Eat Right for Your Brain

Around 62,000 people have strokes in Canada each year, according to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation. While 80% of people survive, the consequences are usually life altering.

World Stroke Day, on October 29, provides the perfect opportunity to shine the light on an under-emphasized aspect of stroke prevention: nutrition. You can help reduce your risk of stroke by including certain foods in your daily diet. The following tips will help guide you.

Studies find that for every 7 grams of fibre you eat per day, you get nearly a 7% drop in the risk of first-time stroke.[1]Bump up your fibre intake by including more vegetables, whole grains, flax, chia, and other seeds. You can also take advantage of fibre supplements, which are a convenient way to boost your dietary fibre intake. Fibre supplements have come a long way and the newest ones on the market can easily be mixed into food or beverages without any noticeable change in taste or texture.

Antioxidant-packed foods contain important free-radical fighters. These help reduce inflammation and improve blood flow. Up your antioxidant intake by going for more colour in your diet, such as berries and red, yellow, orange, and green vegetables. Herbs, spices, onions, and garlic are other great ways to add antioxidants to your diet.

A recent study[2]showed that snacking on an ounce of nuts per day cuts the risk of stroke in half. Stock up on walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios. But take note that nuts contain delicate oils that can oxidize quickly, negating their benefits. For optimal freshness, purchase nuts in small quantities and keep them in the fridge or freezer if you won’t be eating them within a couple of weeks.

The same study that showed the benefit from eating nuts in reducing the risk of stroke also reinforced the finding that olive oil is helpful for cardiovascular health. Olive oil is thought to be a key to the heart- (and brain-) healthy Mediterranean diet. Again, fresh is best. Olive oil is not like wine, which improves with aging. Look for the bottling date and pay attention to best-before dates. Store in a cool place – not directly above the stove – and enjoy using it up.

Another Mediterranean diet staple, fish, also appears to play a role in stroke prevention. Studies have examined the effects of eating fish on men and on women. Both sexes seem to benefit from including a few weekly servings of fatty fish in the diet.[3][4]  It is likely that the omega-3 essential fatty acids in fish like sardines and salmon are important factors here.

Act FAST

If you were having chest pain, you wouldn’t hesitate to call for help. People with stroke symptoms, however, often wait to see if they will go away. Delay can be fatal. Be aware of the symptoms of stroke[5]and seek help immediately. Remember, “time is brain”!