Every 40 seconds in the United States, a person suffers from a stroke. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and will affect upwards of 800,000 people yearly. While stroke affects such a large portion of the population, the highest risk factors that increase the chances of experiencing one can be easily mitigated through simple lifestyle changes. A change in diet that includes the necessary whole foods to improve your brain health can help save your life!
Stroke Risk Factors
The two leading causes of stroke according to the CDC are high blood pressure and high cholesterol. High blood pressure increases the pressure of blood within the arteries and other blood vessels of the body. Dietary changes, as well as medication, can help to lower blood pressure and the risk of stroke.
Cholesterol, the fat-like substance found in certain foods and produced by the liver, can begin to clog arteries. The liver produces just enough cholesterol to meet the needs of the body. Eating foods that are high cholesterol begins to lead to a buildup of the substance within the body. This buildup causes arteries to narrow. And, as the blood vessels begin to narrow, the risk of stroke increases.
A healthy diet that improves cardiovascular health consists of whole foods like dark, leafy greens, fruits, legumes and whole grains, and omega-3 rich proteins such as salmon, grass-fed beef, and nuts. By eating a healthy diet rich in whole foods, you can help lower both cholesterol levels and blood pressure. This will not only lead to a happier, healthier you but can help to reduce the chances of suffering from a stroke.
Salmon, tuna, and mackerel are three types of fish that are high in the healthy fat omega-3 which researchers have shown can help improve blood flow and decrease the chances of blood clots. Eating fish, preferably three or more times a week, can help lower the risk of stroke by 6 to 12 percent, according to a Swedish study published in the scientific journal Stroke. It will also to eating less artery-clogging protein sources such as red meat and processed meat.
Sweet potatoes are high in fiber and potassium and contain 1.8 grams of soluble fiber in each half-cup serving. Filled with plaque busting antioxidants, sweet potatoes can serve as the perfect side dish to meals as it helps to lower your blood pressure. Other foods rich in soluble fiber include black beans and psyllium husk.
Oatmeal might not sound very exciting, but it is full of the fiber that will help to lower bad cholesterol levels while maintaining your healthy cholesterol levels. By reducing your cholesterol levels, you reduce plaque from building up in your blood vessels that surround the brain. A ¾ cup serving of oatmeal once a day can help you achieve 15% of your daily recommended soluble fiber.
Another food that is high in omega-3 fatty acids that help to lower bad cholesterol are nuts. While they may be high in calories, nuts can serve as the perfect topping for a salad or a bowl of oatmeal and can even serve as a midday snack. Macadamia nuts, walnuts, and almonds are three of the best types of nuts you can add to your daily diet.
Adding more potassium to your diet can reduce your risk of stroke by 24 percent according to one study. Each banana contains 422 milligrams of potassium and you should aim for eating at least 4,700 milligrams per day. This is a great why to reduce your blood pressure and improve your heart health as well.
Did you think by eating healthy that you would have to kick treats to the curb? Think again! Dark chocolate contains antioxidants, including the antioxidant epicatechin, that can help protect brain cells from damage according to a research conducted by John Hopkins. Not only can dark chocolate help protect your brain cells it can help to lower blood pressure, raise good cholesterol levels, and improve brain function. Keep yourself to under three servings per week in order to reap the benefits of this chocolatey treat.
Loaded with magnesium, spinach is a fantastic food for those looking to reduce their risk of stroke. Magnesium helps to open blood vessels, acting as a natural vasodilator. It also helps to prevent excessive calcium influx which can damage the arteries and blood vessels. Kale, swiss chard, barley, and pumpkin seeds are also high in magnesium.
If you are aiming for seven to ten servings of healthy fruits and vegetables a day to help reduce your risk of stroke, consider adding blueberries into your diet. One cup of blueberries will count as two servings towards your daily goal. Not only are they delicious, they are full of antioxidants that will help widen the blood vessels and reduce inflammation.
Foods to Avoid
Avoiding processed foods is key to reducing your risk of stroke. Foods that contain artificial sweeteners, diet sodas, baked goods high in trans fats, and refined sugar and carbohydrates like white bread all need to be avoided in order to limit the harm you do to your body through a poor diet.
Alcohol consumption should also be limited. While there is new research emerging that shows red wine may have health benefits towards reducing stroke risk, it is not a free pass to drink an entire bottle in one sitting. Alcohol should be limited to one to two alcoholic beverages per day. Alcohol also contains hidden calories that you may not be aware of and as you shrink your daily numbers of drinks, your waist line may shrink with it!
While our list of stroke-reducing foods is nowhere near exhaustive, it will give you a good start to formulating a diet that can help improve your health and reduce your risk of suffering from a stroke. The best thing you can do for yourself, and your loved ones, is to dedicate yourself to a lifestyle change that includes improving all aspects of your health and well-being. A change in diet and increasing your activity levels is one of the best places to start when looking to become the healthiest version of yourself you can be.