Nutritional Recommendations For People Who Have A Stroke

A stroke occurs when a clot blocks blood flow to a part of the brain. Most of these clots form in an artery that is already narrowed by atherosclerosis, either in the brain itself or, more commonly, in the carotid artery in the neck.

The warning signs of a stroke include sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, and leg on one side of the body; difficulty speaking or understanding others; dimness or impaired vision in one eye; and unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness, or a sudden fall.

Immediate treatment is critical, even if the symptoms disappear, as in the case of a ministroke (transient ischemic attack), a common prelude to a full-blown stroke. Prompt treatment may be lifesaving, and it may also minimize permanent damage, which can include impaired movement, speech, vision, and mental function.

Nutrition Connection

Many of the same nutritional recommendations made for people who have heart disease, high blood pressure, and elevated blood cholesterol levels apply to people who are at risk for, or who have had, a stroke:

-Adopt a diet that is low in fats. A good starting point is to reduce your consumption of fats, especially saturated animal fats, trans fats and tropical (palm and coconut) oils.

-Boost fiber. Foods that are high in soluble fibers, especially oats, lentils, and flax, can help control cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, which narrows the arteries and sets the stage for developing the blood clots that block the flow of blood to the brain.

-Go whole. Eating whole grains is important for stroke protection since data suggest a whole grain–based diet may reduce the risk for this condition.

-Find foods that smooth blood flow. Preliminary evidence suggests that resveratrol, a phytochemical found in grapes, nuts, and red wine, may inhibit blood clots and also help relax blood vessels. Population-based studies suggest that dietary flavonoids, particularly quercetin, found in apples and berries may reduce fat deposits in arteries that can block blood flow to the brain.

-Get lots of omega-3s. A number of other foods appear to lower the risk of a stroke. Some fish, for example, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help to prevent blood clots by reducing the stickiness of blood platelets. Doctors recommend eating salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, or other oily cold-water fish two or three times a week. Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts and walnut oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, flaxseed oil, soybeans, and leafy greens.

-Get milk and other dairy products. Low-fat dairy contains calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin D, all nutrients that can help lower blood pressure, a major risk factor for strokes.

-Eat plenty of garlic and onions. Garlic and onions appear to decrease the tendency of the blood to clot, and they also boost the body’s natural clot-dissolving mechanism.

-Reduce salt. Anyone who has high blood pressure, or a family history of this disease or of strokes, should limit salt intake.

-Limit alcohol. Numerous studies link excessive alcohol use, defined as more than two drinks a day for men and one for women, to an increased incidence of stroke; the risk is compounded if the person also smokes. The best approach is to abstain completely from smoking and to use alcohol in moderation.

Beyond the Diet

Get your blood pressure checked. Failure to detect and control high blood pressure is the leading cause of avoidable strokes

-Exercise. Regular exercise is helpful in reducing the risk of a stroke and heart attack by helping control weight and blood cholesterol levels. It also promotes an enhanced sense of well-being. Shoot for at least 30 minutes a day.

-Cheer up! A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that optimistic people had a reduced risk of stroke. Optimism’s protective effect could be explained by the fact that optimistic people tend to make healthier choices about exercise and diet, say researchers. But it is also possible that positive thinking has a direct impact on biology.


Those with atrial fibrillation—or irregular heartbeat—are five to seven times more likely to have a stroke than those without the condition.

However, the condition is often undiagnosed. A simple test, though, may help determine if you have afib. Place a finger on your neck or wrist and tap your foot to the rhythm of your pulse for a minute.

If the beat is so irregular you can’t tap along, relax for an hour and check again. If it’s still very uneven, tell your doctor. In several studies, this test alerted doctors to more than 90% of people with afib, which was confirmed by heart monitoring.
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