You experience a stroke when the blood supply to an area of the brain is disrupted. When this happens, the brain cells in that part of the brain are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. Stroke kills about 140,000 Americans every year – about 1 out of every 20 deaths. But, diet could play an important role in preventing a stroke and bringing down this number.
A diet that encourages the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of strokes while a diet high in red meat does the opposite.1 2 Here is a list of a few common diets and the role they play in the risk of a stroke.
1. The Mediterranean Diet
When it comes to preventing strokes, the Mediterranean diet is a winner. Many studies have reported that it is an effective weight management plan that also helps prevent diseases of the heart, a stroke, and type 2 diabetes.34 The effect on stroke has been seen significantly in middle-aged men.5
The Mediterranean diet encourages healthy eating with fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, lean meat, and fish while cutting down the intake of processed foods. There isn’t a single, right way to go about this diet. However, the base of your diet should include the following foods:
- Vegetables: tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, and potatoes
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries, and grapes
- Nuts and seeds:
- Legumes: beans, peas, lentils, pulses, and chickpeas
- Whole grains: oats, brown rice, rye, corn, whole wheat, and whole-grain bread
- Seafood: salmon, sardine, trout, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, oysters, and crab
- Lean meats: chicken and turkey
- Eggs: chicken, quail, and duck eggs
- Dairy: cheese, yogurt, and Greek yogurt
- Herbs and spices: garlic, basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, nutmeg, cinnamon, and pepper
- Healthy fats: extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, and avocado oil
To get the most out of this diet, eat more plant-based foods and fewer animal foods. Using olive oil and other healthy fats has been observed to lower overall blood pressure, an important factor for stroke.
2. The Paleolithic Diet
The Paleo diet, also known as the caveman diet, is very similar to the Mediterranean diet in that it encourages the intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seafood, and fresh meat. The Paleo diet is about eating foods that our ancestors ate during the Stone Age. A plus about it is that it eliminates all modern day foods including added sugars, salts, and processed foods. However, it also eliminates grains, dairy, and legumes like beans, which are healthy.
The Paleo diet includes meats of all kinds. Specific foods that form this diet are as follows:
- Grass-fed meats: chicken, beef, pork, turkey, and veal
- Fish/seafood: salmon, mackerel, sardine, tuna, lobster, shrimps, and shark
- Fresh fruits: apple, avocado, blackberries, papaya, peaches, plums, and grapes
- Fresh vegetables: asparagus, celery, spinach, carrots, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds
- Healthy oils: olive oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil
Paleo diets should be followed mindfully. Sticking to small portions of meat and good portions of fruits and vegetables may be the best way to go about it. However, a major con is that you miss out on carbohydrates present in grains, which are eliminated in this diet. Carbs are essential energy sources for the muscle and brain cells.6
Another downside of the diet is that you might fail to keep a check on the amount of meat you consume and end up having too much. In fact, red meats like beef, pork, and lamb have more cholesterol and saturated (bad) fats than chicken, fish, and vegetable proteins like beans. This may increase the blood cholesterol levels and, in turn, the risk of heart diseases and stroke.7
3. The Gluten-Free Diet
This diet eliminates gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, and is beneficial for those with food allergies like gluten sensitivities or celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder that leads to damage in the small intestine). An undiagnosed celiac disease may cause chronic inflammation, which damages the blood vessels in the brain and other parts of the body. Patients with celiac disease are at a minimal risk of stroke, so following this diet may help control digestive issues and reduce the risk of stroke.8
The most important thing to keep in mind while following the gluten-free diet is to avoid any food that contains the protein. It is a good practice to read the labels on products to confirm if the product is gluten-free.
- Plain dairy products: plain milk, plain yogurt, and cheese
- Gluten-free grains: quinoa, rice, buckwheat, and tapioca
- Gluten-free starches and flours: potatoes, potato flour, corn, corn flour, chickpea flour, soy flour, almond meal/flour, and coconut flour
- Meats and fish: All except coated or battered ones
- Nuts and seeds: All
- Herbs and spices: All
- Oils: All
- Fruits and vegetables: All
A downside of this diet is that it has been associated with poor nutritional quality.9 So, if you have celiac disease, your doctor may prescribe supplements to compensate for the nutrients you are unable to get from dietary sources. If you are on the diet by choice, you may face a deficiency in nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin B12, and minerals like zinc, calcium, iron, and magnesium, which are important for health.
The Vegetarian Diet
As the name suggests, the vegetarian diet is a plant-based diet. There is no single type of vegetarian diet; instead, vegetarian eating patterns can be dividing into these three groups:10
- The vegan diet: excludes all meat and animal products
- The lacto vegetarian diet: includes plant foods and dairy products
- The lacto-ovo vegetarian diet: includes dairy products, eggs, and plant foods
Since the vegetarian diet is focused only on plant foods, it is important to be extra careful about nutrients like protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12. A healthy vegetarian diet reduces the risk of strokes.11 However, if you go for vegetarian foods that are deep-fried and processed, you’ll get nothing but unnecessary weight gain and an increased risk of stroke.
The Ketogenic Diet
The ketogenic diet, also known as the keto diet, is a low-carb, high-fat diet. This diet focuses on replacing carbs with fats and puts the body in a state known as ketosis. In ketosis, the body is believed to burn fat for energy more efficiently and turn it into ketones in the liver, supplying energy to the brain and other parts of the body.
Foods To Include
Although there are different types of keto diets, the standard ketogenic diet contains roughly 75 percent fat, 20 percent proteins, and 5 percent fats. The following foods are usually a part of a keto diet:
- Meat: red meat, steak, ham, sausage, bacon, chicken, and turkey
- Fatty fish: salmon, trout, tuna, and mackerel
- Unprocessed cheese: cheddar, goat, cream, blue, or mozzarella
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds
- Healthy oils: extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil
- Low-carb veggies: most green veggies, tomatoes, onions, and peppers
This diet reduces or eliminates fruits, root vegetables like potatoes and carrots, and grains and starches that are good for the body. Although the keto diet may be good to reduce the risk of a stroke, more evidence is required to confirm its benefits.12 Since the diet is rich in fats, many tend to eat unhealthy fats like processed foods that contain saturated and trans fats, which increase blood cholesterol levels and thereby increase the risk of strokes.
6. The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet is a low-carb diet plan that is recommended for weight loss and is very similar to the keto diet. This diet restricts the intake of carbs and focuses on a high-fat, moderate-protein eating habits.
Foods To Include
As mentioned earlier, the foods in this diet are more or less the same as keto diet foods. Here’s a list of foods that the Atkins diet allows:
- Meats: beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and bacon
- Fatty fish: salmon, trout, and sardines
- Low-carb vegetables: kale, spinach, broccoli, and asparagus
- Full-fat dairy: butter, cheese, cream, and full-fat yogurt
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, Macadamia nuts, walnuts, and sunflower seeds
- Healthy fats: extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, and avocado oil
Most health authorities and nutritionists consider this diet to be unhealthy because of the high saturated fat (bad fat) content. These fats can increase the levels of cholesterol in the body, which increases the risk of strokes. Therefore, if you ever decide to try the Atkins diet, consult a nutritionist to plan a full day’s meal without excess fat.
7. The South Beach Diet
The South Beach Diet has been criticized as a fad diet. Introduced by a cardiologist, the diet was created to balance the Atkins diet plan and is rich in low-glycemic-index carbs, lean proteins, and unsaturated fats. The South Beach Diet works in three phases – two for weight loss and the third to maintain the weight.
Foods To Include
Each phase involves eating different types of foods. Foods eaten in phase 1 can be continued in phase 2 as well.
- Lean proteins: chicken, beef, pork, seafood, lamb, deli meats, cheese, eggs, and dairy
- Healthy fats: nuts, seeds, nut butters, salad dressings (full-fat), and oils (avocado and coconut)
- Non-starchy vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, celery, collards, and beets
- Foods from Phase 1
- Starchy vegetables: carrots, peas, yams, and sweet potatoes
- Fruits: apples, bananas, apricots, and cantaloupe
- Good carbs: barley, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, beans like black beans, cannellini beans, and chickpeas
One of the cons of the diet is that it may result in nutritional deficiencies, indicating that it may not be the healthiest diet plan.13 In addition, there are no studies evaluating the impact of the diet on stroke risk. Therefore, it may work for some people while it may not for some others.
The bottom line is that every diet you choose should be followed with precision. When you begin a new diet, always consult a nutritionist to understand what foods to include and what foods to avoid. Also, diets work differently on different people and consistency is a factor that will determine the impact of the diet plan you choose. The most effective diet plan is the one you can easily stick with for the long term and that doesn’t cause any harmful side effects.
|↑1||Stroke Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||Diet and Stroke Prevention. American College of Cardiology.|
|↑3||Psaltopoulou, Theodora, Theodoros N. Sergentanis, Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos, Ioannis N. Sergentanis, Rena Kosti, and Nikolaos Scarmeas. “Mediterranean diet, stroke, cognitive impairment, and depression: a meta‐analysis.” Annals of neurology 74, no. 4 (2013): 580-591.|
|↑4||Demarin, Vida, Marijana Lisak, and Sandra Morović. “Mediterranean diet in healthy lifestyle and prevention of stroke.” Acta clinica Croatica 50, no. 1 (2011): 67-76.|
|↑5||Anand, Sonia, and Stephen R. Yarnall. “Fruit and vegetable intake reduced the risk for stroke in middle-aged men.” ACP Journal Club 123, no. 3 (1995): 78-78.|
|↑6||Paleo: A Misguided Approach to Optimal Health. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.|
|↑7||Eat More Chicken, Fish and Beans.
|↑8||Ludvigsson, Jonas F., Joe West, Tim Card, and Peter Appelros. “Risk of stroke in 28,000 patients with celiac disease: a nationwide cohort study in Sweden.” Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases 21, no. 8 (2012): 860-867.|
|↑9||Vici, Giorgia, Luca Belli, Massimiliano Biondi, and Valeria Polzonetti. “Gluten free diet and nutrient deficiencies: A review.” Clinical Nutrition 35, no. 6 (2016): 1236-1241.|
|↑10||Vegetarian Diet. MedlinePlus.|
|↑11||Campbell, Thomas. “A plant-based diet and stroke.” Journal of geriatric cardiology: JGC 14, no. 5 (2017): 321.|
|↑12||Gasior, Maciej, Michael A. Rogawski, and Adam L. Hartman. “Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet.” Behavioural pharmacology 17, no. 5-6 (2006): 431.|
|↑13||Calton, Jayson B. “Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 7, no. 1 (2010): 24.|