A healthy diet has benefits for everyone. But after you’ve had a stroke, making positive changes in the way you eat can enhance your recovery — and help prevent another stroke.
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You can take several steps toward making better food choices, says registered dietitian Elizabeth Kaliszewski, RD.
The primary goal of a post-stroke diet is to manage high blood pressure and cholesterol to reduce your risk of another stroke. Here are five steps she recommends to help you meet that goal.
1. Shake the salt habit
The first thing you should know is that the average person eats at least twice as much sodium as they should.
“The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 milligrams per day,” Kaliszewski says. “But a single teaspoon of salt has 2,300 milligrams of sodium.”
One simple way to help reduce your sodium intake is to remove the salt shaker from the table, especially if you habitually salt your food before you taste it.
Experiment with adding more herbs and spices as you cook. That will help you add flavor to food without adding unnecessary salt.
2. Read the labels
Salt isn’t the only thing you need to think about when you consider what to eat. The package may say “healthy” or “low sodium,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.
Kaliszewski says it’s important to read the nutrition facts panel on the product’s label. This will tell you how much sodium and saturated fat are in the food. It also will give you a key piece of information that she says many people often overlook: serving size.
“Be savvy about food labels,” she says. “One serving may seem to have a low amount of sodium or saturated fats, but the serving size on the label may be much smaller than what you normally would eat at a sitting.”
3. Focus on whole grains, fresh fruit and fresh vegetables
What you eat is just as important as what you avoid.
It’s not enough to avoid chips or switch to 1% milk. You also need to incorporate healthier foods, such as fruits, vegetables or lean protein into every meal and snack. For example, choose baby carrots, sliced apples or fat-free greek yogurt for snacks. Baked skinless chicken breast or salmon can be the centerpiece for a great dinner. Try a hearty, nutritious soup, such as black bean, for lunch.
An added bonus: High-fiber foods are not only good for you, but they can actually make you feel fuller so you’re less tempted to overeat, Kaliszewski says.
4. Set realistic goals
In a perfect world, you could take the time to prepare all of your meals using fresh, healthy ingredients. But that isn’t always possible. Still, you can make better choices without spending all of your time in the kitchen, Kaliszewski says.
One example she offers is using beans (such as Great Northerns), which are high in fiber. Soaking dried beans may be optimal, but it’s also time-consuming. It’s fine to use canned beans in recipes as long as you rinse them first to remove excess sodium, she says.
It’s also a good idea to set yourself up for snack success.
Swap out chips with carrot or celery sticks to get that satisfying crunch. Try topping your homemade popcorn with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese instead of butter.
“Popcorn can be the perfect snack,” she says. “Not only is it low-calorie, but you can eat three cups as a serving.”
5. Enlist your family and friends for support
Let your family know why you need to make healthier food choices. Get them on board by asking them to help plan and prepare meals. They may help you find or create recipes that are delicious and healthy.
Ultimately, the changes you make in your diet may go beyond preventing another stroke. They can also encourage healthier eating habits in your family and friends — and possibly help them avoid having to manage the aftereffects of a stroke themselves.