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Good for the heart; good for the brain

A stroke is a devastating health issue, but often a preventable one. High blood pressure, smoking, diabetes and poor diet are among factors that could put you at risk for stroke. 

“The same foods that help us keep our weight at a manageable level and prevent diabetes and heart disease can help prevent a stroke because heart health and stroke are closely linked,” said Geisinger vascular neurologist Ramin Zand, M.D. “Focusing on nutrient-rich foods that are good for your heart can help you cut your stroke risk.”

Focus on these brain-healthy foods to help prevent stroke.

Fruits and vegetables
It’s no surprise that fruits and vegetables, which can help you maintain a healthy weight and keep your heart in good shape, can also help you prevent stroke. They’re naturally low in fat and calories, but they are rich in fiber, which can help you feel full. Fruits and vegetables also contain nutrients such as potassium, fiber, folate, vitamin A and vitamin C. 

Foods high in potassium, such as sweet and white potatoes, bananas, tomatoes, prunes, melon and soybeans, can help you maintain a healthy blood pressure, which is the leading risk factor of stroke.

Magnesium-rich foods, such as spinach, are also linked to a lower risk of stroke.  

“Eating four to five servings of fruits and vegetables each day can help to lower your risk of having a stroke, help you keep your heart healthy and generally keep you at a healthy weight,” said Dr. Zand. 

Salmon, albacore tuna, trout and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help you keep your blood pressure and cholesterol low, your heart healthy and reduce your risk of stroke. 

In an analysis of studies linking fish to stroke risk in the journal Stroke, researchers found that people who ate two servings of fish per week lowered their stroke risk by 6 percent. 

“Omega-3s are healthy fats that are found in oily fish,” said Dr. Zand. “Eating two to three servings of salmon or herring each week can promote heart health and lower your risk of stroke.”

Whole grains
On your next grocery trip, reach for the whole grain bread rather than refined white bread. 

“When grains are refined to make white bread, English muffins and white rice, many of the healthy nutrients are stripped out,” said Dr. Zand. “That’s why we recommend choosing whole grain bread and cereal, oatmeal and brown rice.”

Whole grains are high in fiber, B vitamins such as folate and thiamin, magnesium and iron—all of which can promote heart health, which can help you prevent stroke.

Low-fat dairy
Cheese, milk, yogurt and other dairy products deliver calcium, protein, vitamin D and potassium—but full-fat dairy products also add saturated fat and cholesterol, which could lead to heart disease and stroke. Instead, low-fat and no-fat milk, yogurt and cheese provide the healthy nutrients that can lower your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure—all of which are risk factors for stroke.

“Generally, eating a diet full of heart-healthy foods will help you prevent stroke,” said Dr. Zand. “Getting exercise and maintaining a healthy weight, which is also easier if you eat a healthy diet, will also help you avoid a stroke.”

Vascular neurologist Ramin Zand, M.D., is the northeastern regional stroke director for Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center (GWV) in Wilkes-Barre and Geisinger Community Medical Center (GCMC) in Scranton.