A good diet, which features plenty of fruits and vegetables; fiber; whole grains; legumes; and fish has been associated with a reduced risk of stroke (1). But what’s the best way to maintain a healthy weight and keep your chance of developing cardiovascular health problems to a minimum?
How diet and nutrition is linked to stroke
What we eat affects the management of weight, blood pressure and diabetes, which are all directly linked to the risk of stroke (2). People who are overweight or obese are 2-3 times more likely to suffer a stroke, compared to those of a normal weight (3). While high blood pressure and diabetes can weaken the blood vessels leading to the brain, causing them to rupture or block more easily. Aside from the obvious health benefits, it’s clear to see that eating a balanced, nutritious diet could also reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
What is a ‘good’ diet to reduce stroke risk?
A Mediterranean style diet, high in plant-based food, olive oil and a moderate amount of meat, dairy and wine, is consistently associated with reduced risks of stroke (1). The idea comes from looking at the dietary patterns that formed in the olive-growing regions of the Med in the early 1950s and 60s and has long been linked to better cardiovascular health. (4)
In essence, The Mediterranean Diet involves regular consumption of:
• Fruits and vegetables – 5 or more servings per day
• Oily fish, such as mackerel – at least 2 portions per week
• Olive oil – high intake
• Tree nuts and peanuts – 3 or more servings per week
• Legumes, such as beans and lentils – 3 or more servings per week
What is a ‘bad’ diet according to stroke risk?
In addition to being aware of what foods are good for you, people at risk of stroke also need to know what to avoid. The general advice, which still follows the Mediterranean Diet, suggests limiting the intake of all meat, in particular red and processed meats; reducing the amount of sweet drinks and alcohol; and cutting down on trans-fats found in baked goods.
To reduce stroke risk, you should try to consume less:
• Red and processed meat – high in saturated fat and sodium
• Wine – high levels are associated with high risk (4)
• Sweetened drinks and foods – consuming 2 or more servings of sweet drinks could increase the risk of ischemic stroke (4)
• Added fats – avoid trans-fats, found in cakes and pastries
• As of dairy – try to switch to low-fat varieties
As you can see, poor diet is one of ten key risk factors for stroke that can be easily changed. Combining healthy eating with plenty of exercise helps to reduce your body weight, trim your waistline, and lowers your chances of cardiovascular health problems.
1. Jennifer L. Dearborn, Victor C. Urrutia and Walter N. Kernan. The case for diet: a safe and efficacious strategy for secondary stroke prevention.Published 02 February 2015. Doi: 10.3389/fneur.2015.00001
2. Boden-Albala B, Sacco RL. Lifestyle factors and stroke risk: Exercise, alcohol, diet, obesity, smoking, drug use, and stress. Current atherosclerosis reports. 2000; 2: 160-166. [PubMed:11122740]
3. Strazzullo P, D’Elia L, Cairella G, Garbagnati F, Cappuccio FP, Scalfi L. Excess body weight and incidence of stroke: meta-analysis of prospective studies with 2 million participants. Stroke. 2010; 41: e418-e426.
4. 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: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.114.006306