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Stroke: Nutritional Considerations

The following steps are key to preventing a stroke:

  • Reducing dietary fat and cholesterol. Individuals with higher blood cholesterol concentrations tend to have a higher risk of stroke. Studies show that men and women who have high dietary intake of saturated fat and cholesterol–which raise blood cholesterol concentrations–have an increased risk of stroke.

    The main food sources that contain saturated fats are animal products (meat, dairy products, eggs) and tropical oils (palm oil, coconut oil). Cholesterol, which is not the same as fat, is found only in animal–derived products (meat, dairy products, and eggs). A low–fat, vegan diet leads to the most dramatic reductions in saturated fat.
  • Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Eating more fruits and vegetables is associated with a reduced risk for stroke. These healthy foods can displace high–fat, high–cholesterol animal products. Fruits and vegetables also provide important nutrients, including carotenoids, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate, all of which have been associated with reduced stroke risk in epidemiologic studies.

    Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also provide fiber, which is associated with lower risk for stroke and other diseases.
  • Consuming less sodium and more potassium. It is well known that sodium (that is, salt) in foods increases the risk of hypertension, which increases the risk of stroke. Studies have shown that lowering dietary sodium intake will decrease the risk of having a stroke, as well as the risk of dying from a stroke. Foods that tend to have high levels of sodium include processed and packaged foods, some canned foods, “fast foods,” baked goods, salty or smoked meats and fishes, and many breakfast cereals.

    In contrast, potassium is beneficial. Increasing dietary intake of potassium lowers the risk of having a stroke and dying from a stroke. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of potassium.
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight. Maintaining a healthy body weight reduces the risk of stroke. For weight–control tips, meal plans, and recipes, consult How to Maintain a Healthy Weight.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption to no more than one to two alcoholic drinks daily
  • A nutritionist can offer more advice about making healthy food choices.
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