July 9, 2012

Preventing Strokes with Nutrition

Nutrition affects so much more than your weight - it influences every system in your body!  People are so scared of cancer, but they often do not realize the larger risk (statistically speaking).  I have been asked to write an article regarding nutrition and stroke risk for a nursing newsletter at the hospital.  Here's what I found out from a great review of the research out this year:  

Cerebrovascular diseases aka "strokes" are the second leading cause of death in the world (after heart disease).   While there are some risk factors that we cannot control such as age, gender, and family history, there are many lifestyle factors that we can control to help decrease the risk of stroke especially from a nutrition standpoint.  

You've probably heard it before: do not smoke, increase physical activity, control your body weight.  These recommendations seem to span the breadth of chronic disease prevention in the US.  If you are interested in making positive changes to your diet in an effort to decrease your chance of a stroke, here are some tips to help you reach your goals based on a review of the available literature published this year:

1.  Antioxidants:  eat a rainbow of colors in your fruits and veggies for the added benefits of natural protective plant compounds such as flavonoid and carotenoid antioxidants.  Foods such as apples, spinach, sweet potato, carrots, bell peppers, kale, papaya, tomatoes, berries, grapes, onions, red wine, tea, cocoa, and dark chocolate could have protective effects.

2.  Salt:  studies continue to show that a reduction of salt intake can decrease strokes by 20%.  The salt-shaker is not your biggest enemy; processed and packed foods are!  Experiment by cooking at home more from whole ingredients and use herbs and spices to flavor your food to drastically decrease your salt consumption.

3.  Coffee: with trace elements including potassium, magnesium, manganese, and antioxidant phenolic compounds, moderate coffee consumption has shown a weak inverse relation to strokes.

4. Sugars:  The American Heart Association recently released a recommendation to limit foods and beverages with added sugars to 100-150 kcals per day (a small glass of juice has 80 calories from sugar, a candy bar has 120, and a can of soda has 100 for comparison).  These recommendations focus particularly around soft-drinks and high-fructose corn syrup.  Limiting these types foods may have benefits beyond maintaining a healthy body weight; this practice could save your life by preventing a future stroke. 

Source: Medeiros F, Casanova Mde A, Fraulob JC, Trindade M.  How Can Diet Influence the Risk of Stroke? Int J Hypertens.  Epub 2012. 

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