Inflammatory foods—think red meat and sugary drinks—increase the risk of heart disease, stroke

Eating foods associated with increased inflammation in the body—red meat, processed meat, refined grains and sugary drinks, for example—can increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke, according to new findings published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The authors tracked more than 210,000 men and women from the United States who were showed no signs of cardiovascular disease or cancer at the beginning of the study. Follow-up data was collected through questionnaires, filled out once every four years, for up to 32 years total.  An empirical dietary inflammatory pattern score was used to evaluate each participant’s diet based on their answers to the questionnaires.

Overall, after controlling for a variety of risk factors, diets high in inflammatory foods were linked to a 46% higher risk of heart disease and a 28% higher risk of stroke compared to individuals eating an anti-inflammatory diet.

The team emphasized the value of eating such foods as green leafy vegetables, yellow vegetables, whole grains, coffee, tea and wine.

“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,” lead author Jun Li, MD, PhD, a research scientist in the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a prepared statement. “Our study is among the first to link a food-based dietary inflammatory index with long-term risk of cardiovascular disease.”

The full analysis is available from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology here.