A healthy, low-sodium diet can help prevent a stroke in multiple ways. The high fiber and low cholesterol helps to clear the arteries of plaque deposits.
Low levels of sodium regulate blood pressure and combats the stiffening of artery walls that makes them more fragile and liable to break. Obesity is also a risk factor for stroke; a balanced diet can also help a person get within a healthy weight range, which strengthens many of the body’s systems.
What kind of diet is the best? A healthy one that is easy to stick to, obviously. There are a number of such diets available. The DASH diet – (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is recommended by the American Heart Association. It is well established; there’s a lot of supportive resources, forums, and books explaining how to succeed with it. It is one of the only diets created by doctors and its benefits are supported by a considerable number of clinical studies. Many people have benefited from the DASH diet in terms of reducing the risk of stroke and improving overall well-being.
DASH diet basics
In essence, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, and lean meats, poultry, and fish, and include frequent servings of beans and nuts. Aim for foods that naturally lower blood pressure, foods rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Limit the amount of sugary foods and beverages, fatty red meats, oils in general, and be especially careful of salt. As you can see, these broad guidelines offer a lot of freedom for individual tastes and special dietary restrictions such as keeping kosher.
DASH diet in practical terms
One important concern is how much sodium to consume in a day. An average American may consume 3500 milligrams of sodium, or more, every day. In comparison, the Standard DASH Diet suggests keeping daily sodium intake to 2300 milligrams or less.
The Low Sodium DASH Diet reduces that to 1500 milligrams for those over 51 years of age, have hypertension, are African American, or have diabetes or kidney disease. The American Heart Association, meanwhile, recommends 1500 milligrams of salt for all adults. It can be confusing to know which guideline to go with; this is something to be discussed with a doctor.
Servings (based on a 2000 calorie diet)
Grains: 6 to 8 servings.
- Aim for whole wheat, whole grains, unsweetened cereals, and brown rice. Don’t smother them in butter, cream, or cheese sauces.
Vegetables: 4 to 5 servings.
- These are rich sources of stroke-fighting potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Aim for a variety of colors in your salad, from red tomatoes to yellow squash to green broccoli.
Fruits: 4 to 5 servings.
- These are similar to vegetables and can satisfy a sweet tooth when sugar is restricted.
Dairy: 2 to 3 servings.
- Look for low fat or fat free options when possible. The saturated fat in full fat dairy can undo the benefits of the diet.
Lean Meat, Poultry, and Fish: 6 or fewer ounces.
- These are valuable sources of iron and other nutrients, but even lean meats contain fat and cholesterol. Consider having some meat-free meals.
Nuts, seeds, and legumes: 4 to 5 servings.
- Nuts and seeds are high in fat and should be used sparingly. Legumes can make an excellent meat substitute in many dishes.
Fats and Oils: 2 to 3 servings.
- Use sparingly. Consider cooking in low sodium broth or steaming instead of frying food.
Sweets: Use sparingly, at most 1 a day.
- Consider eating fruit instead of candy.
Alcohol and caffeine. Use sparingly.
- Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men, 1 a day for women. Caffeine, which raises blood pressure, should be used in moderation.
The DASH diet is flexible, easy to follow, and clinically proven to reduce many of the risk factors that can lead to stroke.