Healthy eating for stroke prevention: How a Mediterranean diet may help


In addition to exercise, eating healthy is key not only to preventing stroke in the first place but also stroke recovery and reducing your risk of another stroke.

Stroke prevention mainly boils down to adopting heart-healthy habits and controlling your weight, cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Adding a variety of fruits and vegetables to your diet is a good start. It’s generally recommended that you eat foods high in fiber and low in both cholesterol and unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats), as well as limit sodium intake.

You may want to consider the Mediterranean diet, as there is evidence suggesting it is beneficial for stroke prevention and secondary prevention.

“The Mediterranean diet was studied because a lot of people who lived in the Mediterranean region had the lowest incidences of cardiovascular disease,” says Richard S. Jung, M.D., a LifeBridge Health vascular neurologist and neurointerventional surgeon and director of the stroke program at The Sandra and Malcolm Berman Brain & Spine Institute.

What the Mediterranean diet consists of

Don’t think of the Mediterranean diet as bland eating. Some people like to think of it as a lifestyle rather than a restrictive diet.

There isn’t one specific way to prepare a Mediterranean-style meal, as the diet allows for variety. It emphasizes fresh fruits and veggies; healthy grains (like whole-grain bread); beans; nuts; seeds; olive oil (rich in healthy fats); moderate amounts of low-fat or fat-free dairy, eggs, seafood (particularly fish, a source of heart-healthy nutrients) and poultry (preferably skinless); and minimal consumption of red meat and sweets. It also encourages the use of flavorful herbs and spices (instead of salt). You might even be able to enjoy an occasional glass of red wine with your meal (if your doctor says it’s OK).

The Mediterranean diet has been associated with numerous health benefits, including those related to cancer prevention, diabetes prevention and control, and, yes, heart and brain health, which correlates with stroke risk.

“This is the type of diet that we counsel our patients to try to model after, to try to avoid the fried and fatty foods, the carb-rich foods, and have a balanced diet that incorporates fresh vegetables and fruits and focuses on fish. That seems to be very healthy for people,” Jung says.

Why you should check with your doctor first

As with any potential diet change, you should first consult your doctor and a registered dietitian as you may have specific nutritional requirements. For instance, if you’re on the blood thinner warfarin (Coumadin), you want to be careful not to eat a lot of leafy greens because they’re high in vitamin K, which can lessen the drug’s effectiveness in preventing blood clots (which can lead to stroke). “Of course, with diabetes, you have to be careful with fresh fruits, that you don’t eat too many of the sweet fruits like grapes because they can hike up blood sugar levels,” Jung says.

But an apple a day should be fine. (Apples are a low glycemic index fruit, meaning they have little effect on blood sugar levels, even in people with diabetes.)

“An apple has got great fiber and great nutrients. Having an apple a day is actually pretty good for you,” Jung says.

Story & Photo Credit: LifeBridge Health/Getty Images/Newswise