Following a heart healthy diet and lifestyle can significantly modify several of the known risk factors of cerebrovascular disease (stroke), including high blood pressure (hypertension) and hyperlipidemia (elevated cholesterol and/or triglycerides). Understanding how different foods and nutrients affect cerebrovascular health is a very important component of disease management and prevention. Within the first 5 years of having a stroke, the risk for another stroke can increase by more than 40%.
At least 1 in 4 Americans who have had a stroke will have another within their lifetime (1). Therefore, it is never too late to adopt healthy lifestyle practices.
Food affects the body in many ways beyond satisfying hunger and providing energy. Limiting the consumption of certain foods and eating more of others can offer long-term cerebrovascular benefits:
The main goals are to control blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels with healthy eating habits. Heart healthy eating is characterized by a diet that contains adequate fruits and vegetables, whole grains or fiber and omega 3 fatty acids, has no trans-fats, and is low in total and saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, processed foods and refined carbohydrates.
Scientific research has demonstrated that certain nutrients found in the foods we eat may positively or negatively impact cerebrovascular risk factors. For example, research shows that reducing the intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and dietary cholesterol significantly reduces low -density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (often called “bad cholesterol”) and total cholesterol levels (2).
Additional studies have found that consuming adequate dietary fiber, including soluble fiber, can also lower LDL-cholesterol. Reducing the amount of carbohydrates in the diet, replacing saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, and eliminating alcohol has been shown to lower triglyceride levels (3).
A Dietitian can provide customized food plans tailored to your lifestyle and preferences:
For many people, adopting healthy eating habits may be one of several components required, to help prevent or manage a stroke. Physical activity and in some cases medication may also support a healthy lifestyle. A Dietitian can provide personalized education and medical nutrition therapy for people with cerebrovascular risk factors or who have had a stroke.
Dietitians can also teach you how to easily prepare healthy meals, as well as read nutrition labels properly.
Dietitians are equipped to provide evidence-based guidance for effective weight loss, and can provide clients with personalized meal plans. A Dietitian can also help clients understand the different types of dietary fats. They can also teach about portion control, healthy cooking methods and how to read nutrition facts labels. These skills are necessary to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
After a stroke, some people may have difficulty swallowing. If you do, check with your doctor to see if you need to follow a special eating plan with modified textures of food and/or beverages. A Dietitian can provide education on modified texture diets and meal planning.
Kristin Hirahatake is a registered dietitian. Kristin is passionate about translating scientific research findings into practical applications that people can directly implement. She continues to maintain an active role in the field of nutrition research by co-authoring peer-reviewed journal articles. Her most rewarding experiences as a dietitian have been to see positive changes and improvements in the lives of her clients.
1. National Stroke Association. STARS – Steps Against Recurrent Stroke. Retrieved January 10, 2014 http://www.stroke.org/.
2. Carson JAS, Grundy SM, et al. Medical nutrition therapy for the prevention and management of coronary heart disease. In: Carson JAS, Burke F, Hark L, eds. Cardiovascular Nutrition: Disease Prevention and Management. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association; 2004:109-148.
3. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Nutrition Care Manual: Cardiac – Stroke Nutrition Therapy. Retrieved January 10, 2014 http://nutritioncaremanual.org/.
4. JNC 7 Complete Report: The Science Behind the New Guidelines. The Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure – Complete Report. NHLBI 2004.