Nutrition for Stroke Prevention
Certain foods can help prevent stroke
The review, published in Nutrition Reviews, included 34 studies that examined the relationship between diet and stroke risk. Drawing on the findings from these studies, the reviewers made the following conclusions about specific foods:
- Fruits and vegetables: People who eat three to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day have a lower stroke risk than people who eat less than three.
- Soy: Studies done in Japan suggest that eating soy foods can protect against stroke, but not enough research has been done to say whether soy foods have the same protective effect in other populations.
- Fish: Eating a moderate amount of non-fried fish appears to be protective, but high levels may increase the risk of a type of stroke known as hemorrhagic stroke. Hemorrhagic stroke involves bleeding in an area of the brain, while the more common type of stroke, called ischemic stroke, involves loss of blood flow to an area in the brain.
- Whole grains: The evidence so far points toward a protective effect for whole grains, but more research is needed to draw a firm conclusion.
- Animal foods: Eating eggs does not change stroke risk, but the relationships between meat and dairy consumption and stroke risk are still unclear.
Eating a healthy diet is also protective
The reviewers made the following conclusions about overall dietary patterns:
- Prudent vs. Western diet: A prudent diet, characterized by high amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, is associated with a lower stroke risk, while a Western diet, which includes high meat, refined grain, and sweets consumption is linked to a higher stroke risk.
- DASH: Following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) guidelines has been found to lower blood pressure and stroke risk. DASH emphasizes fruits, vegetables, grains, low-fat dairy foods, nuts, chicken, and fish, and limits red meat, sweets, and refined grains.
- Mediterranean diet: This diet is characterized by high amounts of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and olive oil, moderate amounts of fish and wine, and low meat consumption. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet is associated with a reduced stroke risk.
- Low-fat diet: Although it appears that shifting from saturated fats to poly- and monounsaturated fats may help prevent stroke, cutting down on all dietary fats has no effect on stroke risk.
Lower your stroke risk
Based on all of these findings, eating a diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables is the best-supported nutritional method for preventing stroke. Here are some other things to do to reduce your stroke risk:
- Don’t smoke. Smoking damages small arteries in the brain and increases the likelihood of forming a blood clot, dramatically increasing stroke risk.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight is associated with dangerous changes in the blood vessels that supply the brain, and puts an extra burden on the heart, leading to higher stroke risk.
- Stay active. Physical activity, even into the senior years, has a clear benefit for stroke risk.
(Nutr Rev 2012;70:423–35)