Study Finds Benefits to Eating Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Anti-inflammatory foods can help decrease the frequency of heart disease and stroke, and lower cholesterol.

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A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) has found that avoiding inflammatory food may play an important role in reducing the effects of chronic inflammation, including the development of heart disease and stroke.

The researchers analyzed men and women who took part in Nurses' Health Studies I and II starting in 1986, with up to 32 years of follow up. After some exclusions, more than 210,000 participants were included in the analysis. The participants completed a survey every four years to ascertain dietary intake.

"Using an empirically-developed, food-based dietary index to evaluate levels of inflammation associated with dietary intake, we found that dietary patterns with higher inflammatory potential were associated with an increased rate of cardiovascular disease," said 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."

The food-based pro-inflammatory dietary index was based off 18 pre-defined food groups that together show the strongest associations with an increase in inflammation. After controlling for other risk factors such as BMI, physical activity, family history of heart disease and multivitamin use, the participants consuming pro-inflammatory diets had a 46% higher risk of heart disease and 28% higher risk of stroke, compared to those consuming anti-inflammatory diets.

Hence, the researchers suggest consuming foods with higher levels of antioxidants and fiber to help combat inflammation, such as green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, cabbage, arugula), yellow vegetables (pumpkin, yellow peppers, beans, carrots), whole grains, coffee, tea and wine. In addition, they recommend that people limit intake of refined sugars and grains, fried foods and sodas, as well as restrict consumption of processed, red and organ meat. (These foods are among the major contributors to the pro-inflammatory dietary index.)

In another study that was also analyzed for this research paper, the authors assessed how incorporating walnuts into someone's diet improves inflammatory biomarkers. A total of 634 participants were assigned either a diet without walnuts or a diet with regularly incorporated walnuts. After a follow-up period of two years, those who ate a diet with walnuts showed significantly reduced levels of inflammation in the body in 6 out of 10 of the inflammatory biomarkers tested.

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