When it comes to bouncing back from a stroke, we tend to think of things like workouts and medicines as the go-to solutions. But guess what? What you eat is just as important in the recovery process and in keeping future strokes at bay. The truth is, your diet plays a huge role in both your stroke recovery and your overall well-being.
The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association have established dietary guidelines that aid in both stroke prevention and recovery. It is important to understand how certain types of food can either assist or hinder the stroke recovery process. Let's delve further into this topic. (1)
When a stroke occurs, it causes nerve cells in the brain to die, which leads to inflammation as a natural response to tissue damage. In the short term, inflammation is actually a good thing because it helps remove damaged cells and promotes the growth of new, healthy tissue. (5)
When your brain is inflamed for a long time, it can make it harder for new nerve cells to grow and slow down the healing process. Your body has to put in more effort to get rid of the damaged or dead cells, which can take longer than usual.
Stroke survivors usually have compromised vascular health and blood circulation due to years of unhealthy lifestyle practices. This has resulted in weakened blood vessels, the formation of plaques in the vessels, elevated pressure in the vessels, thicker blood, heightened levels of oxidative stress throughout the body, and excess weight gain. All of these factors significantly heighten the likelihood of experiencing another stroke and slow down your recovery.
To aid in your recovery, it's important to steer clear of foods that can cause inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, which can be harmful to the vascular system. Avoiding these types of foods is crucial for your overall health.
What to not eat.
Avoid the following foods below: (2, 7)
Processed/packaged foods. Trace amounts of trans fats in these foods can increase bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol, raise blood sugar, lead to insulin resistance, weight gain, and increased blood pressure.
Fried foods. These foods are also high in trans fats which raises LDL (bad) and lower HDL (good) cholesterol.
Sugary foods. Be mindful of foods high in partially hydrogenated oils and sugary foods and drinks, as they can increase health risks such as weight gain, elevated blood pressure, and insulin resistance.
Sugary drinks. These high sugar drinks elevate blood pressure and increase weight gain.
Processed meats. They contain preservatives which can damage blood vessels and contain a high about of salt which can elevate blood pressure.
Alcohol as it can raise blood pressure and trigger heart conditions known to cause stroke.
The collection of foods commonly consumed in America is referred to as the "Standard American Diet." Unfortunately, these foods are a major contributor to many of our country's health problems. They can increase blood pressure, cause plaque buildup in our blood vessels, thicken our blood, and create oxidative stress within our bodies. This can lead to an unhealthy bodily environment, making it harder for us to heal and recover from a stroke.
“While there is no one-size-fits-all post-stroke diet and nutrition plan, there are targeted consumption ranges and guidelines published by the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA) for both stroke prevention as well as stroke recovery.” (2)
So, what are the best foods for stroke recovery?
It's important to know that having a treat or two of unhealthy food occasionally won't make a significant impact on your chances of experiencing a stroke or recovering from one. However, it's recommended that about 80-90% of your diet should consist of nutritious options listed below to promote good health. This is because eating healthy foods can help strengthen your circulatory system and improve the health of your heart and brain's vascular system. This process can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body and brain, which involves repairing weakened vessels, eliminating plaque buildup in vessels, lowering vessel pressure, thinning the blood, introducing necessary nutrients into your bloodstream, minimizing oxidants in the brain, reducing brain inflammation, and allowing sufficient rest for brain recovery. By following a neuroprotective diet, you can achieve all of these benefits.
These are the best foods for stroke recovery. (2, 3, 7)
Berries. Berries are among the most potent and beneficial foods. They are known for their high antioxidant content which helps to reduce oxidative stress and promote a healthy gut.
Vegetables and Other Fruits. This particular food is known to be rich in fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals that aid in lowering blood pressure, reducing body weight, and thinning the blood.
Whole Grains. Are known to be high in fiber which help with gut health, controlling cholesterol levels.
Whole Nuts. Are high in HDL cholesterol, which is considered the “healthy fats”. These fats clear the blood vessels of plaques.
Fatty Fish and Fish Oils. These contain omega-3s which is known for their ability to decrease inflammation, reduce risk of blood clots, improve HDL(good) and reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Olive Oil. Uncooked olive oil helps to reduce fatty build up in the arteries to support proper blood flow.
Other foods that aren’t known to be detrimental to your health and are currently considered more neutral would be: (2)
Lean cuts of white meats such as extra lean ground meats, chicken, or turkey.
Low-fat dairy as it is low in saturated fats which not fully understood and most evidence is pointing to it likely being detrimental.
Coffee. Limit your coffee intake to 1-2 cups a day as caffeine can increase blood pressure and risk for a stroke.
Artificial sweeteners are also not completely understood on their effects on stroke causation and recovery prevention. Limit these if you consume daily.
I hope I conveyed the significance of adopting a diet that promotes good health. An unhealthy diet may have contributed significantly to your stroke, and failure to address it not only increases the likelihood of another stroke but also hinders your chances of recovery.
If your diet mainly consists of foods that are not recommended, don't lose hope after reading this article. It's possible to make a change! The solution is easier than it seems: focus on consuming whole, unprocessed foods. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, lean meats, and low-fat dairy. That's all you need to do. Start by making a commitment to eat higher quality foods and make it a lifestyle change. By doing this, you can give your body the advantage it needs to heal from a stroke.
Besides changing what you eat, there are also nutritional supplements that are shown to assist with diet in reducing your risk of having another stroke as well as increasing the amount of recovery potential from your first stroke. To learn more about these supplements click here.