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Tips to Prevent Future Stroke and Transition to Healthy Eating

With all the nutritional information available nowadays, it can be difficult to navigate all the sources and find which ones are reliable. Our Stroke Navigation team is here to help!



Written by: Maryam Naslafkih, Registered Dietician and School Food Coordinator with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of New Brunswick


Healthy eating provides your body the nutrients it needs to support healing after a stroke. Lifestyle habits, including the way you’re eating, are also one of the main factors that contribute to stroke and cardiovascular disease, and can prevent their reoccurrence.


With all the nutritional information available nowadays, it can be difficult to navigate all the sources and find which ones are reliable. Our Stroke Navigation team is here to help!


Where to start?


There are many diets that can help you manage your health post-stroke: the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet, and Canada’s Food Guide. The DASH diet was designed to reduce high blood pressure. The Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Canada’s Food Guide helps Canadians have healthy eating habits that go beyond the food choices they make.


As a Registered Dietitian, I’m all about making healthy food easy and flavourful. Here are the shared aspects of the Dash diet, the Mediterranean diet and Canada’s Food Guide, as well as a few of my personal tips to make this transition as smooth and delicious as possible. Keep in mind everyone is unique and these are general recommendations. Discuss with your doctor if you have any questions regarding your health.


Your plate is a garden


The main common aspect between the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet and Canada’s Food guide is the abundance of vegetables and fruits. The new Canada’s Food Guide put away the confusing portion sizes to adopt a plate method, which is much easier to follow. The goal is to fill up half of your plate with vegetables or fruit. The more colourful, the better!


Here are a few tips to include more vegetables in your plate:

  • Cut carrot and celery sticks, bell pepper and cucumber slices, broccoli and cauliflower florets at the start of the week for ready-to-go veggie trays

  • Roast colourful vegetables like zucchini, sweet potato, brussel sprouts, etc., with olive oil and a few spices to have them ready to add to your meals on busy nights

  • Sneak vegetables into your pasta sauce. Thinly diced onions, carrots, celery, spinach will melt right in your sauce

  • Add vegetables to your morning smoothie! Vegetables such as spinach and cucumber have little to no taste and can add plenty of vitamins and fibre in your smoothie

  • Blend them up in a hearty vegetable soup. Make a big batch of cream of broccoli, roasted red pepper soup or squash soup, and freeze them in individual portions for later

  • Can’t fill out half of your plate with vegetables? Keep it to a quarter of your plate and eat the rest or your plate portion as fruit for dessert!


Make conscious protein choices


According to a study in the U.K., a plant-based diet including fish can reduce a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke by about 13%. Plant-based proteins are excellent sources of protein, fibre and are cholesterol-free. They are not only better for your health, but they are environmentally friendly, more affordable, require less cooking time and provide more variety to your diet.


Adding plant-based protein to your diet isn’t difficult at all. Check it out!

  • Snack on nuts

  • Use hummus as a dip for your vegetables

  • Make your own black bean burger

  • Add lentils to your soup

  • Make a stir fry with tofu and vegetables

  • Add crispy roasted chickpeas to your salads

  • Make vegetarian taco meat using total vegetable protein (TVP)


If you choose to eat meat, make sure your choice is mindful. Consider the saturated fat content and added salt:

  • Substitute red meat for lean choices such as fish or poultry

  • Replace deli meats in your sandwiches with fresh cooked chicken, canned fish in water or hard-boiled eggs

  • Keep the portions reasonable: about ¼ of your plate or the size of your fist


What about carbs? Quality over quantity


Carbohydrates can provide you with great amounts of vitamins, minerals, fibre and energy. Refined grains found in white bread products, white pasta, white rice and packaged foods lack vitamins and fibre. Choose whole grains, which make you feel full longer due to the high fibre content. A little goes a long way!


To get used to the taste, you can start mixing white rice with brown rice, for example. You can also explore new grains like barley, farro or bulgur by buying them in small amounts at bulk stores to try them out. Oatmeal is also a great way to include whole grains first thing in the morning.


Be aware of marketing, though. Did you know that whole grain and multigrain bread aren’t the same? In multigrain bread, for example, the grains can be refined and stripped of their nutrients and fibre. Read the ingredient list and make sure the first ingredient is whole grains!


Explore spices


Salt, or sodium, can raise blood pressure by increasing the amount of blood circulating in your body, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Instead of salt, use spices and herbs to flavour your food. Garlic powder, paprika and Italian herbs (such as basil, thyme and oregano) are good staples to start with.


Enjoy your time in the kitchen


Overall, cooking more at home is the dietary change that will positively impact your life the most after a stroke. It allows you to pick healthier methods of cooking such as steaming, roasting or stir-frying. You can choose the type of fats and oils you will use. Unsaturated oils (olive, avocado, or sunflower oil) are great options. It is an opportunity to reduce the amount of pre-packaged foods with added salt and sugar you consume. Also, cooking at home can be an amazing way to bond with your family and save a few bucks along the way!


A word or two about dysphagia


According to a 2018 study, around 20% of stroke survivors are malnourished. After a stroke, some may experience issues chewing or swallowing, which can make it more difficult to eat in general. Knowing what foods to eat is helpful, but making it possible for you to eat is as important. Your doctor, speech language pathologist and clinical dietitian can help you determine the right consistency of food for you.


Sources:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801

https://www.everydayhealth.com/stroke/diet-after-a-stroke.aspx

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5809242/pdf/nihms899311.pdf

https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/

https://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-eating/reduce-salt

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