Anti-inflammatory diets may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease

A healthy assortment of colorful fruits and vegetables

A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, supported by the NHLBI, finds anti-inflammatory diets—those rich in colorful vegetables, fruits, and whole grains—may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In this review, dietary inflammation refers to how 18 food categories overlap with 10 biomarkers for health, ranging from blood sugar and cholesterol to early clues for heart failure. Physicians use these tests to help identify patients at risk for heart and vascular disease. Elevated cholesterol, for example, is a risk factor for atherosclerosis, the accumulation of plaque in the arteries that can limit blood flow and lead to a heart attack, stroke, or chronic kidney disease. To assess how diet-related inflammation increases risk for a heart attack, stroke, or death from heart disease, the researchers analyzed the diets and health outcomes of 210,145 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Participants submitted nutrition surveys every four years for 24-32 years. One in seven shared blood samples.

Participants whose diets were rich in anti-inflammatory foods, including leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, and kale; dark yellow vegetables, which included carrots, peppers, pumpkin, and beans; fruits, like berries; and whole grains, such as brown rice, had fewer incidents of cardiac-related events. Participants who ate higher proportions of pro-inflammatory foods, including red and processed meat, refined carbohydrates, ultra-processed foods, and sugary beverages, like soda, had an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, and coronary heart disease. These trends persisted after controlling for age, body weight, medical conditions, and smoking. The authors conclude altering inflammation in the diet, such as prioritizing foods naturally rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, may help reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease.