Can certain foods cause stroke?
Stroke is a serious and potentially life-threatening medical condition that occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted, either by a blockage or a rupture in a blood vessel.
While some risk factors for stroke are beyond our control, such as age, gender, and genetics, many lifestyle factors can increase our risk of stroke.
In this post, we’ll explore some of the foods that cause or contribute to stroke risk, as well as some other lifestyle factors to be aware of.
- Pin It For Later!
- What Is A Stroke
- Risk Factors
- 10 Dietary Factors To Avoid
- Top 11 Foods To Avoid
- 1. Processed Meats
- 2. Sugary Drinks
- 3. Fast Food
- 4. Fried Foods
- 5. Packaged And Processed Snacks
- 6. Candy And Sweets
- 7. Red Meat
- 8. Frozen Dinners
- 9. Canned Soups
- 10. Alcohol
- 11. Egg Yolks
- What Else Can You Do
- Stroke Diet Recipe Ideas
- Final Thoughts
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What Is A Stroke
A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted or reduced, either by a blood clot (ischemic stroke) or bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).
When the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, brain cells begin to die within minutes, which can result in permanent brain damage or death.
Symptoms of a stroke can include sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech, sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, sudden severe headache, dizziness, or loss of balance and coordination.
Stroke is a major cause of mortality in the United States, with the condition being responsible for 1 in 20 deaths each year (1). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 795,000 people in the U.S. experience a stroke every year, and 140,000 die as a result (1).
If you know someone who has recently had a stroke and want to send them a gift check out my top gifts for stroke survivors.
Focusing on the controllable risk factors below is crucial for reducing your overall risk of stroke.
- quitting smoking
- exercising regularly
- maintaining a healthy weight
- eating healthy
- reduce your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes
Fortunately, 80% of premature stroke and heart disease can be prevented by controlling risk factors (2).
Risk Factors You Can Control
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure (hypertension) is the most important risk factor for stroke. It can damage the blood vessels in your brain and increase the risk of a blockage or rupture.
- Smoking: Smoking can damage your blood vessels and increase your risk of stroke by two to four times.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes are at increased risk of stroke, as high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and increase the likelihood of a clot forming.
- High cholesterol: High levels of cholesterol in your blood can lead to a buildup of fatty deposits in your blood vessels, increasing the risk of a blockage.
- Obesity: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of stroke, as it can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
- Physical inactivity: Not getting enough exercise can contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, all of which increase the risk of stroke.
- Poor diet: Eating a diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and salt has been linked with stroke.
Risk Factors You Can’t Control
- Family history of stroke: If you have a close family member who has had a stroke, you may be at increased risk.
- Age: The risk of stroke increases with age, with most strokes occurring in people over the age of 65.
- Sex: Men are at slightly higher risk of stroke than women, but women are more likely to die from stroke.
- Atrial fibrillation: Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm disorder that can increase the risk of blood clots forming in the heart, which can travel to the brain and cause a stroke.
10 Dietary Factors To Avoid
If you are at risk for a stroke, it is important to understand how to control your risk with diet. Below are 10 dietary factors to avoid.
High Salt Intake
A diet high in salt can increase your blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for stroke.
Consuming foods that are high in saturated and trans fats can lead to high cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda and fruit juices, can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes, which are also risk factors for stroke.
Processed and Fried Foods
These types of foods are often high in salt, unhealthy fats, and calories, which can contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.
Eating large amounts of red meat, especially processed meats like bacon and sausage, has been linked to an increased risk of stroke.
Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke. It’s recommended that women have no more than one drink per day and men have no more than two drinks per day.
Lack of Fiber
A diet low in fiber can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, which are all risk factors for stroke. Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can help increase your fiber intake.
Low Potassium Intake
Potassium is an important nutrient that helps regulate blood pressure. A diet low in potassium can increase your risk of stroke. Good sources of potassium include chickpeas, vegetables and fruits like bananas, avocados, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
A lack of certain vitamins, such as vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, can increase your risk of stroke. These vitamins are found in foods like leafy greens, citrus fruits, whole grains, and fortified low sodium cereals.
Studies have shown that skipping breakfast can increase your risk of stroke. Eating a healthy breakfast that includes fiber, protein, and healthy fats can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of stroke.
Summary Of The 10 Dietary Factors To Avoid
|Food Group||Why it shouldn’t be eaten||Examples of Food|
|High-salt foods||A diet high in salt can increase blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke||Processed foods, canned soups, pickles, salty snacks, fast food|
|High-fat foods||Consuming foods high in saturated and trans fats can lead to high cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke.||Fried foods, fatty meats, butter, full-fat dairy products, cheese, pastries, baked goods|
|Sugar-sweetened beverages||Drinking sugary drinks can lead to weight gain and type 2 diabetes, which are risk factors for stroke.||Soda, fruit juice, sweetened tea, energy drinks|
|Processed and fried foods||These types of foods are often high in salt, unhealthy fats, and calories, which can contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.||French fries, chips, hot dogs, pizza, doughnuts, chicken nuggets|
|Red meat||Eating large amounts of red meat, especially processed meats like bacon and sausage, has been linked to an increased risk of stroke.||Beef, pork, lamb, bacon, sausage|
|Alcohol||Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of stroke.||Beer, wine, spirits|
|Low-fiber foods||A diet low in fiber can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, which are risk factors for stroke.||Processed foods, refined grains, low-fiber cereals, sugary snacks|
|Low-potassium foods||A diet low in potassium can increase the risk of stroke by contributing to high blood pressure.||Bananas, avocados, spinach, sweet potatoes, yogurt|
|Vitamin-deficiencies||A lack of certain vitamins, such as vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, can increase the risk of stroke.||Leafy greens, citrus fruits, fortified cereals, whole grains, beans|
|Skipping breakfast||Skipping breakfast can increase the risk of stroke by contributing to high blood pressure and unhealthy dietary habits.||High-sugar cereals, breakfast pastries, muffins, fast food, breakfast sandwiches|
Table 1: Top 10 dietary factors that increase the risk of stroke.
Top 11 Foods To Avoid
You may be wondering what foods cause strokes because we eat food, not individual nutrients.
I’ve summarized the top 11 foods that can cause stroke. Eating these foods in moderation can reduce your stroke risk.
1. Processed Meats
Bacon, sausages, hot dogs, and other processed meats are foods that cause stroke because they are high in sodium, saturated fats, and preservatives like nitrates. These nutrients damage blood vessels and have been linked to an increased risk of various health problems, including stroke.
This combination of high salt and high saturated fat can increase blood pressure and thus increase stroke risk (3).
Instead Try Eating
Alternatives to deli meat like this canned salmon or tuna sandwiches as they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation. You could also try nut butter sandwiches like avocado and peanut butter, black bean toast, or tofu toast.
Check out this post on 5 alternatives to deli meat.
2. Sugary Drinks
Soda, sports drinks, fruit juices, and other sugary beverages are foods that can cause stroke because they are high in added sugars. Added sugars can contribute to weight gain and obesity, as well as increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and stroke.
Instead Try Drinking
Instead of sugary drinks, it’s a good idea to drink water, unsweetened tea, or other beverages that are low in added sugars. These beverages can help you stay hydrated without adding excess calories or sugar to your diet.
3. Fast Food
Fast food meals are often high in unhealthy fats, sodium, and calories, which can contribute to weight gain, high blood pressure, and other health problems.
Looking for healthier options when eating out, such as salads, grilled meats, and steamed vegetables to choose whole foods that are minimally processed and rich in nutrients. Cooking meals every day can be exhausting, so I have put together some low-sodium Burger King, low sodium subway and healthy Tim Hortons options you can find here.
4. Fried Foods
Fried foods like French fries, fried chicken, and doughnuts, are foods that can cause stroke, as they are cooked in unhealthy oils, being high in saturated fats and calories. This can contribute to weight gain and other health problems, including stroke.
These foods often contain trans fat, also known as partially hydrogenated oil. This is an oil that has been chemically altered to make it more solid and stable and to increase the shelf life of the food product.
Trans fats have been shown to increase inflammation, damage blood vessels, increase unhealthy low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (or bad cholesterol), and lower healthy high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (or good cholesterol)(4). You can learn more about low-cholesterol foods here.
While some food manufacturers have started to replace partially hydrogenated oils with other ingredients, it’s important to check the nutrition label to make sure a food product is trans-fat-free and avoid the word “partially hydrogenated oil” on the ingredient list.
Instead Try Eating
Instead of fried foods, it’s a good idea to choose foods that are baked, roasted, or grilled. These cooking methods can help preserve the nutrient content of the food, and reduce intake of added fats and calories.
For example, you can bake or roast chicken or fish with a sprinkle of herbs and spices for flavor, or grill vegetables with a little bit of olive oil. You can also use cooking techniques such as sautéing or steaming to prepare foods without adding excess fat.
5. Packaged And Processed Snacks
Chips, crackers, and other processed snacks are often high in salt, unhealthy fats, and calories, which can contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other health problems.
Fried foods, packaged foods, and processed snacks like baked goods, cakes, pie crusts, non-dairy coffee creamers, frozen foods, or packaged products that contain shortening will also contain trans fat.
Trans fat described above is the worst type of fat to consume. No level of trans fat consumption is recommended. The American Heart Association advises eating as little trans-fat as possible. In North America, we’ve reduced the amount of trans fat sold, and many European countries have eliminated it.
Instead Try Eating
Minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables and dips like hummus, or yogurt for snacks.
6. Candy And Sweets
Candy, cookies, cakes, and other sweets are often high in added sugars.
Consuming too much sugar can contribute to stroke risk by increasing the risk of developing diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects the way your body processes sugar, and people with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease, including stroke.
High sugar consumption can lead to obesity, which is another major risk factor for stroke. Consuming sugary foods and drinks can also contribute to inflammation, which has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Finally, too much added sugar can increase triglyceride levels.
Instead Try Eating
Instead of candy and sweets, it’s a good idea to choose naturally sweet whole foods, such as fresh fruits, dried fruits, or smoothies made with fruits and vegetables.
These foods can provide the sweetness you crave while providing fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
7. Red Meat
Red meat contains carnitine which is converted by the intestinal microbiome to trimethylamine, that is then is oxidized by the liver and can increase atherosclerosis in animal studies (5).
Red meat is also high in saturated fats, which (when eaten in too large of quantities) can contribute to high cholesterol levels and increase the risk of stroke and other health problems like blockages in blood vessels to the heart.
Instead Try Eating
There are many healthy and delicious alternatives to red meat, including poultry, fish, beans and legumes, and soy-based products like tofu and tempeh. I have some great recipes that are tasty alternatives for red meat including these salmon nachos, tofu bolognese, or sardine soup with beans.
These options are lower in saturated fat and rich in protein and other important nutrients, making them a great choice for those looking to reduce their red meat intake.
8. Frozen Dinners
Instead Try Eating
Instead of frozen dinners, it’s a good idea to choose whole foods that are minimally processed and rich in nutrients. You can prepare simple meals at home using fresh or frozen vegetables, lean proteins like chicken or fish, and whole grains like quinoa or brown rice.
You can also make large batches of healthy soups or stews and freeze them for later use. Additionally, you can look for healthier frozen meals that are lower in sodium and saturated fats and contain more whole foods like vegetables and whole grains.
9. Canned Soups
High-sodium foods, including canned soups, are foods that cause stroke because they can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for stroke.
Salty foods can increase blood pressure because salt causes the body to retain water. When you consume too much sodium, your body holds onto excess water, increasing the volume of blood flowing through your blood vessels.
This, in turn, can put extra strain on your blood vessels, causing them to narrow and stiffen. As a result, your heart must work harder to pump blood through your body, leading to an increase in blood pressure.
Over time, this can contribute to the development of hypertension or high blood pressure, contributing to risk of heart disease and stroke.
Instead Try Eating
Instead of canned or processed soups, it’s a good idea to make homemade soups using fresh vegetables, lean proteins like chicken or beans, and whole grains like quinoa or brown rice. You can also look for soup recipes that include herbs and spices for flavor instead of added salt such as high protein tomato soup, tomato oatmeal soup or DASH soup recipes.
You can also add more nitric oxide rich foods to improve blood flow.
Consuming alcohol in excess can raise blood pressure and increase the risk of stroke and other health problems.
Instead Try Eating
Instead of alcohol, it’s a good idea to choose beverages that are hydrating and rich in nutrients. Water is the best choice for hydration, but you can also try flavored water or herbal tea for variety.
Other healthy beverage options can include freshly squeezed juices or heart-healthy smoothies made with fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk or plant-based milk alternatives, and coconut water.
11. Egg Yolks
Egg yolks may be considered a food that causes strokes because they contain phosphatidylcholine, which is converted by the intestinal microbiome to trimethylamine, in turn, oxidized in the liver to trimethylamine n-oxide (TMAO). TMAO causes atherosclerosis in animals (7). However, more studies are needed to determine the effects on humans, but this is a food to pay attention to, and potentially moderate your consumption of.
Instead Try Eating
That being said, egg whites are a great source of nutrients and can be added to a heart-healthy diet.
You can also try flax eggs if looking for a great egg replacement in baking, and a boost of fiber. This contains heart-healthy ground flaxseed.
What Else Can You Do
Several dietary patterns and foods that unclog arteries can help reduce the risk of stroke. These dietary patterns and foods help stroke recovery.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, and includes moderate amounts of fish (like salmon and sardines), poultry, and dairy. It has been shown that this dietary pattern can reduce the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.
Specifically eating five or more vegetables and fruit a day can reduce stroke risk by 13% (8).
These are important foods that help stroke recovery.
The types of food in a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy. This DASH dietary pattern is low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium. It has been shown to lower blood pressure and thus reduce the risk of stroke.
A plant-based diet, like the portfolio diet, focuses on eating more plant-based foods. These food groups include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, and minimize or eliminate animal products. These are all foods can reduce the risk of stroke and help stroke recovery by improving cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and support weight management.
Here are some recommended plant based diet books to learn more about this way of eating.
A diet that is low in sodium (less than 2,300 mg per day) can help reduce blood pressure and lower the risk of stroke. Check out these articles on low sodium salmon recipes, low sodium cookbooks, low sodium chili recipe or low sodium recipe archives.
An anti-inflammatory diet, like the Mind Diet, focuses on whole foods that are rich in antioxidants, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, and minimizes processed and sugary foods. These are all foods that help stroke recovery and reduce inflammation in the body, which is a risk factor for stroke.
Overall, foods that help reduce the risk of stroke and improve heart health include minimally processed foods. Try and eat foods lower in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars.
Stroke Diet Recipe Ideas
Changing your eating habits can reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease by managing blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, and weight. Check out the stroke diet recipes or low-sodium diet recipes to get started on a stroke-friendly diet.
While stroke can be a devastating medical condition, the good news is that there are many steps we can take to reduce our risk of stroke, starting with reducing the foods that cause a stroke.
If you have concerns about your stroke risk, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider, who can help assess your risk and provide guidance on how to reduce it.