Your Diet Can Help Protect You From Stroke

You may know a stroke happens when oxygen-rich blood is blocked from getting to part of your brain, but did you know your level of risk for a stroke is related to your diet? Every 30 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke, and someone dies from a stroke every 4 minutes, according to the National Stroke Association. For stroke prevention, choose a well-balanced, healthful diet, placing the emphasis on natural, whole, and unprocessed foods. “Everything we do to reduce the risk of heart attack is also going to reduce the risk of stroke,” says Seth Baum, MD, a cardiologist and founder of Preventive Cardiology in Boca Raton, Florida. A healthy diet will help you avoid high blood pressure and high cholesterol — negative influences that increase your risk of stroke. Here are diet tips from protein sources to potassium needs that can help you prevent a stroke.

Scratch the Sodium From Your Diet

About 80 percent of people who have their first stroke also have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and your blood pressure is affected by your diet choices. For example, a high-sodium diet is a major contributor to high blood pressure. This is because the excess sodium increases your blood volume and with it, the strain on your heart and blood vessels, the Harvard School of Public Health states. To prevent a stroke, opt for a low-sodium diet of fresh foods you prepare yourself without adding salt. Skip processed and packaged foods notorious for their high salt content, Dr. Baum advises.

Pick Healthier Protein Sources

Increasing your intake of high-quality proteins by 20 grams (gm) a day may cut your stroke risk by as much as 26 percent, indicates a stroke study published in the July 2014 issue of Neurology. Lentils, nuts, and seeds are good sources of protein as well as other nutrients and fiber. Lean is the operative word when choosing meat, since your liver makes more cholesterol when you eat saturated fat, according to the American Heart Association, and limiting cholesterol is important in preventing stroke. Salmon and other fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids yet low in saturated fats, the Harvard experts note, making them healthy choices for a diet to prevent stroke.

Add More Fruits and Vegetables to Your Diet

For every additional 200 gm (about 7 ounces) of fruit you eat each day, you might decrease your stroke risk by 32 percent. And your stroke risk could drop by 11 percent for every additional 200 gm of vegetables you eat too indicates a study published in the journal Stroke. Leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, apples, and pears offer particularly good protection. Fruits and vegetables carry so many healthful vitamins and minerals, along with fiber, that you simply don’t want to do without them, Baum says.

Power Up Your Potassium Intake

People with the highest daily consumption of the mineral potassium were 27 percent less likely to have an ischemic stroke, particularly if they did not have high blood pressure,according to a study of more than 90,000 postmenopausal women. Having more potassium was also linked to a lower overall stroke risk, and lower risk of dying prematurely for any reason. This may be because potassium relaxes your blood vessels, rids your body of sodium, and lowers blood pressure, notes the Harvard School of Public Health. White and sweet potatoes, white beans, spinach, bananas, and fish arepotassium-rich additions to your diet to help prevent stroke.

Focus on Fiber in Your Diet

Whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber, and that may aid in prevention, according to a stroke study published in the March 2013 issue of Stroke. Researchers found that for each additional 7 gm of fiber consumed daily, stroke risk decreased by 7 percent. One serving of whole-wheat pasta offers about 7 gm of fiber, as do two servings of vegetables or fruits. Other good fiber sources include beans, legumes, whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and air-popped popcorn, notes the American Heart Association.

Try the Mediterranean Diet

Following the mostly plant-based Mediterranean diet could decrease your risk by 30 percent, according to a stroke study published in the April 2013 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. This diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, potatoes, nuts, and seeds, explains Martha Gulati, MD, associate professor of cardiovascular medicine and director for Preventive Cardiology and Women’s Cardiovascular Health at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. She recommends the diet to her own patients to help prevent stroke. Extra virgin olive oil and red wine are also included, with moderate amounts of fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs.

Avoid Heavy Drinking, Using Drugs, and Smoking

Excessive alcohol consumption puts you at higher risk of having a stroke. A study published in the January 2015 issue of Stroke noted that heavy drinking could lead to a stroke an average of five years sooner than in people who don’t over-indulge. Illegal drugs also pose a particular risk for stroke. “Cocaine can cause spasms of the blood vessels and lead to heart attack and stroke,” Baum explains. Legal substances can be dangerous, too. Using tobacco can cause a stroke; cigarettes can increase blood clottingand spasms in the blood vessels and damage cells lining the blood vessels.

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