By Emily Henry, KSC Dietetic Intern
Did you know that, according the Center for Disease Control, almost 800,000 people a year suffer a stroke in the United States? Although New Hampshire has one of the lowest prevalence rates in the country at 2.4% of the population, strokes are still the fourth leading cause of death in our state and the leading cause of long term debilitation. Those are some scary statistics. But guess what? There are some things we can do to decrease stroke risk.
Beyond getting daily physical activity and not smoking, working with your physician and a Registered Dietitian to manage conditions like diabetes and high cholesterol will also help prevent cardiovascular events like strokes. Nutrition offers a powerful way to decrease your stroke risk. Foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants may help you lessen your risk.
Omega-3s: A fatty acid found in fish like salmon, mackerel, and oysters and plant-based sources like chia seeds and walnuts. Omega-3s relax your blood vessels, allowing blood to flow freely and reduce blood pressure. They also help fight inflammation which is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.
How to get them in your diet: Aim to eat 2-3 servings of fatty fish a week. Add chia seeds to oatmeal, smoothies, or baked goods! Walnuts make a great addition to a salad or a snack on the go. A small handful, or about 7 walnuts, is a serving size.
Fiber: Indigestible carbohydrates found in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes (e.g.: beans, peas, lentils). Fiber helps reduce total cholesterol levels by preventing its absorption in the GI tract. This helps lessen stroke risk by keeping your arteries clear. It also helps stabilize blood sugar levels which is helpful in preventing or managing diabetes (a risk factor for strokes).
How to get it in your diet: Consume 5-7 servings of fruits and veggies daily. For fruits, a serving size is 1 cup of fresh, canned, or frozen fruit. A small sized apple, orange, or banana would be about 1 cup. For dried fruit, ½ cup is a serving. For veggies such as tomatoes, carrots and broccoli, a serving size is 1 cup. For leafy greens like spinach or kale, 2 cups is considered a serving. To add more fruits and veggies to your diet, try a smoothie or a salad! Additionally, whole grains have more fiber than processed grains, so make half of your grains whole by choosing 100% whole wheat bread, pasta, and brown rice. For legumes, aim for at least 3-4 servings a week. Add them to soups, salads, or side dishes!
Antioxidants: Some vitamins and minerals found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Antioxidants, like Vitamins A, C, and E and minerals like selenium, protect the body’s cells and tissues from damage and have been shown to decrease the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
How to get them in your diet: Just like with fiber, whole grains, fruits and veggies are good sources of antioxidants. To get enough antioxidants, follow the guidelines above (5-7 servings of fruits and veggies and making half your grains whole daily). Fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and veggies are all beneficial and nutrient-dense but choose versions that have no added sugar or salt. Helpful tip: the darker the color, the more antioxidants you will find! Whole grains also contain more antioxidants than refined grains!
Bottom line: There are beneficial nutrients that may help your stroke risk. Talk with a physician or Registered Dietitian to learn more about your individual risk for stroke and make a plan!
Fisher M, Lees K, Spence JD. Nutrition and Stroke Prevention. Stroke. 2006;37(9). doi: https://doi.org/10.1161/01.STR.0000236633.40160.ee.
Foroughi M, Akhavanzanjani M, Maghsoudi Z, Ghiasvand R, Khorvash F, Askari G. Stroke and Nutrition: A Review of Studies. International Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013;4(Suppl 2):S165-S179.
National Center for Health Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/states/newhampshire.htm. Published July 7, 2016. Accessed April 5, 2018.
Stroke. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm. Published September 6, 2017. Accessed April 5, 2018.