Eating Well for Stroke Health

Stroke patients must eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, as this helps in the rehabilitation journey and to reduce your risk of a second stroke. Changing your lifestyle and making simple changes to your diet plus making better choices; lowers your cholesterol, obtain a healthy weight and maintains a good blood pressure.

Some stroke survivors have difficulties swallowing and should seek advice from a speech and language professional and dietician, on nutritious food that will facilitate safe ways to eat and drink. Weight issues can be resolved with the guidance of your doctor or dietician. 

“Food is medicine and the right of relationship with food, can make a positive impact on your health” 

Hayley Hobson

Healthy eating habits to help reduce the risk of stroke

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, with a great variety of leafy and different colours, as they deliver the most anti-oxidants. 
  • Rice or pasta intake should be limited to brown rice, wholegrains and cereals with a lot of fibre.
  • It is important to eat some protein every day, for muscle repair and to build new cells. Protein can be found in fish, pulses, nuts and seeds, lean meat and tofu plus other vegetarian proteins.
  • Limit your intake on full-cream milk, cream, cheese, fatty and processed meats, butter and margarine.
  • Reduce salt intake to a teaspoon a day or 6 grams – this includes all hidden salts in our diet.

1. Fresh fruits and Vegetables

It is recommended that fruits and vegetables should make up most of your meal with some fish or animal protein; this helps to reduce your risk of stroke by 30%. More greens and fruits consumed, reduces your risk further.

2. Vitamins and Minerals in Fruit / Vegetables

Fresh Fruit and vegetables contain plenty of vitamins, minerals and nutrients; such as antioxidants- vitamins A, C, E and Beta- Carotene, that help prevent damage to your arteries. 

The need of taking supplements is not necessary, unless they are prescribed by your doctor. It is recommended to eat a wide variety of foods containing the different vitamins the body needs. Aim also to eat a variety of different coloured vegetables and fruit like broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, carrots. In Malaysia, we have a great variety of local fruits that are not only delicious but nutritious too.

Potassium can help prevent high blood pressure and there is plenty of varieties to choose from like pisang emas, berangan, restali, etc. Other fruits and vegetables contain potassium as well, some more than others.

Over-the-counter potassium supplements should only be taken on medical advice, as they can be harmful, if you have kidney problems or take some types of blood pressure medication. 

3. Fibre

Fibre is essentiall for lowering cholesterol, keeping sugar levels stable and managing your weight and stroke patients should aim to eat 30 grams of fibre every day. Plant-based foods are rich in fibre, not meat and dairy. Read food labels more closely, as they are a good way of knowing food ingredients.

There are different types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. 

Soluble fibre delays digestion, making you feel fuller for a longer period of time and regulates blood sugar levels, at the same time, lowering cholesterol levels. Beta-glucan is one type of fibre found in grains like oats, barley and rye. Fruit, vegetables, pulses, beans and peas are another good source of soluble fibre.

Insoluble fibre shortens the time taken for food to move from the bowel and improves the balance of good bacteria in the gut and gut health is essential for optimal well-being. To increase their intake, eat the skin of fruits and vegetables – for example, cook potatoes with their skins on.

4. Wholegrains

Eating wholegrains can lower the risk of a stroke. They can also help to avoid Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and weight gain.

In processed white flour or white rice, the brown outer skin of the grain has been removed. This skin is where most of the fibre, vitamins and minerals are stored.  Wholegrain foods tend to contain more vitamins and minerals than refined products like white bread and white pasta. Wholegrains are an excellent source of B-Vitamins and folic acid, as well as soluble and insoluble fibres.

It is recommended to add wholegrains into some main meals, substituting brown rice instead of white rice, whole wheat pasta and cuscus or quinoa. Oat bran, rye and barley also help in lowering cholesterol. If you are not able to eat gluten or wheat, alternative grains such as buckwheat, corn, rice and millet, are good substitutes.  

5. Protein

Two portions of protein every day, is recommended and one portion of protein, is the amount that will cover the palm of your hand and this is about 70 grams for meat, 140 grams for fish or two medium eggs. Protein is found in meat, fish, eggs, pulses, beans, dairy products, nuts and meat alternatives like soya products.

Choose lean cuts of meat and remove the skin off poultry. Eat one or two servings per week – one of oily fish like salmon, mackerel or local varieties of fish available. All kinds of pulses and beans, are good alternatives to meat and fish, as they contain soluble fibre, that helps to lower cholesterol. Beans and pulses also contain vitamins and minerals.

Nuts are a source of protein and they are classified as healthy fats. But they are high in calories, so you only need a small handful. 

6. Fat

Some fat is necessary in our diet because it is a valuable source of energy and it helps the body absorb certain nutrients. It can also provide essential fatty acids, that the body cannot make itself.

UNSATURATED FATSThese are found in fish and plant-based foods, like nuts and seeds or the oils that come from them. Unsaturated fats tend to be oils, not solid fats. Eating small amounts of unsaturated fats can help you reduce cholesterol and avoid blocked arteries and blood clots, which can cause strokes.
OMEGA 3 & OMEGA 6 FATTY ACIDSThese are types of polyunsaturated fat, known as essential fatty acids and are found in oils from fish or plants. They play an important role in the body, helping to keep the artery walls healthy and regulating blood clotting plus lowering blood pressure and having a steady heart rate.

They can help reduce the risk of a stroke and heart attack. This is achieved by improving levels of “good” cholesterol and reducing “bad” cholesterol. Oily fish, nuts and seeds like walnuts, flax seeds and soya products are other sources. 
SATURATED FATSThese are found in butter, lard or coconut oil and can raise cholesterol in your blood, which can lead to blocked arteries and increase the risk of stroke. This type of fats are found in meat and dairy products, fatty cuts of red meats, processed meats like sausages, butter, cream and cheese.

Other examples of saturated fats are palm oil, coconut oil and ghee. In order to reduce your risk of stroke is to the amount of saturated fat you eat and replacing it with small amounts of unsaturated fats found in vegetable and nut oils. replace it with small amounts of unsaturated fats such as vegetable or nut oils.
TRANS FATSThese are artificial fats found in processed foods like cakes, biscuits and margarine.  These trans fats can raise the “bad” cholesterol in your blood and reduce the “good” cholesterol. Thus, increasing the risk of stroke and heart disease.

In Malaysia, we are blessed to be living in a multi ethnic society and enjoy a great variety of foods. We need to eat food to live a good life and look after our health. It is our responsibility to make healthy choices for our families and ourselves. Always read food labels, as they are a great source of information, before you buy anything because it through nutritious food, we can build up our immune and cardio-vascular systems and gut health. 

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