Our food choices affect more than things like our weight, our blood pressure and our cholesterol levels. Certain foods promote simmering, chronic inflammation in the body and raise your risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke, a new study finds. Which kind of foods do you eat most often — pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory foods?

Inflammation is not all bad. It is part of the immune response and healing process. It kicks in when the body is injured or subjected to an attacker like bacteria or a virus. Sometimes, though, the immune response doesn’t fade when its job is done. This can lead to low grade chronic inflammation that can harm healthy tissues over time. Chronic inflammation is a trigger for many health problems. What we eat can promote or reduce our body's ability to handle inflammation.

People who ate pro-inflammatory diets were 46 percent more likely to develop heart disease and 28 percent more likely to have a stroke compared to those who ate anti-inflammatory diets.

Red and processed meat, refined grains and sugary beverages tend to produce responses in the body that foster inflammation.

Diets rich in certain nutrients, antioxidants or dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, appear to put a damper on inflammation and are considered anti-inflammatory.

To get a better picture of the kinds of effects a diet high in foods that promote inflammation might have on heart health over the long term, researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health used information collected from more than 210,000 people in the Nurses’ Health Studies I and II, beginning in 1986, and followed them for 32 years. The people in the study completed a diet survey every four years.

Those who ate pro-inflammatory diets were 46 percent more likely to develop heart disease and 28 percent more likely to have a stroke when compared to people who ate anti-inflammatory diets, according to this study, one of the first to measure the how certain foods affect inflammation in the body and the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Spanish researchers looked at the effect anti-inflammatory food might have on the body. They focused on how eating one to two ounces of walnuts daily affected inflammatory markers in the blood.

Over 600 people followed a diet either with or without regular walnut consumption for two years. The people who ate walnuts daily showed lower levels of inflammation in six of the 10 blood markers for inflammation that were tested. Fatty fish and extra virgin olive oil were also among the anti-inflammatory foods mentioned in the study.

The food choices you make can reduce chronic inflammation in your body or make it worse. Leafy green vegetables, yellow vegetables and whole grains contain high levels of antioxidants and fiber that help fight inflammation. Coffee, tea, wine and walnuts offer lots of antioxidants, too. On the other hand, a diet high in sodas, fried foods, white sugar, white flour and red, organ or processed meats increases inflammation. These foods should be avoided or eaten only occasionally.

Both studies are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.