Healthy eating and stroke

Eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of stroke. Even small changes to your diet can make a difference.

Fruit and vegetables

Eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day can reduce your risk of stroke by up to 30%. Every extra portion you eat reduces your risk even further.

What is a portion of fruit or vegetables?

One portion weighs 80g.

For fruit, this could be an apple or two plums, a handful of berries, or three heaped tablespoons of fruit salad. 30g or one heaped tablespoon of dried fruit counts as a portion. A glass of fruit juice (150ml) counts as a maximum of one daily portion. This is because it is low in fibre and contains a lot of natural sugars, which may affect blood sugar levels.

For vegetables, one portion is three heaped tablespoons whether raw, cooked or tinned. A dessert bowl of salad counts as one portion.

Tips for eating five a day

  • Replace crisps and chocolate with healthy snacks, like a piece of fruit, raw carrot sticks with some humous, or some dried fruit and unsalted nuts.

  • Choose a colourful variety of fruits and vegetables. Think about green leafy vegetables, orange and red fruit and vegetables like carrots and peppers, and dark purple foods like aubergines and blueberries.

  • Canned fruit and veg count towards your five a day. Choose fruit in juice rather than syrup, and vegetables in water without salt or sugar.

  • Frozen vegetables and fruit are full of the same nutrients and fibre as fresh. Try adding some frozen berries to porridge, or frozen chopped vegetables to a homemade pasta sauce.

Wholegrains

Wholegrains are linked to a lower risk of stroke. They can also help us avoid type 2 diabetes, heart disease and weight gain.

Tips for eating more wholegrains

  • Start off by adding wholegrains into some of your main meals. Try brown rice instead of white, brown pasta and wholewheat couscous.

  • Look for wholegrain breakfast cereals.

  • Choose wholegrain bread, and try bread made with rye and other grains.

  • Oats can help lower cholesterol. Oat bran, rye and barley all help too. Try eating a couple of oatcakes as a snack, or adding barley into a stew.

If you are unable to eat gluten or wheat, alternative grains include buckwheat, corn, rice, quinoa and millet.

Protein

You need roughly two portions of protein every day. Protein is found in food like meat, fish, eggs, pulses and beans, dairy products, nuts, and meat alternatives like soya products.

As a guide, one portion of protein is the amount that will roughly cover the palm of your hand. For most people, this is about 70g of meat, 140g fish, or two medium eggs.

Aim to keep your intake of saturated fat low by choosing lean cuts of meat and taking the skin off poultry.

Aim for one or two servings of fish per week including one of oily fish like mackerel, salmon or trout.

Beans and pulses are a good alternative to meat and fish.

Nuts are a source of protein as well as healthy fats. They are high in calories, so you only need a small handful.

Fat

We all need some fat in our diet because it is a valuable source of energy and it helps the body absorb certain nutrients. It can also provide substances called essential fatty acids that the body can’t make itself.

A good way to reduce your risk of stroke is to reduce the amount of saturated fat you eat and replace it with small amounts of unsaturated fats such as vegetable or nut oils. Some foods also contain healthy fats, like salmon, sardines and avocado.

Use the label

Food labels and packets are a good way of knowing what the fat content is in food before you buy it.

  • Foods that have a high fat content have more than 20g per 100g.

  • Foods that have a low fat content have 3g or less per 100g.

  • To cut out trans fat, avoid foods that have hydrogenated fat and hydrogenated vegetable oil on the list of ingredients.

Sugar

Some foods and drinks contain a lot of added sugar, but you may not always realise which ones. You can put on weight if you have more sugar than your body needs. Excess calories are stored as fat. This increases your risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

You should aim to eat no more than 30g of sugar a day (the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar). This may sound a lot, but one can of fizzy drink may contain more than eight teaspoons.

Check the label

Food labels will tell you how much sugar is in food. It may be listed as sugar or ‘carbohydrates from sugar’. Other names for sugar include glucose, fructose, dextrose, agave syrup, honey and corn syrup. If one of these are near the top of the ingredients list, it means the food contains a lot of sugar.

Many labels use a traffic light system to show if foods are high in sugar, fat and salt. Red means high, amber is medium and green is low.

Salt

Eating a lot of salt can increase your blood pressure. Salt contains sodium which helps to keep your body fluids at the right level. If you have too much salt, the amount of liquid your body stores increases and this raises your blood pressure.

High blood pressure (hypertension) is the single biggest risk factor for stroke.

How much salt do I need?

You should eat no more than 6g of salt a day, or about a teaspoon.

There is a large amount of hidden salt found in processed and ready-made foods. 75% of the salt we eat is already in everyday foods such as bread, breakfast cereal and ready meals. Many other everyday foods have a high salt content, like tinned and packet soup, crisps, bacon and sausages.

Tips to help you cut down on salt

  • Remember the maximum daily intake recommended for adults is just one teaspoon of salt.
  • Take salt off the dinner table.

  • Don’t add salt when cooking – instead flavour meals with garlic, chilli, herbs, spices, lemon or lime juice.

  • Beware of added salt in foods like bread, cereals, crisps, cheese, ready-made meals, baked beans and tomato ketchup.

Information

Other resources

Stroke Association Helpline
Helpline: 0303 3033 100
Email: helpline@stroke.org.uk
Contact us for information about stroke, emotional support and details of local services and support groups.

British Dietetic Association
Tel: 0121 200 8080
Provides factsheets on various aspects of diet and nutrition.

British Nutrition Foundation
Tel: 020 7557 7930
They provide information on nutrition and healthy eating based on nutrition science.

Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH)
Tel: 020 7882 5941
A charity that provides information on salt and its effects on health.

Heart UK
Helpline: 0845 450 5988
A charity that provides information on high cholesterol and treatments. Their helpline is staffed by specialist nurses and dietitians.

LoSalt
Phone: 01355 238464
Email: enquiries@losalt.com
LoSalt is a world-leading reduced sodium salt. It delivers 66% less sodium than regular table, sea and rock salts without any taste compromise.

NHS One You
The website for the Public Health England One You campaign. It offers advice on how you can watch what you eat and explains the positive effects of eating well.

Weightwise
Provides hints and tips to help you manage your weight.

Apps from MyTherappy
NHS approved and recommended stroke apps for survivors and carers ranging from communication, eating and drinking, healthy lifestyle, vision and more.

The Stroke Association would like to thank LoSalt for funding this page. The Stroke Association keeps full independent control of overall content. To find out more about LoSalt and how we’ve joined forces to build a #HealthierUK, visit our website. If you take some types of medication that affect potassium levels, LoSalt and other reduced-sodium salt alternatives may not be suitable for you. Check with your GP for advice.

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Disclaimer: The Stroke Association provides the details of other organisations for information only. Inclusion on My Stroke Guide does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement.