See How the DASH Diet Reduces Your Stroke Risk
By Gale Cohen, RD, CDCES, Registered Dietitian
Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist
Virtua Nutrition & Diabetes Care
You’ve probably heard that you’re only as healthy as the food you eat. This is especially true when it comes to preventing a stroke. Eating a heart-healthy diet can help control high blood pressure and significantly lower your stroke risk.
The good news is that eating a diet that reduces your blood pressure doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice taste, flavor or variety. Also, losing as little as 3 to 5 percent of your body weight is often enough to make a major improvement in your health.
High blood pressure and stroke risk
A stroke occurs when blood flow to your brain is cut off, either by a clot or a burst blood vessel. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can weaken arteries throughout the body. When that weakness occurs in the arteries of the brain, you’re at a much higher risk for stroke. This is why managing high blood pressure is so important for reducing your stroke risk.
The DASH diet dashes high blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure, are at risk for a stroke or recovering from a stroke, Virtua dietitians recommend following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.
A sensible and easy-to-follow plan, the DASH diet focuses on increasing the amount of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products in your diet, while limiting your intake of cholesterol, sodium, and fat. To make sure you get all the nutrients you need and stay satisfied, the DASH diet also includes plenty of foods rich in fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Recommended foods and servings include:
- Vegetables: 3-5 servings per day
- Fruit: 4-5 servings per day
- Grains: 6-8 servings per day
- Low-fat and fat-free dairy products: 2-3 servings per day
- Lean meats, poultry and fish: 3-6 servings per day
- Nuts, seeds and legumes: 3-5 servings per week
- Fats and oils: 2-3 servings per day
- Sweets and added sugars: 0-5 servings per week
- Sodium: No more than 1,500 milligrams a day (about a half-teaspoon)
This may seem like a lot of food, but these portions can be combined within dishes and meals. For instance, breakfast can be whole-grain cereal with fruit and low-fat milk. A healthy lunch might be a tossed salad topped with chopped lean chicken breast.
Although the DASH diet is intended to prevent high blood pressure, it’s also very effective for people managing obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. And it works! In fact, 70 percent of people with untreated high blood pressure saw a return to normal blood pressure levels within 8 weeks of following the DASH diet.
More healthy eating tips to reduce your stroke risk
Time and budget may seem like obstacles to healthy eating, but there are many ways you can make a heart-healthy diet manageable and affordable.
Focus on whole foods. Limit your intake of unhealthy items such as processed or sugary foods and saturated or trans fats. Eating high-fiber foods such as fruits, legumes, and vegetables will help you feel full and satisfied.
Read the label. Be sure to read the nutrition labels of processed foods before you place them in your grocery cart. Avoiding items with high fat, sodium and sugar content will help you stick to your diet at home.
When reading the label, make sure to:
- Look at serving size
- Look for foods with 5 percent DV (daily value) or less of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium
- Look for foods with 20 percent DV (daily value) or more of fiber, vitamins, and minerals
Get help with meal prep. If you’re short on time, take advantage of home delivery services that offer pre-portioned ingredients and recipes you need to prepare meals—they’re surprisingly affordable. Also, most supermarkets sell pre-cut fruits and vegetables to help you save time in the kitchen.
Shop smart and save. To eat healthy on a budget, focus on shopping around the perimeter of the store, where fresh and healthy foods are often located. Organic meats that are 97 percent lean are the healthiest, but may cost you a bit more. You can save money in other areas by choosing fruit canned in juice, dried milk, dry beans, and frozen fruits and vegetables.
Don’t salt your food. To reduce sodium, simply avoid salting your food. You also should avoid processed meats and canned foods that are high in sodium.
Avoid high-cholesterol foods. By eliminating certain foods from your diet, such as burgers, cheese, ice cream, and other foods high in cholesterol, you can manage your intake of “bad” cholesterol and focus on choosing healthier foods instead.
Experiment with seasonings. Experiment with herbs and spices (like the Spice Blend recipe below) to jazz up your cooking and reduce your sodium intake. With the variety of salt-free seasonings in almost every supermarket, you’re sure to find something to please your palate.
Set reasonable goals. Making small, gradual changes is the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off. Losing just 3-5 percent of your body weight can have a big impact on your overall health.
By focusing on eating a healthy diet, you can dramatically improve your heart health and reduce your risk of stroke and other types of heart disease.
Spice Blend Recipe (makes about ⅓ cup)
- 5 teaspoons onion powder
- 2½ teaspoons garlic powder
- 2½ teaspoons paprika
- 2½ teaspoons dry mustard
- 1½ teaspoons crushed thyme leaves
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- ¼ teaspoon celery seed
(Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
Get expert guidance and support
If you need help developing a healthy eating plan, call 856-263-5508 to schedule a telehealth appointment with a Virtua registered dietitian.
Updated April 27, 2021