Choosing healthy foods may contribute to recovery after stroke. Healthy foods can help control blood pressure, body weight, reduce risk of another stroke, and may help with the demands of stroke therapy and other daily activities. In this post, we explain why a healthy diet matters and then provide tips for eating well and making mealtimes easier.
No two people have the same nutritional needs. Talk with a registered dietician or your doctor to learn how to plan and prepare meals and snacks that will enhance your recovery.
The Benefits of a Healthy Diet After Stroke
In general, a healthy diet reduces your risk for stroke by lowering the cholesterol that can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries. A healthy diet can also reduce your blood pressure, which can reduce strain on your blood vessels. Healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and fish containing omega-3 fatty acids can also provide benefits like better weight and more energy. Omega-3s may also improve focus and concentration. And of course, because no single food can provide our bodies with all of the nutrients needed for good health, it’s wise to include a variety of foods in your diet each day.
The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association has these recommendations for a healthy diet:
- Eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruits.
- Choose whole-grain, high-fiber foods.
- Eat fish at least twice a week.
- Limit saturated fat and trans fat (partially hydrogenated oils).
- Choose lean meats and poultry, and prepare them without using saturated or trans fats.
- Select low-fat dairy products.
- Cut back on drinks and foods with added sugars.
- Choose and prepare foods with less salt.
Tools for Choosing Healthy Foods
One helpful tool to track your healthy eating is ChooseMyPlate.gov, a website provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is designed to help determine your energy and nutrient needs, track them, and help you stick to a healthy diet.
To make grocery shopping easier, the National Stroke Association recommends this healthy foods shopping list for your next foray to the supermarket.
Tips to Make Mealtimes Easier
Some survivors of stroke have a loss of appetite, while others may find eating difficult due to swallowing problems or limited arm movement. To make eating a little easier, try these steps (and as always, talk to your healthcare team to make sure you’re getting the nutrition you need):
- Choose healthy foods with stronger flavors. Add spices to flavor to food and serve as a good substitute for salt.
- Choose colorful, visually appealing foods. Go for a “rainbow approach” by choosing an array of fruits, vegetables and legumes—dark reds, oranges, vibrant yellows, deep greens, blues and purples. This way, you’ll get a wide range of nutrients.
- Cut foods into small pieces to make them easier to chew; or pick softer, easier-to-chew foods, such as yogurt, bananas, whole-grain hot cereals, and low-salt soups.
- Schedule regular meal times and small snacks to help your body adjust to eating regularly.
- Set a leisurely pace for each meal and try to reduce distractions while eating.
- If your week is busy, cook healthy meals over the weekend and freeze or refrigerate them.
- Grocery shop on the outer aisles. You’ll find produce and fresh selections of staple foods. Avoid processed and ready-made foods found on the inner aisles as they’re usually higher in sodium and sugar.
In addition, caregivers should watch for any problems the survivor may have with chewing or swallowing, and consult with your medical provider about it.
Additional Resources, Recipes, & Nutritional Facts
Finally, eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring or complicated. Check these resources for simple, healthy meal essentials: