiber, magnesium, iron, copper, calcium, protein, and manganese.

Dark chocolate is high in antioxidant flavonoids and polyphenols that combat oxidative stress and inflammation. Flavanols are the main type of flavonoid found in dark chocolate. Flavanols have been shown to have numerous heart healthy benefits including lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow to the heart (17).

The darker and less processed the chocolate, the higher the amount of catechins are in the chocolate. Catechins are super antioxidant flavanols with beneficial effect on cardiovascular health. Catechins can effectively lower blood pressure, prevent oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increase nitric oxide release.

Dark chocolate also contains oleic acid which a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid with many health benefits. Oleic acid has been shown to reduce blood pressure and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Oleic acid has also been shown to protect cell membranes from free radicals and other oxidative stressors. Oleic acid is also one of the most common fats in myelin which is a protective sheath around nerves.

When purchasing dark chocolate, look for minimally processed dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content or higher. This will have the most powerful antioxidants and the least amount of sugar.

Olives and Olive Oil

Consuming olives and olive oil have numerous heart healthy benefits. Olives contain fiber, vitamin E, vitamin, copper and calcium.

The healthy fats in olives and olive oils benefit the heart. Studies have shown that both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are inversely associated with the risk of heart disease (18).

Olive oil contains biologically active phenolic compounds (polyphenols) that have been shown to benefit atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease (19). Phenolic compounds have positive effects on plasma lipoproteins, oxidative damage, inflammatory markers, platelet and cellular function, and antimicrobial activity.

Studies also show that olive oil can increase adiponectin levels (20). Adiponectin is a protein hormone which is involved in regulating glucose levels as well as fatty acid breakdown. Low levels of adiponectin are associated with numerous health conditions, including inflammation, lipid abnormalities

Extra virgin olive oil is the healthiest form of olive oil and has the richest flavor. It is made without any heat or chemicals and has a low smoke point. Because of its low smoke point, extra virgin olive oil is best used drizzled over cooked or raw foods, or as a heart healthy salad dressing.

The Worst Foods for the Heart

There are several foods that are detrimental to the heart. The three least heart healthy foods are sugar, processed vegetable oils and trans fats, and grain-fed meats. This is because they provide very little nutrition and are highly inflammatory to the body

Refined Sugar

Studies have associated intake of added sugars with the development of hypertension, high blood pressure, increased triglyceride levels, obesity, and inflammation. All of these conditions increase the risk of heart disease. Added sugar intake is even associated with a significantly increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease (21).

A high-sugar diet can stimulate the liver to dump harmful fats into the bloodstream and cause insulin resistance. Both of these factors are known to boost your risk of heart disease.

Insulin resistance is the decreased ability to respond to the effects of insulin. As a result, the body produces additional amounts of insulin which increases inflammatory processes within the body. Over time, surges of insulin can cause chronic health complications including heart disease.

Chronically elevated blood sugar also reacts with enzymes and other protein molecules to create Advanced Glycolytic End Products (AGEs) (22). AGEs are highly inflammatory and damage tissue throughout the body. The result is neurological and cardiovascular complications. Removing sugar and grains from the diet is a powerful heart healthy move.

Trans Fats

Hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated (trans) fats top the list of fats that kill. Hydrogenation is a process that turns polyunsaturates, which are normally liquid at room temperature, into fats that are solid at room temperature and the opposite of heart healthy. Common hydrogenated fats include hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated cottonseed, palm, soy, and corn oils.

Margarine and shortening are two hydrogenated fats. Manufacturers use cheap oils, such as soy, corn and canola to create margarine and shortening. The new soft margarines or tub spreads, while lower in hydrogenated fats, are still produced from rancid vegetable oils and contain many additives.

Consumption of hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated fats is associated with cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes, obesity, immune system dysfunction, birth defects, decreased visual acuity, sterility, difficulty in lactation and problems with bones and tendons (23). Trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are most strongly related to increased risk of heart disease. It is essential to eliminate trans fats from your diet to avoid the myriad of health issues associated with these toxic fats.

Grain-Fed Meats

Grain-fed meats are far from heart healthy. Animals that are conventionally raised are fed genetically modified grains that are laden with pesticides, herbicides and other toxins. These animals are given antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals to keep them from getting diseases and to treat illnesses. They are also given hormones to make them larger. These drugs and hormones make their way into the meat, eggs, and dairy products from these animals.

Conventionally-raised animals live in unsanitary, crowded conditions with little to no access to clean air. They are fed a high-carbohydrate corn and soy feed to cause to become unnaturally large in a short time. Their digestive systems are not designed to eat these foods.

Feeding cattle high starch food like corn and soy makes their intestinal tracts acidic which can lead to ulcers, infection, and the growth of bacteria like E. coli. Grain-fed animals can also have antibiotic resistant bacterial like MRSA and superbugs (24).

Conventionally raised meats and fish are not as nutritious as grass-fed beef. Grain feeding significantly reduces the omega-3 and CLA content and the vitamins A and E amounts in the meat, eggs, and dairy products. You should always choose grass-fed meats such as grass-fed beef, bison, lamb, and wild game, rather than conventionally raised, grain-fed meats.

Conclusion

The heart is an incredible organ with the vital job of keeping blood flowing throughout the body. When the heart becomes weakened through lifestyle factors, it can lead to heart disease.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Smoking, eating an unhealthy diet, obesity, excessive alcohol use, and not exercising increase your risk for heart disease. It is critical to eat an anti-inflammatory, healing diet to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. This diet includes low-glycemic fruits and vegetables, clean protein sources, and healthy fats.

The top heart healthy foods you can eat are listed above. You should incorporate these foods into your diet on a regular basis to prevent heart disease.

Additionally, you should avoid the three worst foods for your heart; sugar, processed vegetable oils and trans fats, and grain-fed meats. These foods promote inflammation which leads to heart disease. These foods should be eliminated or minimized to keep the heart healthy.

Sources for this Article Include:

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3. Khera, A, Emdin, C, Drake, I, et al., Genetic Risk, Adherence to a Healthy Lifestyle, and Coronary Artery Disease; N Engl J Med, 2016 Dec.; 375:2349-2358; DOI: 10.1056/NEJMao1605086;  Link here
4. Feranil, A, Duazo, P, Kuzawa, C, et al., Coconut oil predicts a beneficial lipid profile in premenopausal women in the Phillipines; 2012 Jan; 20(2): 190-195; PMID: 3146349
5. Cardosa, DA, Moreira, AS, de Oliveira, Gm, eta al., A Coconut Extra Virgin Oil-Rich Diet Increases HDL Cholesterol and Decreases Waist Circumference and Body Mass In Coronary Artery Disease Patients. Nutr Hosp. 2015 Nov; 32(1) 2144-52; PMID: 26545671
6. Tassell, M, Kingston, R, Gilroy, D, Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease; 2010 Jan-Jun; 4(7): 32-41; PMID: 3249900
7. Wannamethee SG, Jefferis BJ, Lennon L, Serum Conjugated Linoleic Acid and Risk of Incident Heart Failure in Older Men: The British Regional Heart Study. J Am Heart Assoc. 2018 Jan 6:7(1); PMID: 29306896
8. Gillman MW, Cupples LA, Gagnon, D, et al., Margarine intake and subsequent coronary heart disease in men. 1997 Mar; 8(2): 144-9; PMID: 9229205
9. Douthit, M, Fain, ME, Nguyen, J, et al., Phylloquinone Intake is Associated with Cardiac Structure and Function in Adolescents; 2017, August, Jour Nutr 1960-1967; Link here
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15. Omega-3 Fatty Acids; Univ Maryland Med Ctr; Link here
16. Rajaram, S, Burke, K, Connell, B, et al., A Monounsaturated Fatty Acid-Rich Pecan-Enriched Diet Favorably Alters the Serum Lipid Progile of Healthy Men and Women; 2001 Sep; Jour Nutr. Vol 131, Issue 9, 2275-2279; Link here
17. Williamson G, The role of polyphenols in modern nutrition. 2017 Sep; 42(3): 226-235; PMID: 28983192
18. Willett WC, The Mediterranean diet: science and practice. 2006 Feb; 9(1A): 105-110; PMID: 16512956
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What Is The MTHFR Gene Mutation?

Gene mapping has become extremely popular of late and a lot of research is being put into looking at various genes and their impact on our health.  The most well studied gene in terms of health is the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase or MTHFR.  This article will address the question of what is the MTHFR gene mutation, how does it impact our health and what can we do if we have an alteration at this gene?

What most people believe to be “genetic” conditions are usually heavily related to lifestyle choices. This include things like type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and many others. Even if one of these conditions run in your family, they are still primarily influenced by your diet and lifestyle, a concept referred to as epigenetics (1).

This is because, although you may have a certain genetic sequence in your DNA, your choices determine how those genes get activated or deactivated. There are however, minor genetic mutations that can influence how someone might respond differently to the same diet and lifestyle as someone else, such as the MTHFR gene mutation.

What Is A Gene Mutation? 

Genes are encoded by little proteins in what is called your DNA. These genes indicate things like biological traits (hair/eye color, skin tone, etc.) but they can also influence how a person’s body responds to its environment.

At this point in our understanding of biology, researchers have mapped the entire human genome. What this means is that we now have record of every possible DNA sequence found in humans. What we have yet to completely understand is how these sequences are relevant to our biology (2). We are starting to uncover some helpful clues however.

Types Of MTHFR Mutations 

The MTHFR gene codes the MTHFR enzyme which is involved in the methylation process within each cell.  When there is a mutation at this gene, it alters methylation and this can lead to a number of health challenges.  There are currently two known types of MTHFR mutations, also referred to scientifically as polymorphisms.

The MTHFR mutation can be inherited from one or both parents, affecting the MTHFR C677T or MTHFR A1298C genes specifically (3). A single mutation (heterozygous) in one of these is considered a risk factor for certain diseases while a double mutation (homozygous) is considered more of a concern.

A C677T mutation is associated with elevated homocysteine levels. This may put someone at higher risk for heart disease or neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s (4, 5).

A A1298C mutation is associated with neurotransmitter balance which has implications for mood regulation, depression, and addiction (6). 

What’s Significant About MTHFR? 

Researchers observed that people with a mutation in their MTHFR genes typically had higher rates of diseases like ADHD, alzheimer’s, depression, atherosclerosis, autoimmunity, and many other conditions (7). Now we know that the MTHFR gene is what determines our ability to methylate properly within our cells. This gives us insight into how we can mitigate the risk of these diseases. 

Methylation is a controlled transfer of a methyl group (one carbon and three hydrogen atoms) onto proteins, amino acids, enzymes, and DNA in every cell and tissue of the body to regulate healing, cell energy, genetic expression of DNA, liver detoxification, immunity, and neurology. 

These are all fundamental aspects of a healthy body so understanding how this genetic mutation influences health is extremely important from my perspective.

How Might This Mutation Affect You? 

While this genetic mutation tells us something about how someone’s body might respond to a certain lifestyle, there is still variance within this group. Some people experience very little consequences while others can encounter serious illness as a result. Obviously, there is deeper research necessary to fully understand quite how this works.

Also, most of the evidence that exists currently linking these mutations to certain diseases are epidemiological. This means they are only associations and we have no reason to believe that a MTHFR mutation can actually cause a disease.

That being said, there are certain considerations that may help people with MTHFR mutations experience a much greater level of health and wellbeing. I will touch on this towards the end of the article.

Why Methylation Is Important 

If you find out you have this genetic mutation, the next thing you want to do is actually test if you are having methylation problems. This is the real concern that we know can contribute to health problems.

Methylation is a critical process that happens trillions of times in every cell each minute.  It is one of the most essential metabolic functions of the body and is dependent upon a variety of enzymes. Without properly functioning methylation, one will experience accelerated aging due to an excessive energetic and toxic load that the body cannot handle.

As you can see, methylation is really a fundamental process in human biology that can have a huge impact on one’s health.

MTHFR Does Not Determine Your Fate 

As I mentioned in opening this article, your genes do not determine your fate. Due to the quickly developing field of epigenetics, we now understand how our gene expression can be influenced by our environment.

Our lifestyle habits, environmental conditions, and exposure to toxins can all influence gene expression. This has powerful implications for disease prevention and offers a solution for those with genetic mutations such as that of MTHFR.

Ways To Improve MTHFR Symptoms 

While having the MTHFR gene mutation is not a guarantee that you will face any kind of symptoms, there are strategies you should consider to counteract any you may face. MTHFR symptoms may be mostly related to methylation.

Methylation is regulated by key enzymes and cofactors for activation. This process is dependent upon certain vitamins and minerals. By taking this into account and supporting healthy methylation, many of these issues can be minimized.

Get More Folate

Proper methylation depends on the presence of certain nutrients in the body. The primary methyl donor involved in methylation is called S-adeosylmethionine (SAM). SAM is produced through a process that requires B vitamins (especially folate), choline, and betaine (8).

Getting plenty of these nutrients in your diet is a great first step for supporting methylation. Some of the best choline rich foods include grass-fed beef liver, sunflower lecithin, pasture-raised eggs and grass-fed butter.  Some of the best sources of betaine include beets and spinach.  The chart below shows the best sources of natural folates.


You may also find benefit in supplementing with a methylation support formula such as Methyl Power.

Control Homocysteine 

High homocysteine levels due to MTHFR mutation may be contributing to inflammation and increased risk of heart disease. This is because methylation is responsible for helping to clear this inflammatory amino acid out of the body. If methylation is inhibited. Other strategies need to be employed to help control homocysteine.

In addition to getting adequate nutrients listed above, follow these strategies to control homocysteine:

  • Do not overconsume animal protein (high in methionine, gets converted into homocysteine)
  • Consume bone broth to balance methionine with proline and glycine
  • Balance blood sugar
  • Avoid excessive caffeine
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Consume plenty of antioxidant-rich vegetables and moderate fruits
  • Consider supplementing with Betaine (can assist with homocysteine metabolism) 

Heal The Gut 

It is important to keep the gut healthy for everyone, however, digestive complaints seem to be more common among those with MTHFR mutations. Additionally, it is important to make sure the gut is absorbing the nutrients listed above so that methylation can occur effectively.

Following a healing diet, consuming bone broth, and avoiding common food sensitivities is a great start. For more in-depth steps on maximizing your gut health, check out this article here.

Stress Reduction 

Chronic stress can deplete B vitamins, contribute to neurotransmitter imbalances, and provoke MTHFR gene mutation symptoms to become more pronounced. Because those with this mutation are already at higher risk of mental disorder, this is an important preventative measure.

My top tips for controlling stress and anxiety are outlined below:

Natural Detoxification Support 

If your methylation processes are not optimized, your body will have a higher difficulty eliminating toxins. If not addressed, these toxins can build up and cause a long list of issues.

It is important to employ daily detoxification strategies like super hydrating, fasting, sweating (through sauna or exercise), using activated charcoal, and limiting your exposure to toxins in your environment.

Get Sunlight 

Regular sun exposure is a key component of healthy brain function. This can be powerful for those predisposed to neurological disorders. Sunlight optimizes Vitamin D levels, supports healthy dopamine and serotonin, improves sleep, and supports blood sugar balance.

Additionally, healthy sunlight exposure may also help reduce autoimmunity and protect from neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. This is all just by going outside… and its free!

For added benefit get your bare feet in the grass, sand, dirt, or rock to receive earthing benefits at the same time.

The two most important times to get sunlight are first thing in the morning and around noon. Receiving the full spectrum of light from the sun is a powerful stimulus of your circadian rhythm.

Tips For Healthy Sunlight Exposure:

  • Make sure to remove glasses, sunglasses, or contacts as these filter sunlight and prevent the full spectrum of light from reaching your eyes.
  • Never look directly at the sun
  • Expose as much skin as possible for maximum benefit
  • Start with short amounts (15-20 mins) and work your exposure times up to several hours if possible

Control Exposure To Blue Light

In addition to getting adequate sunlight, it is important to limit your exposure to artificial blue light. This is the type of light that is emitted from phones, TVs, laptops, and most artificial lighting fixtures.

This type of light is extremely disruptive to circadian rhythms and can have a negative effect on neurotransmitter balance.

It is especially important to avoid these types of light in the early morning and within 4 hours of your intended bedtime. You can do this by turning off your devices or investing in a pair of blue light blocking glasses and using them strategically around these times.

How To Find Out If You Are Affected 

Many people will come across this article without knowing if they actually have this mutation or not. If you want to get this information, along with a lot of other helpful genetic information, 23 & Me is a great option.

This is a simple one-time saliva test that you order to your home, perform at home, and ship back with the provided shipping information. For a one-time fee of $199 you get a complete mapping of your unique genetics and insights as to what this means for your health.

While your genetics aren’t necessarily your fate, you can at least gain insight into any increased risks you are facing for certain diseases. Armed with this knowledge, you can implement lifestyle factors to make sure you are not surprised down the road.

Mental health struggles are slow, silent killers sapping us of energy and happiness.

Whether challenged by depression, anxiety, stress, addiction or another manifestation, every single person is impacted and affected–you, your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers–either directly or indirectly every single day.

This Mental Wellness Summit Will Empower You Too: 

Overcome the silence, isolation and fear of your struggle

Transcend outdated, prescription-based healthcare systems

Find holistic practitioners and natural solutions for your pain

Implement expert practices, tools and tips into your daily routine

And so much more!

You can register for this event for free here

You will want to listen to my presentation on Friday, September 29th as I go through how to apply a ketogenic diet to reduce inflammation in your brain and improve your mood, memory and mindset!!

Sources For This Article Include: 

1. National Institute of Health: Epigenetics
2. Moraes, F., & Góes, A. (2016). A decade of human genome project conclusion: Scientific diffusion about our genome knowledge. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 44(3), 215–223. PMID: 26952518
3. Levin, B. L., & Varga, E. (2016). MTHFR: Addressing Genetic Counseling Dilemmas Using Evidence-Based Literature. Journal of Genetic Counseling. PMID: 27130656
4. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MTHFR Gene
5. Wierzbicki, A. S. (2007). Homocysteine and cardiovascular disease: a review of the evidence. Diabetes & Vascular Disease Research : Official Journal of the International Society of Diabetes and Vascular Disease, 4(2), 143–50. PMID: 17654449
6. Werner, E. R., Blau, N., & Thöny, B. (2011). Tetrahydrobiopterin: biochemistry and pathophysiology. The Biochemical Journal, 438(3), 397–414. PMID: 21867484
7. Yang, B., Fan, S., Zhi, X., Xia, R., Wang, Y., Zheng, Q., & Sun, G. (2017). Geographical and ethnic distribution of MTHFR gene polymorphisms and their associations with diseases among Chinese population. Clinical Genetics. PMID: 27888505
8. Anderson, O. S., Sant, K. E., & Dolinoy, D. C. (2012). Nutrition and epigenetics: An interplay of dietary methyl donors, one-carbon metabolism and DNA methylation. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. PMID: 22749138

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The Top 10 Best Food Sources of Glutamine

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Top 10 Best Food Sources of Glutamine

Amino acids are critical players in nearly every metabolic function within the body.  One of the most critical amino acids is L-glutamine which is by far the most abundant free amino acid in the body.  It accounts for over 60% of the free amino acids in blood, brain, organs, and muscle tissue (1).  This article goes over the benefits of L-glutamine and the top 10 best food sources of glutamine.

This critical amino acid is necessary for a number of different functions in our body and boosting our circulating levels of L-glutamine can help a number of different health conditions and improve our overall quality of life.

Glutamine plays a very important role in cardiovascular function by supplying a key energy source for endothelial cells that line blood vessels. Additionally, glutamine regulates nitric oxide synthesis by these endothelial cells (2, 3, 4).  This is critical for maintaining blood vessel tone and reducing inflammation in the blood vessel walls.

Glutamine Improves Neurological Function:

Glutamine is also a very important player in healthy neurological function and has been shown to improve mood, concentration, & memory (5, 6, 7) .  Glutamine easily crosses over the blood-brain barrier where it is converted into L-glutamic acid.  Glutamic acid is essential for cerebral function.  Glutamic acid is unique in that it can be converted into an energy source for neuronal cells when blood sugar is low. This characteristic is thought to be responsible for glutamine’s ability to damper sugar and alcohol cravings.

Glutamine is also a critical part of our digestive system.  It is the primary nutrient for the cells of the intestinal lining where it helps regulate cellular reproduction.  Through this mechanism, glutamine helps prevent and rebuild a leaky gut, which is common in people with inflammatory and auto-immune conditions (8, 9, 10) .   For this reason glutamine supplementation has been shown to be very effective in individuals with ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, & irritable bowel syndrome (11, 12).
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Glutamine Improves the Small Intestine:

Glutamine also helps regulate cells absorb water across the junction between the small intestine and blood stream.  This is a very important part of keeping the body from losing fluid and becoming dehydrated.  When water is not absorbed back into the body diarrhea is the result.  Diarrhea can be disastrous because we lose both water and other vital nutrients.  Glutamine has been shown to reduce the frequency and severity of diarrhea (13, 14)

Finally, glutamine plays a very important role in both cellular and systematic detoxification processes.  The lymphatic system maintains fluid and protein balance in the body, carries immune cells, and filters out toxins that are stored in tissues .

Glutamine is a key energy source for lymphatic cells allowing them to better remove toxic debris (15).   Additionally, glutamine acts as a transport molecule to carry ammonia out of major tissues including the brain where it is shipped to the liver for conversion into urea.

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Reduces Food Sensitivity Reactions:

A 2004 study found that L-glutamine benefits the body by regulating IgA immune response (16). IgA attacks bad bacteria and viruses to keep to prevent infections.  Secretory IgA (sIgA) is an anti-body that regulates the mucosal membranes of the intestines, respiratory, urinary and reproductive tracts.

Poorly regulated sIgA responses are associated with food sensitivities and allergies.  Glutamine plays an important role in regulating and modulating sIgA to keep the immune system strong and reduce food sensitivity reactions.

Another study published in the journal of Clinical Immunology found that glutamine normalizes the effects of both the Th1 and TH2 immune response that stimulates inflammatory cytokines (17).  This demonstrates the ability of L-glutamine to balance and modulate the immune system to reduce inflammatory activity and promote an anti-inflammatory environment.

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Best Food Sources of Glutamine:

L-glutamine is synthesized by the body from glutamic acid or glutamate. It is known as a conditionally essential amino acid, because it is used by the body in large amounts.  Here are the top food sources of glutamine.

1) Bone Broth and Bone Broth Protein

2) Grass-fed Whey Protein

3) Grass-fed Raw Dairy

4) Grass-fed beef/Bison

5) Spirulina

6) Cabbage

7) Asparagus

8) Broccoli

9) Venison

10)  Organic poultry  

It is ideal to consume at least 2 servings from this group daily.   Raw dairy products from grass-fed cows and goats are also very high in L-glutamine.  This includes grass-fed, non-denatured whey protein powder which is considered the most bioavailable form of L-glutamine from an animal source.  Using an ample amount of this form of whey protein in a shake with coconut milk, berries, & cinnamon everyday is a fantastic way to naturally boost L-glutamine levels.

Some individuals, especially those with leaky gut and auto-immunity have immune reactivity to whey protein.  This can include grass-fed, non-denatured whey.  If you notice that you have cramping, bloating, increased pain, brain fog, skin reactions, low-energy, sleeplessness, sinusitis or lowered immunity when consuming whey than discontinue immediately.

Red Cabbage is considered the most dense vegetable form of L-glutamine. An amazing way of bringing in the high quality nutrition from red cabbage is through juicing or shredding & fermenting it.  Red cabbage sauerkraut made with apple cider vinegar may be one of the most bioavailable ways to consume L-glutamine due to the deep fermentation processes that create an abundance of enzymes and good bacteria that allow amino acids and other nutrients to be better absorbed and utilized within the body.

I recommend for most of my clients to eat fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut & kimchii daily.  Even having a tablespoon of these each day can make a big difference.

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L-Glutamine Supplementation:

Most people tolerate L-glutamine supplementation very well (1). However, some individuals are unable to metabolize it effectively and can have an excess build-up of glutamate in the brain.  This can cause anxiety and irritablity.  These individuals are typically not methylating well and often deficient in zinc, magnesium, riboflavin, B6, folate and B12.  This reaction is rare but can happen if you are supplementing with heavy doses of L-glutamine while deficient in these B vitamins.

The best dosage for healing leaky gut is to start with about 3-5 grams daily and if you feel good (no increased anxiety or irritability) you can increase your dosage to 5-10+ grams.  I have seen great clinical results using 20+ grams daily for certain individuals.

You want to make sure you have a purified version of L-glutamine that has been clinically tested.  It is always adviseable to consult a trained functional nutritionist or functional medicine doctor before taking more than 5 grams daily.  For L-glutamine supplements you can read more here.  This is what I use with my clients here

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Additional Info on L-Glutamine:

L-glutamine is SO POWERFUL for healing the gut as well as the endothelial lining of the arteries, urinary tract, respiratory tract, etc and stabilizing a highly reactive immune system.  This is why it is one of my go to supplements with auto-immune cases and individuals suffering from damaged arteries, UTI’s, ulcers, leaky gut, painful urination, allergies and sinusitis, etc.

My favorite product to support the strength and healing of the mucousal membranes (gut lining, urinary tract lining, respiratory lining, reproductive lining) is Gut Repair.  This product features four specialized ingredients including L-glutamine (in lower dosage than the product above) for enhanced gastrointestinal support.  You can read about it here

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You are likely hosting one or more parasites–which can enter your body through food, drink, contact with infected persons–and can live within you for years!

At The Parasite Summit, our experts will help you determine if parasites are silently impacting your health–they’re FAR MORE COMMON than you think!

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Parasites aren’t just found in third-world countries, millions are already infected in industrialized countries–they’re far more common than you realize and could be silently hampering your health.

Fortunately, with awareness and appropriate care, parasites can be prevented and treated, once detected.

The Parasite Summit is online and free from September 11-18, 2017!

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If you are dealing with any of these issues than you MUST ATTEND this free online event!

Sources For This Article Include:

1. Ziegler TR, Benfell K, Smith RJ, Young LS, Brown E, Ferrari-Baliviera E, Lowe DK, Wilmore DW. Safety and metabolic effects of L-glutamine administration in humans.  JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 1990 Jul-Aug;14(4 Suppl):137S-146S.  PMID:  2119459
2. Mansour A, Mohajeri-Tehrani MR, Qorbani M, Heshmat R, Larijani B, Hosseini S. Effect of glutamine supplementation on cardiovascular risk factors in patients with type 2 diabetes.  2015 Jan;31(1):119-26. 2014 Jun 23.  PMID:  25466655
3. Bryk J, Ochoa JB, Correia MI, Munera-Seeley V, Popovic PJ. Effect of citrulline and glutamine on nitric oxide production in RAW 264.7 cells in an arginine-depleted environment.  JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2008 Jul-Aug;32(4):377-83.  PMID:  18596308
4. Arnal JF, Münzel T, Venema RC, James NL, Bai CL, Mitch WE, Harrison DG.Interactionsbetween arginine andglutamine change endothelial NO production. An effect independent of NO synthase substrate availability.  J Clin Invest. 1995 Jun;95(6):2565-72.  PMID:  7539455
5. Young LS, Bye R, Scheltinga M, Ziegler TR, Jacobs DO, Wilmore DW. Patients receiving glutamine-supplemented intravenous feedings report an improvement in mood.  JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 1993 Sep-Oct;17(5):422-7.  PMID:  8289407
6. Albrecht J, Sidoryk-Węgrzynowicz M, Zielińska M, Aschner M. Roles of glutamine in neurotransmission.  Neuron Glia Biol. 2010 Nov;6(4):263-76.  PMID:  22018046
7. Albrecht J, Sonnewald U, Waagepetersen HS, Schousboe A. Glutamine in the central nervous system: function and dysfunction.  Front Biosci. 2007 Jan 1;12:332-43. PMID: 17127302
8. Dos Santos RG, Viana ML, Generoso SV, et al. Glutamine supplementation decreases intestinal permeability and preserves gut mucosa integrity in an experimental mouse model. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 2010 JulAug;34(4):408-13. [PMID: 20631386]
9. Li N, Neu J. Glutamine deprivation alters intestinal tight junctions via a PI3-K/ Akt mediated pathway in Caco-2 cells. J Nutr. 2009 Apr;139(4):710-14. [PMID:19211824]
10. Tian J, Hao L, Chandra P, et al. Dietary glutamine and oral antibiotics each improve indexes of gut barrier function in rat short bowel syndrome. Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2009 Feb;296(2):G348-55. [PMID: 19095767]
11. Xu RY, Wan YP, Zhou YQ, Lu LP, Chen ZQ, Wu YJ, Cai W. Glutamine-supplemented parenteral nutrition and probiotics in four adult autoimmune enteropathy patients.  Gut Liver. 2014 May;8(3):324-8.   PMID: 24827631
12. Fujita T, Sakurai K. Efficacy of glutamine-enriched enteral nutrition in an experimental model of mucosal ulcerative colitis.  Br J Surg. 1995 Jun;82(6):749-51.  PMID: 7627502
13. Yalçin SS, Yurdakök K, Tezcan I, Oner L. Effect of glutamine supplementation on diarrhea, interleukin-8 and secretory immunoglobulin A in children with acute diarrhea.  J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2004 May;38(5):494-501.  PMID:  15097437
14. Kucuktulu E, Guner A, Kahraman I, Topbas M, Kucuktulu U. The protective effects of glutamine on radiation-induced diarrhea.  Support Care Cancer. 2013 Apr;21(4):1071-5. PMID: 23064902
15. Newsholme P. Why is L-glutamine metabolism important to cells of the immune system in health, postinjury, surgery or infection?  J Nutr. 2001 Sep;131(9 Suppl):2515S-22S; discussion 2523S-4S. Review.  PMID: 11533304
16. Lai YN, Yeh SL, Lin MT, Shang HF, Yeh CL, Chen WJ. Glutamine supplementation enhances mucosal immunity in rats with Gut-Derived sepsis.  2004 Mar;20(3):286-91.  PMID: 14990270
17. Chang WK, Yang KD, Shaio MF. Effect of glutamine on Th1 and Th2 cytokine responses of human peripheral blood mononuclear cells.  Clin Immunol. 1999 Dec;93(3):294-301.  PMID:  10600341

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