Brain food: Can what you eat prevent stroke?
4 foods that are good for your heart and brain
Having a stroke can be a life-changing experience, but it’s often a preventable one. Certain health conditions and lifestyle factors — including blood pressure, whether or not you smoke, having diabetes and your diet — play a big part in your risk of stroke.
“The same foods that help us maintain a healthy weight and prevent diabetes and heart disease can also help prevent a stroke,” says Dr. Ramin Zand, a vascular neurologist. “That’s because heart health and stroke are closely linked. Focusing on eating nutrient-rich foods that are good for your heart can help lower your stroke risk.”
Dr. Zand recommends focusing on these brain-healthy food choices to help stave off a stroke.
1. Fruits and vegetables
It’s no surprise that fruits and vegetables, which are a smart dietary choice for controlling weight and keeping your heart in good shape, can also help prevent a stroke. They’re naturally low in fat and calories, but rich in fiber, which helps you feel full. Fruits and veggies are also loaded with nutrients like 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 — 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 lower your risk of having a stroke, keep your heart healthy and generally keep you at a healthy weight,” says Dr. Zand.
Salmon, albacore tuna, trout and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check.
In fact, researchers have linked eating fish regularly with a lower stroke risk.
“Omega-3s are healthy fats found in oily fish,” explains Dr. Zand. “Eating two to three servings of salmon or herring each week can promote heart health and lower your risk of having a stroke.”
3. Whole grains
On your next grocery trip, reach for the whole grain bread instead of refined white bread.
“When grains are refined to make white bread, English muffins and white rice, many of the healthy nutrients are stripped out,” says Dr. Zand. “That’s why we recommend choosing whole grain bread and cereal, oatmeal and brown rice instead.”
Whole grains are high in fiber, B vitamins (including folate and thiamin), magnesium and iron — all of which promote heart health, which can help prevent stroke.
4. Low-fat dairy
Cheese, milk, yogurt and other dairy products deliver calcium, protein, vitamin D and potassium. But full-fat dairy products also contain saturated fat and cholesterol, which could increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Instead, opt for low-fat and no-fat milk, yogurt and cheese products, which provide healthy nutrients that can lower your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure — all risk factors for stroke.
“In general, eating a diet rich in heart-healthy foods will help prevent stroke,” advises 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.”
Monitoring your blood pressure? Here's how to do it at home.
Try these dietitian-approved foods for diabetes
Meet Ramin Zand, MD
Learn about stroke care at Geisinger