Lori Alton via NaturalHealth365 – For years, natural health experts and integrative physicians have sounded the alarm on the dangers of the Standard American Diet – which is aptly abbreviated as SAD. High in processed products, unhealthy fats and refined sugars, and lacking in desirable anti-inflammatory foods, SAD is believed to increase inflammation and trigger serious conditions, including heart disease and stroke.
While this concept – that the foods we eat can influence inflammation and cardiovascular health – might seem to be common sense, scientific studies on the topic were scarce.
Until last week, when a study published in the respected Journal of the American College of Cardiology showcased the dangers of pro-inflammatory foods and revealed the startling extent to which diet affects risk of heart attack and stroke. To learn which foods are inflammation-promoting “villains” and which are inflammation-quenching “superheroes,” keep reading.
Good science REVEALS how diet affects your susceptibility to heart disease and stroke
The study, which involved 32 years of research and over 210,000 participants, allowed scientists to compare the diets of people who relied heavily on pro-inflammatory foods to the diets of people who opted for healthier, anti-inflammatory foods.
The team then used pooled analyses to evaluate the long-term risk of heart disease in the two groups. The results were eye-opening!!
When compared to diets high in anti-inflammatory foods, diets high in pro-inflammatory foods increased heart disease risk by a stunning 46 percent and raised stroke risk by 28 percent.
Lead author Jun Li, M.D., Ph.D. – a research scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – summed up the study results with this definitive sentence: “Dietary patterns with higher inflammatory potential were associated with an increased rate of cardiovascular disease.”
It doesn’t get any more cut-and-dried than that.
The team also found that people who reported regularly eating pro-inflammatory foods had higher levels of inflammatory biomarkers- such as chemokines, interleukins and adhesion molecules – along with higher levels of triglycerides and unwanted LDL cholesterol.
“Eat the rainbow” — in the form of colorful fruits and vegetables
So, how can you tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys?” It’s easy – once you know what to look for.
Experts recommend opting for bright orange or yellow vegetables – such as squash, carrots, pumpkin and yams – which contain a disease-fighting plant pigment known as beta carotene. Green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables – such as kale, spinach, arugula, Brussels sprouts and broccoli – are also a wise choice. In addition, cruciferous vegetables contain sulforaphane, which is not only anti-inflammatory but anticancer.
By the way, the “green leafies” also have their share of beta-carotene. However, the orange/yellow hue is hidden behind darker green pigments.
Dark cherries, blackberries and blueberries are high in a group of plant pigments known as anthocyanins, while bright red tomatoes are loaded up with an antioxidant called lycopene.
Of course, let’s not forget healthy fats – such as nuts – are also great inflammation fighters. In fact, recent research shows that people who enrich their normal diets with daily walnut consumption had significantly reduced inflammation and LDL cholesterol, when compared to those who didn’t.
And, finally, don’t overlook olive oil and avocados as ideal sources of beneficial fats.
The new “unconventional” wisdom: Coffee used to fight inflammatory disease?
Although coffee contains caffeine, a stimulant that can raise blood pressure, many experts feel that coffee’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits far outweigh the downside. According to research nutritionists at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, coffee consumption may reduce internal inflammation and protect against disease.
Peer-reviewed studies have shown that coffee reduces the odds of developing Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and dementia – particularly in women. In addition, coffee consumption dramatically slashes the risk of colon cancer and is linked with a lower risk of death from heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.
For maximum benefit, many experts recommend three to five cups a day (for people unbothered by caffeine). If your doctor has advised you to avoid or limit caffeine, the good news is that decaffeinated coffee can still provide health benefits.
Naturally, if you’re going to drink coffee … be sure it’s organic and skip the white sugar. You can flavor it up with cinnamon, vanilla extract or cocoa powder instead. If you really want to get “fancy,” try some fresh made hemp or almond milk.
Avoid or sharply limit these inflammatory foods
Major pro-inflammatory culprits include processed meats like, bacon, ham, hot dogs, bologna and packaged lunch meats. Generally speaking, most health experts will tell you to avoid: refined sugar, sugar-laden drinks and refined grain products such as white bread, white rice, crackers and baked goods.
In addition, stay away from … fried foods, trans fats, chemical preservatives, artificial sweeteners, fast foods and GMOs. All of these items will greatly increase the risk of chronic inflammation.
Red ALERT: Pro-inflammatory foods reduce levels of a natural fat-burning substance
The new study – we’re featuring above – found that people who ate a pro-inflammatory diet had lower levels of adiponectin, a fat-burning hormone that can help prevent insulin resistance, combat atherosclerosis and promote weight loss.
So important is adiponectin, in fact, that low levels are linked with the development of metabolic syndrome and obesity-related illnesses. Clearly, you don’t want to run low on this important hormone.
You can increase your adiponectin levels with daily intake of omega-3 fats, found in cold-water fatty fish, avocados, nuts and olive oil. These just happen to be “major players” in the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in healthy fats, fruits, nuts and vegetables.
Most experts agree that the Mediterranean diet is vastly superior to the SAD when it comes to supporting heart health. So, clearly, it just might be time to give this anti-inflammatory – and flavorful – way of eating a try.