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Preventing Recurrent Stroke: Eating Healthy

Eating healthy foods helps lower cholesterol and reduce plaque buildup in arteries. It can also help you lose weight and keep high blood pressure under control. Eating better doesn’t necessarily mean going on a special diet, unless you have diabetes or high blood pressure. Instead, the idea is to make healthier choices by limiting foods and ingredients that contribute to risk factors for stroke.


Instead of:

  • Beef and other red meats

  • Hamburger

  • Processed lunch meats


  • Fish, skinless chicken, or tofu

  • Ground turkey

  • Chicken or turkey breast slices

Sweets and Snacks

Instead of:

  • Soda or other sugary drinks

  • Chips and other salty snacks

  • Donuts and croissants


  • Water

  • Nuts (such as walnuts and almonds), seeds, air-popped popcorn

  • Fresh fruit, whole-grain raisin bread


Instead of:

  • White bread

  • White rice

  • Regular pasta or noodles

  • White potatoes


  • Whole-grain bread

  • Brown rice

  • Whole-grain pasta or noodles

  • Sweet potatoes


Instead of:

  • Whole milk

  • Regular cheese and mayonnaise

  • Ice cream

  • Butter


  • 1% or skim milk

  • Low-fat cheese and mayonnaise

  • Low-fat yogurt

  • Olive or canola oil

Plate with one-quarter holding piece of salmon, one-quarter holding whole-grain rice, half holding vegetables and salad. Glass of water next to plate.
Arrange your plate with water or low-fat milk as a beverage (1), fruits and vegetables (2), protein (3), and starches (4).

Choose the right mix of foods

The key to good eating is having a variety of healthy foods. Try to plan meals around vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and whole grains. Limit fatty meats and high-fat dairy products. The chart below can show you the best way to fill up your plate.

  1. Drink water or low-fat (1% or fat-free) milk with meals. Don't drink sugary sodas or salty vegetable juices.

  2. At least half the plate should be vegetables and fruits. Limit fatty toppings, such as butter, salad dressing, and sour cream.

  3. No more than 1 quarter of the plate should be meat or other protein. Fish, beans, tofu, and lean cuts of poultry are best. Bake or broil meat instead of frying.

  4. About 1 quarter of the plate can be starchy foods, such as rice and potatoes. Whole grains, such as brown rice or whole-wheat bread, are best.

Try healthier options

Giving up old food habits doesn’t have to be hard. Here are some easy ways to choose healthier options:

Choose fats wisely

Reducing “bad” fats in your diet helps keep your arteries healthier. Use this guide:

  • Choose unsaturated fats. These are found in foods such as fish, nuts, olive oil, canola oil, and avocados. In moderation, these fats can be good for you.

  • Limit saturated fats. These are found in meat and dairy foods, such as burgers, poultry skin, milk, cheese, and butter.

  • Don’t eat foods with trans fats. Trans fats are often found in processed foods including cookies, crackers, fried snacks, baked goods, and canned frostings. Skip any foods that have the word “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated fats” in their ingredients.

Reduce salt in your diet

You may be asked to eat less salt (sodium). If you have high blood pressure, your healthcare provider will probably recommend that you limit your salt intake to no more than 1,500 mg per day. Use these tips:

  • Look for food labels that say, “salt free” or “low sodium.” Always check for the number of servings per container on the food label, as a container of food may have more than 1 serving. 

  • Think fresh. Use fresh ingredients to cook when possible.  Also try and choose foods with no salt added. Use fewer processed and canned or packaged foods such as canned soups, instant noodles, TV dinners, and premade sauces. Low-sodium soups are OK.

  • Substitute fresh herbs, spices, or lemon juice for seasoning. Don’t add salt or soy sauce to meals. Your taste buds will adjust.

  • Look for “heart healthy” items on restaurant menus. Skip fast food. These are often lower in fat and salt.

  • Choose snack foods wisely. Most snack foods like potato chips, peanuts, and pretzels are high in sodium. Choose low or reduced sodium versions of snack foods or eat more natural snacks like plain popcorn, vegetables, or fruit.

Understanding salt content in foods

Learn to make sense of food labels. Use this as a guide:

  • Low-sodium. Food contains 140 mg or less sodium per serving.

  • Very low sodium. Food contains 35 mg or less of sodium per serving.

  • Reduced sodium. Food has 25% less sodium than the comparable food product.

  • Light or Lite in sodium. Food has at least 50% less sodium than the comparable food product.

  • No salt added. No salt was added in the processing of the food product. However, salt may naturally be present in the food itself or ingredients.

Other dietary tips

Here are some other tips for a heart-healthy diet:

  • Choose foods high in fiber. Fiber can lower cholesterol and your overall risk for cardiovascular disease. The best sources of dietary fiber are raw or cooked fruits and vegetables, whole-grain products, and legumes (e.g., dried beans, lentils, split peas).

  • Cut back on sugar. Eating too much added sugar in your diet puts you at risk for hypertension and obesity, which are risk factors for stroke.

  • Get enough potassium. Eating enough potassium in your diet is necessary to maintain proper heart function. However, most adults don’t eat enough potassium. Potassium is found in fruit, vegetables, and milk products.

For family and friends

Support makes it easier to stick with a healthy eating plan. Good eating habits are easier when everyone joins in. It helps when everyone in the family shops for and eats healthy foods.

Veterans can reduce their risk of stroke by monitoring their health with My HealtheVet. Log into your account to track your daily meals and view your eating habits. If you don’t have an account already, register today!

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 10/1/2020
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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