Indulging in more coffee and wine and consuming more leafy vegetables have been shown to lower the risk for heart disease and stroke, according to a new study led by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The research, which analyzed roughly thirty years of dietary data from more than 210,000 Americans, was able to pinpoint a variety of specific foods—such as leafy greens, carrots, whole grains, tea, coffee, and red wine—that contains large amounts of antioxidants and vitamins that can greatly benefit one’s health.
The team, however, discovered that a diet high in pro-inflammatory foods and ingredients, such as processed meat, red meat, and refined carbohydrates, could elevate an individual’s risk for heart disease by 46 percent and stroke by 28 percent—even after the results were adjusted for alcohol use, smoking, salt intake, and blood pressure.
“Using an empirically-developed, food-based dietary index to evaluate levels of inflammation associated with dietary intake, e found that dietary patterns with higher inflammatory potential were associated with an increased rate of cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Jun Li, lead author of the study and a nutrition researcher at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a release.
“Our study is among the first to link a food-based dietary inflammatory index with long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.”
The researchers also suggested limiting consumption of refined sugars and grains, fried foods, and sodas—as these foods are among the biggest contributors to the pro-inflammatory dietary index, which is based on eighteen predefined food groups that together show the strongest associations with an increase in inflammatory biomarkers.
The team noted that inflammation can drive changes in blood vessels, leading to the development of atherosclerosis—referring to the buildup of fats, cholesterol, and other substances in and on artery walls, which can restrict blood flow. The plaque eventually can burst and trigger a potentially life-threatening blood clot.
“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,” Dr. Ramon Estruch, senior consultant in the department of internal medicine at Hospital Clinic in Barcelona, Spain, and author of an accompanying editorial, said in a statement.
“When choosing foods in our diet, we should indeed beware of their proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory potential.”
The study was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.