Cut inflammatory foods to cut your risk of heart disease

cardiovascular risk

Health professionals often agree that chronic inflammation plays a role in the development of heart disease and stroke, with certain inflammatory biomarkers, such as interleukins and chemokines, associated with early and late stages of atherosclerosis.

While studies have previously shown that diet can influence inflammation levels, with healthy dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, shown to lower concentrations of some inflammatory biomarkers and lower the risk of heart disease, there has been less research focused on the effects of adhering to a pro-inflammatory diet and what this may do to heart disease and stroke risk.

That is until now.

A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found that diets high in red and processed meat, refined grains and sugary beverages, which have been associated with increased inflammation in the body, can increase subsequent risk of heart disease and stroke compared to diets filled with anti-inflammatory foods.

More than 210,00 participants (men and women) from the Nurses’ Health Studies I and II were included in the analysis – starting from 1986 and included up to 32 years of follow up.

Dietary intake was determined through a survey, which the participants completed every four years.

“Using an empirically-developed, food-based dietary index to evaluate levels of inflammation associated with dietary intake, we found that dietary patterns with high inflammatory potential were associated with an increased rate of cardiovascular disease,” explains Dr Jun Li, MD, PhD, lead author of the study and research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Our study is among the first to link a food-based dietary inflammatory index with long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.”

After controlling for other risk factors, such as BMI, physical activity, family history and multivitamin use, participants consuming pro-inflammatory diets were found to have a 46% higher risk of heart disease and 28% higher risk of stroke, compared to those consuming anti-inflammatory diets (e.g. Mediterranean diet).

Based on the evidence the researchers suggest eating foods higher in fibre and antioxidants (anti-inflammatory foods) to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. These include:

  • Green leafy vegetables;
  • Yellow vegetables;
  • Whole grains;
  • And even coffee, tea and wine in moderation.

On the other hand, they advise limiting pro-inflammatory foods, such as:

  • Refined sugars and grains;
  • Fried foods;
  • Soft drinks;
  • Processed, red and organ meat.

“A better knowledge of health protection provided by different foods and dietary patterns, mainly their anti-inflammatory properties, should provide the basis for designing even healthier dietary patterns to protect against heart disease,” says Dr Ramon Estruch, MD, PhD, senior consultant in the Department of Internal Medicine at Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain.

“When choosing foods in our diet, we should indeed beware of their pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory potential.”

For more information and to read the study, visit: