Your risk of stroke is affected by many of the same factors that affect your risk of developing heart disease. These include blood pressure and cholesterol levels, family history, age, how much physical activity you do and tobacco use. Your stroke risk is also affected by your diet.
Fortunately, a few small shifts in your daily eating pattern can add up to big heart benefits, lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke. Here are three habits you can adopt today for a healthier heart.
Go Easy on the Salt
High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke. And it's the most controllable risk factor. Over time, eating too much sodium stresses the blood vessels and can cause high blood pressure. This can eventually cause those blood vessels to become blocked or burst. If this happens to a blood vessel leading to the brain, it can cause a stroke.
Even if you don't have high blood pressure, it's important to be mindful of your sodium intake. Most of the sodium we consume comes from packaged, prepared and restaurant foods—meaning we don't even know it's there. Some of your daily sodium intake comes from natural food sources and the rest is added during cooking or at the table. To lower your sodium intake:
- Read labels to see how much sodium is in a packaged food (even foods that don't taste salty can have a lot of sodium)
- Choose low sodium foods or those with no salt added when possible
- Limit restaurant meals or ask if food can be prepared with little or no salt
- Season foods with fresh herbs, spices and salt-free seasoning blends
- Always taste first food before adding salt
Switch Up Your Fats
Eating too much saturated fat can raise your blood cholesterol levels. If your LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) is high, you are at a greater risk for heart disease and stroke.
Saturated fat is mostly found in animal-based foods, like meat and dairy products. It is also found in palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil, fried foods and many baked goods. Replacing foods high in saturated fat with lower fat options or with foods that contain unsaturated fat may lower cholesterol and stroke risk. Try these swaps:
- Replace butter with olive oil when cooking
- Select lean cuts of poultry, beef and pork
- Eat more seafood and plant-based foods in place of meat
- Choose low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese
- When preparing food, bake, grill, broil or roast instead of frying
Reel in the Seafood
As mentioned above, eating more fish in place of meat is one way to reduce the saturated fat in your diet. All types of seafood are low in saturated fat, including those referred to as "fatty" fish, like salmon, mackerel and tuna (they are a great source of omega-3 fats that are linked to lower blood pressure and improved blood vessel function).
The American Heart Association®, World Health Organization and Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating seafood at least twice a week to improve heart health and reap other health benefits.
Here are some tips to help you reach this weekly goal:
- Use cod, haddock or tilapia on taco night
- Serve cooked shrimp with pasta
- Mix plain or seasoned tuna in a salad
- Thread salmon onto skewers when making kabobs
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Date Last Reviewed: August 16, 2021
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Beth Stark, RDN, LDN