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Healthy Eating

The #6 best eating habits to reduce stroke risk, say Dietitians

We talked with some dietitians about their advice on the best eating habits to reduce stroke risk. Care for your heart with these helpful tips.

Having a stroke can be a terrifying, traumatic event. Strokes occur when blood flow is blocked and can’t reach your brain, which can be due to weakened or ruptured arteries or the bursting of a blood vessel. While this is scary to think about, the good news is that you can oftentimes lower your risk of stroke.

People with heart issues or heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are at greater risk of stroke. This is why finding a diet and fitness plan that can help lower the risk of these chronic diseases is key in helping to prevent or lower your risk of stroke.

To learn more, we talked with some dietitians about their advice on the best eating habits to reduce stroke risk.

1. Pay attention to cholesterol

There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

LDL cholesterol is considered “bad” cholesterol because it can be harmful to the heart and brain. This type of cholesterol contributes to arterial plaque development in the blood, increasing risk of stroke and heart disease. Foods like red meat, fried food, butter, and processed meats are high in LDL cholesterol and should be limited.

HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol, helps protect against ischemic (silent) stroke by helping guide bad cholesterol to the liver and out of the bloodstream. Foods rich in unsaturated fats, which help support good cholesterol levels, include olive oil, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, avocado, and more.

2. Eat a diet low in sodium

Too much salt can increase your blood pressure. You should not eat more than 6g (or a teaspoon) of salt per day. Much of the salt we eat is ‘hidden’ in processed foods like ready meals, crisps, nuts, cake and biscuits and processed meats.

Avoid adding salt to food when you’re cooking or at the table. Try using fresh ginger, lemon juice and chillies or dried herbs and spices to flavour food instead.

Some people use low-sodium salt products to help them cut down on salt. Make sure you check with your GP or pharmacist before using them, as they are not suitable for people with kidney problems and those using medication that affects your potassium levels.

“High sodium intakes are linked with hypertension, which contributes to stroke risk. Studies have shown that moderate sodium intake has a protective effect for strokes,” says Morgyn Clair, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author at Fit Healthy Momma.

According to a 2021 report published in Stroke, higher intakes of sodium were related to an increased stroke risk, which is why the American Heart Association published new guidelines for eating less than or equal to 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day.

The #6 best eating habits to reduce stroke risk, say Dietitians

3. Cut down on fat and sugar

We all need small amounts of fat and sugar in our diets, but too much can lead to weight problems. Food that has been fried in butter, oil or ghee will contain high amounts of fat. Use vegetable, nut and olive-based oils instead.

Processed meats, full-fat cheese and manufactured cakes and biscuits all contain a lot of saturated fat, so try to limit the amount of these in your diet.

The high levels of sugar in many soft drinks, ready meals and fast food can all add up to weight gain. Eating more homemade meals and snacks can help cut the sugar in your diet.

4. Eat plenty of fiber

The CDC lists its specific guidelines for living a lifestyle that can help reduce the risk of stroke. On this list are things like maintaining regular exercise, limiting your alcohol consumption, and eating a healthy diet. When it comes to a “healthy diet,” the CDC suggests eating foods low in saturated fats, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and getting enough fiber every day.

In a meta-analysis that looked into over 8,900 cases of stroke, it was found that eating fiber helped to reduce the risk of stroke. This decrease in risk was about 12% for every 10 grams of added fiber throughout the day, according to the report.

5. Limit red meat intake

Another important eating habit for stroke prevention is limiting your consumption of red meat, mainly due to its high saturated fat content.

According to a review published in Stroke and Vascular Neurology, replacing saturated fats like red meat with more Mediterranean-inspired healthy fats helps to reduce the risk of stroke.

6. Reduce alcohol consumption

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, and liver damage—all health conditions that increase risk of stroke.

Avoid drinking alcohol or aim to drink in moderation. According to the Mayo Clinic, drinking alcohol in moderation generally means drinking up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.

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