Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help to reduce your risk of stroke. Making changes to your diet, such as having less salt and choosing the right types of fat, can also help to control high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for stroke.
The Eatwell Guide
The Eatwell Guide is a useful tool that shows the types and amounts of foods we should eat, and those we should have less of. You don’t need to strictly follow this guide at every meal, but have a balance of food groups over the whole day or week. Following the Eatwell Guide can also help you to maintain a healthy weight and get all of the nutrients that you need.
The main food groups are:
- Fruit and vegetables (at least 5 portions each day, choose a variety of colours)
- Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates (preferably wholegrain or higher fibre options)
- Dairy and alternatives (includes low fat, low sugar milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives such as soy or almond)
- Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins (eat less red and processed meats and eat more beans, pulses and fish)
- Oils and spreads (use small amounts of unsaturated fats such as olive or rice bran oils and spreads)
This is the Eatwell Guide showing how much of what you eat should come from each food group.
- Reduce your fat intake, especially saturated fat (this is important if you have high cholesterol). More detailed advice is covered in the section about controlling cholesterol.
- Increase the good omega-3 fats: choose at least 2 portions of fish per week, one of which should be an oily fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines, trout, salmon or pilchards.
- Reduce your salt intake: too much salt (sodium) in your diet can contribute to high blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke (more detailed advice is covered in the section about reducing salt).
- Eat less sugar: too much sugar can lead to weight gain and increase your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Check food labels: it’s important to know how much fat, sugar and salt is in your food.
- Know what counts as a portion of fruit and vegetables:
- ‘One portion’ is equal to: one banana, 2 plums, a couple of broccoli florets, a carrot, a handful of strawberries, a cereal-bowl size of salad or 2 tablespoons of peas.
- Dried, canned and frozen fruit and vegetables count towards your total.
- Limit fruit juice and smoothies to 150ml per day – the sugar in these drinks is digested faster and can cause tooth decay.
- Beans and pulses also count as a serving once a day.
- Potatoes do not count as they are carbohydrates.
- Increase fibre: fibre is found in vegetables and cereals such as potatoes (with skin), broccoli, beans, oats, corn, wheat and bran. Increase the amount of fibre-rich foods and choose wholemeal bread, rice and pasta. Fibre may help to lower cholesterol.
- If you eat between meals, choose healthy snacks such as fruit, unsalted nuts or unsalted popcorn.
- Choose healthier cooking methods, for example, steaming, boiling, baking or grilling instead of frying and using fat.
It is also important to keep your body well hydrated. Try to drink 6-8 cups of non-alcoholic fluid a day (such as water, milk or sugar-free drinks; tea, and coffee also count), even if it means an extra visit to the toilet.
If you drink alcohol, limit your intake to no more than 14 units per week, spread across the week with at least 2 alcohol free days. Whilst alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, people who regularly drink more than the recommended amount are three times more likely to have a stroke.
Note: following a stroke, some people have problems swallowing. If you have been advised to thicken fluids or follow a texture modified diet, please follow this advice. Speak to your GP, dietitian or speech and language therapist if you have any questions.