Chronic inflammation has been shown to play an important role in the development of heart disease and stroke. Inflammation refers to your body’s process of fighting against things that harm it, such as infections, injuries, and toxins, in an attempt to heal itself. When something damages your cells, your body releases chemicals that trigger a response from your immune system. Chronic inflammation happens when this response lingers, leaving your body in a constant state of alert. Over time, chronic inflammation may have a negative impact on your tissues and organs. It is also a silent health issue, since many of the signs of chronic inflammation are difficult to follow.
One of the leading factors contributing to chronic inflammation is our diet. The Standard American Diet generally includes:
- a diet high in red and processed meat
- refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries
- sugary beverages
- fried foods such as French fries
What you eat can play both a positive and negative role in managing chronic inflammation. A variety of foods have anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming foods with higher levels of antioxidants and fiber can help combat inflammation: These foods include:
- Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, cabbage, arugula)
- Yellow vegetables (pumpkin, yellow peppers, beans, carrots)
- Whole grains
- Fatty fish (salmon and sardines)
The researchers also suggested limiting intake of refined sugars and grains, fried foods, sodas, and restricting processed, red and organ meat. These foods are among the major contributors to the proinflammatory dietary index.
One nut in particular that has been assessed for an anti-inflammatory impact on our diet are walnuts. In a recent study, researchers assessed how incorporating walnuts into an individual’s usual diet would improve inflammatory biomarkers. Previous studies have found that regular nut consumption is associated with lower heart disease risk and lower overall cholesterol; however, there has been limited research linking nut consumption with less inflammation in the body. In this study a total of 634 participants were assigned either a diet without walnuts or a diet with regularly incorporated walnuts (about 30-60 grams per day). 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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The anti-inflammatory effect of long-term consumption of walnuts demonstrated in this study provides insight for the benefit of walnut consumption on heart disease risk beyond that of cholesterol lowering.
Researchers stated that 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. When choosing foods in our diet, we should indeed beware of their proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory potential.
The bottom line
Chronic inflammation increases your risk of several serious diseases. Your doctor can diagnose inflammation using blood tests. Medication, supplements, and eating an anti-inflammation diet can help you reduce your risk of inflammation. Avoiding smoking, drinking excess alcohol, and maintaining a healthy body weight can also help lower your risk, along with reducing your stress levels.