VANCOUVER -- Not only do the foods we eat impact our weight, cholesterol and blood pressure, but a new study shows a strong association between long-term diet and chronic inflammation. Researchers say that can be one of the underlying causes of many health problems, but there is an anti-inflammatory diet that you can follow for better health.

Think of inflammation this way: when you cut your finger, it bleeds, and almost immediately white blood cells rush to the area to help heal the cut. You might notice swelling or reddening in the area. That’s an example of acute inflammation, which is temporary and promotes healing. But in other cases, irritants and germs can cause low-level, persistent inflammation – chronic inflammation. That can lead to health issues like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and even dementia.

How do you avoid it? Trisha Calvo with Consumer Reports says you should start with your diet.

“Some foods, like colourful fruits, have antioxidants that can dampen inflammation,” she says. “Other foods, such as red and processed meats, refined carbohydrates, and sugar may promote inflammation.”

In a recent study, researchers followed more than 200,000 men and women for up to 32 years. It found that those who consumed pro-inflammatory diets had a 46 per cent increased risk of heart disease and a 28 per cent increased risk of stroke, compared with those who consumed anti-inflammatory diets.

To get started on the diet yourself, start by focussing on a healthy diet overall and be sure to eat a variety of foods. Check your pantry – coffee, tea, olive oil, black beans and walnuts all contain anti-inflammatory compounds. And red wine does too, so you can still enjoy a glass at the end of the day.

With files from Consumer Reports.