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Heart Disease and Inflammation: What Does My Diet Have to Do With It?

Every year, 850,000 people in America have a heart attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But how many people know what exactly contributed to the event occurring in the first place?

People may ask themselves, “Is it my weight? My diet? My occupation? Or just my luck?” Without losing hope just yet, let’s dive into what inflammation is and why it is a big factor in the development of heart disease.

Here’s a nutrition question for you to ponder: What foods do you think could cause inflammation in the body?

What happens with heart disease?

Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, occurs in several forms and states, including heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and blood clots. Atherosclerosis is a condition in which our cardiovascular system builds up fatty deposits and cholesterol, specifically in the walls of arteries throughout the body.

This process may lead to the blocking, hardening and narrowing of blood vessels, which may prevent the normal flow of blood through the heart and body. These changes in the body may block blood flow to the heart or brain and could lead to a heart attack or stroke

What is inflammation and how is it involved?

Normally, inflammation is short term and beneficial to our bodies because it protects the body from substances that are “foreign” and potentially harmful. Inflammation signs generally include redness, swelling and possibly pain, which usually occurs when the body is injured by a wound, cut or allergen. However, long-term inflammation that occurs can have damaging effects on our body that are not visible to the eye.

Long-term inflammation is a common component in the development of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer and many other conditions. Although it is not proven to cause cardiovascular disease, inflammation seems to be a common sign in stroke and heart attack patients.

Inflammation involved in heart disease may occur through the development of atherosclerotic fatty plaques, which are otherwise termed cholesterol-rich fatty deposits in blood vessels. As blood vessels and arteries build up with fatty deposits, the body will recognize that this is not a normal state for the body. Our body responds with inflammation. Blood vessels enclose the fatty deposit into its wall with the help of inflammatory cells, which contributes to the narrowing of blood artery and vessel walls.

Plaque formations are a big risk because they can rupture if they become large enough and release their contents into the blood stream. This can lead to a blood clot somewhere in the body, such as the blood leading to the heart or brain, causing a heart attack or stroke. To prevent chronic disease states such as these, health experts recommend limiting or eliminating the components in our everyday diet that may contribute to inflammation in the body.

What are some risk factors for inflammation in the body?

-          Cigarette smoking

-          High blood pressure

-          LDL “bad” cholesterol

-          Being overweight

-          Being physically inactive

What foods promote inflammation in the body?

Many foods eaten in the typical Western diet are known to promote inflammation in the body. To reduce potential inflammation, consider these heart-healthy diet tips:

  • Make half your grain choices whole grain because whole grains are considered protective against diseases. Choose refined carbohydrates, such as white breads, biscuits, bagels and pastries, less often than their whole-grain counterparts. Refined grain products are not made with the entire grain, so they may be lower in vitamins, minerals and fiber than whole grains,
  • Consume fewer fried foods. French fries, chicken tenders, mozzarella sticks or doughnuts may promote inflammation. The frying oil often is high in saturated or trans fat, which may promote cholesterol buildup in blood vessels.
  • Choose lean protein sources. Highly processed meats such as hot dogs or sausages and higher-fat meat cuts contribute saturated fat in the diet.
  • Use healthful oils instead of solid fats more often. Spreads such as butter, margarines, shortening and lard are high in saturated fat and/or trans fat, which promote increased blood cholesterol levels.
  • Trim your intake of sweetened beverages. Sodas and other beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners may promote inflammation. Fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and coffee drinks all can contain added sugars or sweeteners and add empty calories to the diet.

 

By Lindsey Johnson, Dietetic Intern, NDSU Extension
Reviewed/edited by Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist

 

 

Resources

Gordon, B., (2019). What is an anti-inflammatory diet? Eat Right: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Retrieved from www.eatright.org/health/wellness/preventing-illness/what-is-an-anti-inflammatory-diet.

Fight inflammation to help prevent heart disease. (n.d.) John Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved from www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/fight-inflammation-to-help-prevent-heart-disease.

Foods that fight inflammation. (2018). Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. Retrieved from www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation.

Heart disease facts. (2019). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm.

Inflammation and heart disease. (2015). American Heart Association. Retrieved from www.heart.org/en/health-topics/consumer-healthcare/what-is-cardiovascular-disease/inflammation-and-heart-disease.

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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