Stroke isn’t something that most people want to think about. But given that February is American Heart Month, it’s as good a time as any to turn your thoughts to steps that you can take to prevent this potentially fatal event.
Like heart disease, stroke is more common in people who have diabetes compared to people without diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes are 1.5 times as likely to have a stroke than people without the condition.
A stroke occurs when the flow of blood to the brain is blocked. Blood carries oxygen, so if the brain is deprived of oxygen, brain cells quickly die. Bleeding in the brain can lead to a stroke, as well, and also kill brain cells. A stroke is sometimes referred to as a “brain attack.”
The after-effects of a stroke include paralysis or numbness in the face, arms, or legs; speech and vision may be affected, as well. Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States.
Fortunately, being aware of symptoms of a stroke (such as weakness or numbness on one side of the body, trouble talking or walking, dizziness, confusion, severe headache, double vision) and getting prompt treatment can prevent or at least lessen some of the devastating effects.
There are many steps that you can take to lower your risk of stroke. Controlling your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol are at the top of the list. Stopping smoking, being physically active, reaching and staying at a healthy weight, and following a healthy eating plan are important actions, as well.
How the Mediterranean diet can help
By now, it’s probably safe to say that you’ve heard of the Mediterranean diet and the possible benefits it can provide. What you may not realize is that this healthy way of eating — actually, a healthy lifestyle — has numerous benefits, including lowering the risk of stroke. But what does it mean to “eat Mediterranean”? Here’s how you can eat the Mediterranean way, no matter where you live, and reap its health benefits, like a lower risk of stroke and heart disease and improved diabetes control.
Step 1. The first step in eating Mediterranean is to understand the foods that are part of the Mediterranean diet. These include:
• Fruits and vegetables
• Whole grains
• Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
• Fish and poultry
• Olive oil
• Herbs and spices
• Red meat, butter, and sweets are limited. Red wine, in moderation, is OK (but check with your doctor, first).
Step 2. Chances are, you’re already eating many of these foods. Here are a few more ways to make the Mediterranean diet fit easily into your daily food choices.
• Switch to healthy oils for cooking and for use on foods. Olive oil is an obvious choice, but you can also use canola oil, grapeseed oil, and walnut oil, too.
• Add vegetables to every meal. Most people don’t eat enough vegetables, so make a point to fit them in, raw or cooked. Vegetables at breakfast? Why not? Whip up an omelet or scrambled eggs and stir in green or red pepper, carrots, or the vegetable of your choice.
• Aim to eat fish at least twice a week. Fattier fish, like salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel is best for those healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Because fresh fish can be pricey, consider using canned tuna, salmon, and sardines, or look for frozen varieties. Also, skip the fried fish. Grill, broil, or poach, instead.
• Choose Greek-style yogurt. This type of yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt. Ideally, choose plain yogurt and flavor with fresh fruit, a drizzle of honey, or a sprinkling of cinnamon.
• Go for the (whole) grain. Brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, bulgur, faro, and oatmeal are grains that are chock-full of nutrients. Choose whole-grain bread, crackers, and cereals (a whole grain should be listed as the first ingredient on the product’s ingredient list). Because grains contain carbohydrate, keep portions (and blood sugars) in check by filling one-quarter of your plate with them.
• Fit beans into your weekly menus. Whip up a pot of lentil soup. Add some beans to your salad. Spread hummus on whole-grain crackers or use it in place of mayo on sandwiches.
• Snack on nuts, seeds, olives, and fresh fruit for a great balance of carbs, protein, and fat that will sustain your energy throughout the day. Keep portions of nuts to about a handful, as they’re high in calories.
• Stow away the saltshaker. Season your foods with fresh or dried herbs and spices. You won’t miss the salt!
• With your doctor’s permission, sip on a small amount of red wine to help prevent blood clots and raise your HDL (good) cholesterol.
• Finally, don’t forget to take time to enjoy your foods. Eat with your family whenever possible, or, if you’re eating alone, sit down and enjoy your meal. Going “Mediterranean” is a healthy and delicious way to keep stroke at bay.