Among all impacts (actions, influences, corrections, …) on the risk factors, changing your eating habits is one of the easiest ways to decrease your risk, as it is directly related to other catalysts, such as being overweight and having high blood pressure.

In general, advice from medical professionals leans towards a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and low in saturated fats. But within this there are certain foods, food groups and dietary patterns that can significantly increase or decrease your risk of stroke. Here’s a quick overview of the important ones:

1. Fruit and vegetables reduce stroke risk by up to 21%

Several studies have indicated that following a Mediterranean style diet is closely associated with reduced stroke risk. (1) This, in part, means eating five or more pieces of fruit or vegetables a day. Groups who ate the highest quantities of these foods had the lowest stroke risk – by as much as 21% (1).

2. Vitamin C reduces stroke risk by up to 19%

Whilst fruit and vegetables are also rich in a wide range of micronutrients and antioxidants, it’s Vitamin C that is directly linked with a 19% reduction in risk. (2) Furthermore, it’s important that this water-soluble vitamin is absorbed from food, rather than supplements, to have any tangible benefits.

3. Olive oil reduces stroke risk by up to 18%

Olive oil has become a popular alternative to butter and offers many health benefits, not least of which is related to stroke. One study found that eating an extra 25 grams of olive oil could equate to reduced risk of up to 18%. (3) While another found that people over 65, who had plenty of olive oil in their diets, had 41% lower chance of stroke than those who didn’t. (4)

4. Sweet drinks increase stroke risk by up to 16%

Sugar has hit the headlines in recent years due to the rise in obesity, especially in younger people, worldwide. Consuming less sugary foods not only helps to control weight and manage diabetes; it also lowers your risk of stroke. One study found consuming just one less sugar-laden, fizzy drink per day could reduce the chance of suffering a stroke by as much as 16%. (5)

5. Trans-fats increase stroke risk by up to 13%

It makes sense that a healthy diet shouldn’t be high in fat. But it’s the type of fat that seems to be more crucial when it comes to stroke. Polyunsaturated fats, as found in fish oils, are widely known to reduce your risk. While trans-fats, common in cakes, pies and biscuits, have been associated with an increased risk of stroke in men – up to 15%, according to one source. (6)

6. Red and processed meat increases stroke risk by up to 17%

Research shows, the more meat we eat; the higher our risk of stroke. Red meat (increased risk by 11%) contains large amounts of saturated fat, which is linked with higher cholesterol, another risk factor for stroke (7). While processed meat, (increased risk by 17%) is often manufactured with a high level of salt, which increases the risk of high blood pressure and, in turn, the probability of stroke. (8)

References:

1. Sindhu Lakkur, PhD and Suzanne E Judd, PhD MPH. Diet and Stroke: recent evidence supporting a Mediterranean style diet and food in the primary prevention of stroke. Stroke. 2015 July; 46 (7): 2007-2011. Doi:10.10.1161/STROKEAHA.114.006306

2. Psaltopoulou T, Sergentanis TN, Panagiotakos DB, Sergentanis IN, Kosti R, Scarmeas N. Mediterranean diet, stroke, cognitive impairment, and depression: A meta-analysis. Annals of neurology. 2013; 74: 580–591.

3. Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Dominguez LJ, Delgado-Rodriguez M. Olive oil consumption and risk of chd and/or stroke: A meta-analysis of case-control, cohort and intervention studies. The British journal of nutrition. 2014; 112: 248–259.

4. Samieri C, Féart C, Proust-Lima C et al. Olive oil consumption, plasma oleic acid, and stroke incidence, Neurology. 2011 Aug 2;77 (5):418-25. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e318220abeb

5. Bernstein AM, de Koning L, Flint AJ, Rexrode KM, Willett WC. Soda consumption and the risk of stroke in men and women. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2012; 95: 1190–1199.

6. Mensink RP, Zock PL, Kester AD, Katan MB. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta‐analysis of 60 controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 77: 1146–1155.

7. Alderman MH. Evidence relating dietary sodium to cardiovascular disease. J Am Coll Nutr. 2006; 25: 256S–261S.

8. Kim K, Hyeon J, Lee SA, Kwon SO, Lee H, Keum N, Lee JK, Park SM. Role of Total, Red, Processed, and White Meat Consumption in Stroke Incidence and Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies. J Am Heart Assoc. 2017;6:e005983. DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.117.005983.

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