Our immune system keeps us healthy by fighting infections from bacteria, viruses, and fungi. When someone has an infection, illness, or injury, the inflammatory response begins to fight off germs and aid in the healing process. This response is highly controlled, but when it goes awry, inflammation increases, which can cause many adverse effects. We can keep our inflammation under control by staying healthy, managing stress, getting plenty of sleep, and eating foods that balance our immune system. This regimen can also be good for keeping our hearts healthy.
A new study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine provides evidence that when our white blood cells fail to protect us from bacteria and viruses, certain forms of heart disease may result. (1)
Eating the right kinds of food can go a long way in keeping inflammation at a minimum and our hearts healthy. Try introducing some of the following fruits, vegetables, and herbs into the diet to balance the immune system.
Heart Healthy Foods
Ginger and turmeric: known to help support the body’s healthy response to inflammation.
Berries: especially blueberries, may support the heart and blood pressure, and help reduce pain. Acai berries, a popular trend, coming from the rainforests of the Amazon, are associated with improvements in vascular function, which can support a healthy cardiovascular system. (2)
Another study found that eating blueberries daily improved the function of cells that line the blood vessels, which may help control blood pressure and blood clotting while reducing LDL cholesterol.* (3)
Leafy Greens: spinach and kale help detoxify the body, thus balancing the immune system. The vitamin K in these leafy greens supports arteries and blood clotting mechanisms.*
Avocados: contain monounsaturated fats that have been linked to reduced levels of cholesterol, balancing blood pressure, and thus lower risk of heart disease. They are also rich in potassium, a nutrient essential to heart health. Just one avocado supplies 975 milligrams of potassium or about 28% of the amount that a person needs in a day. (4)
Garlic: In one study, eating one clove of raw garlic a day was found to reduce total cholesterol levels by approximately 10%.* (2)
Cacao Nibs: have become quite popular recently due to their high antioxidant and bioflavonoid content. Flavonoids are a subclass of polyphenols abundant in fruits and vegetables and are known to support healthy blood pressure levels. Research over the past 25 years focusing on the relationship between flavonoids and the cardiovascular system classifies flavonoid benefits under four headings: (a) anti-oxidant properties; (b) vasodilation of smooth muscle; (c) anti-platelet aggregation; and (d) inflammatory properties. (5)
Nuts: especially almonds and walnuts, can help balance lipid profile which includes cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL and LDL cholesterol. A study reported in the Journal of the American Diet Association found consumption of almonds ranging from 25 to 168 g/day (20-140 nuts) balanced total cholesterol and showed a trend toward healthy levels of LDL cholesterol. (6)
Seeds: chia, flax, pomegranate, and hemp seeds are all great sources of heart-healthy nutrients, including fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. These vital nutrients are known to balance inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.
One way to introduce these foods into the diet is with smoothies. These can be made into a drink or into the new trendy “smoothie bowls.”
Try these four smoothie recipes. Vary them with your own addition of tasty treats. Be mindful of sugar content (even from fruits) and make sure to include healthy nutrients. Buy organic when possible.
- Carrot, orange, yogurt, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, pitted dates
- Spinach, celery, apple, cucumber, ginger, lime, ice
- Banana, orange, pineapple, almond milk, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon
- Banana, berries, avocado, spinach, ginger, chia, ice
Choose amounts that you prefer along with liquids like almond or cashew nut milk or coconut milk, low fat or Greek yogurt, all unsweetened. For a really cold smoothie, start with frozen fruit. Put fruit, veggies, liquid, or ice in a blender and blend. Add spices and any other goodies such as nuts, oats, cacao nibs, or coconut flakes. Blend. Pour into a glass or create a smoothie bowl. Add toppings like granola, shaved dark chocolate, seeds or chopped nuts, and enjoy!
- Fight inflammation to help prevent heart disease. Hopkinsmedicine.org. Accessed October 21, 2020. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/fight-inflammation-to-help-prevent-heart-disease
- Ward MG, Ward JK, Anderson BE, Vogel KP. Grazing selectivity and in vivo digestibility of switchgrass strains selected for differing digestibility. J Anim Sci. 1989;67(6):1418-1424. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2768099
- Stull AJ, Cash KC, Champagne CM, et al. Blueberries improve endothelial function, but not blood pressure, in adults with metabolic syndrome: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Nutrients. 2015;7(6):4107-4123. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26024297/
- Avocados, raw, all commercial varieties Nutrition Facts & Calories. Self.com. Accessed October 21, 2020. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1843/2
- Aslani N, Entezari MH, Askari G, Maghsoudi Z, Maracy MR. Effect of garlic and lemon juice mixture on lipid profile and some cardiovascular risk factors in people 30-60 years old with moderate hyperlipidaemia: A randomized clinical trial. Int J Prev Med. 2016;7(1):95. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4977979/
- Pucciarelli DL. Cocoa and heart health: a historical review of the science. Nutrients. 2013;5(10):3854-3870. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3820048/
- Phung OJ, Makanji SS, White CM, Coleman CI. Almonds have a neutral effect on serum lipid profiles: a meta-analysis of randomized trials. J Am Diet Assoc. 2009;109(5):865-873. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19394473/