The Optimal Stroke Prevention Diet

Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDE


May 13, 2024

Every time we eat, we have an opportunity to either increase or decrease our risk of having a stroke or heart attack. And while one meal or off-day isn’t going to make or break your heart health, it’s the nutritional quality of your overall diet pattern that matters. 

A diet high in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium can contribute to obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and type 2 diabetes, all of which significantly increase the risk of stroke. 

On the other hand, there are plenty of ways you can proactively improve your nutrition to design a stroke prevention diet.

The Optimal Stroke Prevention Diet

Dietary changes can go a long way in helping prevent stroke. Evidence shows that two diet patterns in particular can help: the DASH and Mediterranean diets. These are somewhat similar ways of eating, as both focus on eating fewer ultra-processed foods and more plant-based foods. 

High blood pressure and blood lipids (LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and/or triglycerides for example) are risk factors for having a stroke. If these numbers are high, adjusting your diet is a great way to help improve them. 

The DASH Diet

DASH stands for the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet. It’s been shown to effectively reduce blood pressure without medication, reducing the strain on your blood vessels, and helping lower the risk of further damage.

The main elements of DASH include:

An emphasis on eating foods high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium. This can be achieved by focusing on specific fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.

Keeping sodium within your cardiologist’s or dietitian’s recommendations. While the recommended amount for general health is 2300 mg per day, you may need less, closer to 1500 mg, depending on your risk factors.

Keeping saturated fats to a minimum and avoiding trans fats altogether. Making a habit of reading food labels before you buy can help you avoid these.

The Mediterranean Diet

You may have heard the buzz about the Mediterranean eating plan. It’s adored by many healthcare professionals because, just like DASH, it’s been shown to improve heart and blood vessel health. 

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes whole and minimally processed plant foods, healthy oils, and small amounts of fish and poultry. It limits the consumption of red meat and encourages regular physical activity, making it a well-rounded approach to promoting overall health and reducing stroke risk.

6 Foods That Prevent Stroke

Considering the DASH and Mediterranean stroke prevention diet approaches, there’s some overlap between the types of foods that are recommended to optimize your risk factors. I’ve detailed 6 foods that prevent stroke below, with plenty of room for personal preferences. 

1. Fruits 

Fruits provide essential nutrients like potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure and reduces your risk of hypertension, a major risk factor for stroke. They’re also rich in antioxidants (compounds that help protect your cellular health from damage and disease) and fiber, both of which promote heart health by reducing inflammation and cholesterol levels. This lowers your risk of atherosclerosis and ischemic stroke. 

Eating a wide variety of fruits is associated with a lower risk of having a stroke. Here are some ideas: 

  • Bananas
  • Citrus fruits, like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit
  • Pineapple
  • Berries
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Grapes

2. Vegetables

Vegetables are stroke-protective because they’re rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which help fight inflammation and oxidative stress in your body. They’re also low in calories and high in fiber, supporting satiety and weight management and reducing the risk of obesity and related conditions like diabetes and hypertension. 

Incorporate a variety of colorful vegetables in your regular diet pattern, such as: 

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Leafy greens, like spinach, lettuce, and Swiss chard
  • Cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage
  • Avocados
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms

3. Legumes

Eating legumes helps offer stroke protection because they’re full of plant protein, fiber, and essential heart-healthy micronutrients like folate and magnesium. Plus, the soluble fiber in legumes helps lower cholesterol and support blood sugar regulation, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis. While more research is needed to uncover their role in a stroke prevention diet, legume intake is inversely associated with cardiovascular disease risk.

Here are some examples of legumes you can include in your diet: 

  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Navy, white, black, kidney, pinto, and cannellini beans
  • Peanuts
  • Peas
  • Soy foods, like tofu, tempeh, and edamame

4. Whole Grains

Unlike their highly processed and refined counterparts, whole grains are rich in fiber, particularly soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol levels by blocking it from being absorbed into your bloodstream. Whole grains also provide an array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation.

Try swapping out refined grains for these whole grains

  • Brown rice 
  • 100% whole wheat pasta and bread
  • Quinoa
  • Oats
  • Teff
  • Barley
  • Millet
  • Amaranth

5. Healthy Plant Oils

Healthy plant oils — when consumed in moderation, as a little bit goes a long way — support stroke prevention by providing monounsaturated fats, which help reduce LDL and inflammation, lowering the risk of atherosclerosis and stroke. They can also be a good source of antioxidants, like polyphenols, which help improve vascular health and prevent the formation of blood clots. 

Substitute some of these healthier plant oils for less healthy fats when cooking and preparing meals: 

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Canola oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Almond oil
  • Flax oil 

6. Seafood

Certain types of fish and seafood can fit well on a stroke prevention diet due to their high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. This includes EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which have anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic properties. Regular omega-3 intake is associated with a lower risk of stroke by lowering your blood pressure and triglyceride levels and supporting arterial health. 

Aim for two servings per week of these fish

  • Sardines
  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Mackerel
  • Rainbow trout
  • Tuna

If you don’t consume fish, you might consider adding an algae-based omega-3 supplement. 

Combining the components of the DASH and Mediterranean diets and considering the 6 foods that prevent stroke above can help improve heart and blood vessel health. Don’t think of these eating styles as diets, but rather guidelines for including foods that can improve your odds of avoiding a first or second stroke — and benefitting your overall health. 

Need more personalized guidance? I can help! Consider joining my Heart Health Optimization Group Program or working with me in a 1:1 counseling capacity. Let’s design a stroke prevention diet together. 


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