Our emerging understanding of the role of inflammation in major chronic diseases has drawn much attention to the effect of diet on the inflammatory process. Understanding the link can help us identify specific eating habits and foods that can reduce chronic inflammation and improve health.
Inflammation: helpful, harmful, or both?
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is the body’s protective response to injury or infection. For example, acute inflammation occurs when you cut your finger. Your body sends white blood cells to protect the area. You may see swelling and redness and feel pain, but this process is essential for preventing infection.
Chronic inflammation can be triggered when the body tries to get rid of harmful substances such as toxins from smoking. Increased levels of chronic inflammation are also associated with excess fat, especially around the abdomen.
Chronic low-grade inflammation can damage blood vessels, arteries, nerves, and intestines. This can eventually lead to chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and certain bowel diseases.
Can diet have an impact on chronic inflammation?
By examining markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6), and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), the researchers found that diet could influence inflammation. There is also a lot of evidence showing that diet has an impact on the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Is inflammation the means by which diet influences disease risk?
Pro-inflammatory diets may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease
A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) examined whether pro-inflammatory diets are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). (Cardiovascular disease includes non-fatal and fatal heart attacks, and fatal and non-fatal strokes.) Researchers assessed the diets of more than 200,000 women and men enrolled in the Nurses Health Study, at Nursing Health Study II and Professional Follow-up Study. Study participants completed food frequency questionnaires every four years for up to 32 years.
The results showed that those who consumed the most pro-inflammatory diets had a 38% higher risk of developing CVD compared to those who consumed the most anti-inflammatory diets. The associations were consistent in men and women and remained significant even when other lifestyle factors and other potential factors of inflammation such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. were taken into account.
This study also showed that pro-inflammatory diets were associated with a poor cholesterol profile. This finding has also been observed in other another study, also published in JACC, which found that pro-inflammatory foods had a harmful effect on cholesterol levels while some anti-inflammatory foods had favorable effects.
Which foods are pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory?
Foods with higher pro-inflammatory potential are red meat, processed meat and organ meat; refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice and many desserts; and sugary drinks, including colas and sports drinks.
Foods that have a higher anti-inflammatory potential are green leafy vegetables such as kale, collard greens and spinach; dark yellow vegetables such as winter and summer squash and yellow peppers; whole grains such as wheat berries, quinoa, whole grain bread, and oatmeal; and fruit, tea, coffee and wine. These foods contain specific anti-inflammatory compounds such as carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamins, and fiber.
The recent JACC the results of the study are consistent with other research which identifies certain eating patterns associated with lower inflammation and reduced risk of CVD. These include the mediterranean diet, which emphasizes many anti-inflammatory foods and limits pro-inflammatory foods such as red meat and refined carbohydrates.
Bottom line: limit pro-inflammatory foods and eat more anti-inflammatory foods
Data suggests a cautious approach to the two pro-inflammatory foods limiting and Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet can be an effective CVD prevention strategy.
Below are some practical ways to get more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet.
|Category||food||Tips to further integrate your diet|
|Fiber||· Fruits and vegetables
Beans, nuts and seeds
Packaged foods containing more than 5 grams of fiber per serving
|Replace refined grains with whole grain options like brown rice and whole wheat
Eat high fiber snacks like berries, apples or carrots with hummus
Fill half of your plate with vegetables
|Phytonutrients||Vegetables and red, orange and yellow fruits
Dark green leafy vegetables like kale
Spices: turmeric, curcumin, peppers, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, onions, etc.
Green tea and black coffee
|Fruits and vegetables that are rich in flavor (especially bitter flavors), aroma or color often contain more phytonutrients
Try not to peel your fruits and vegetables
Use many different spices when preparing meals
Shorten cooking time and limit pre-soaking of fruits and vegetables
|Healthy fats||Monounsaturated fatty acids (olive oil, canola oil, sesame oil
Omega-3 fatty acids (fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel)
Flax seeds and nuts
|Eat nuts for a mid-morning or afternoon snack
Use olive oil for dressing and for sautéing vegetables
Sprinkle whole flax seeds or flax powder in oatmeal, cereal or smoothies
|Source: Department of Nutrition, Brigham and Women’s Hospital|
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