Diet and Stroke

5 Foods That Can Trigger a Stroke
doughnut

Few things feel more terrifying and random than a stroke, which can strike without warning. And fear of stroke -- when a blood vessel in or leading to the brain bursts or is blocked by a blood clot, starving brain cells of oxygen and nutrients -- is well founded. After all, stroke is the number-three killer in the U.S., affecting more than 700,000 people each year. Here are five foods that cause the damage that leads to stroke.

1. Crackers, chips, and store-bought pastries and baked goods

Muffins, doughnuts, chips, crackers, and many other baked goods are high in trans fats, which are hydrogenated oils popular with commercial bakeries because they stay solid at room temperature, so the products don't require refrigeration. Also listed on labels as "partially hydrogenated" or hydrogenated oils, trans fats are found in all kinds of snack foods, frozen foods, and baked goods, including salad dressings, microwave popcorn, stuffing mixes, frozen tater tots and French fries, cake mixes, and whipped toppings. They're also what makes margarine stay in a solid cube. The worst offenders are fried fast foods such as onion rings, French fries, and fried chicken.

Why it's bad

For years scientists have known trans fats are dangerous artery-blockers, upping the concentrations of lipids and bad cholesterol in the blood and lowering good cholesterol. Now we can add stroke to the list of dangers. This year researchers at the University of North Carolina found that women who ate 7 grams of trans fat each day -- about the amount in two doughnuts or half a serving of French fries -- had 30 percent more strokes (the ischemic type, caused by blocked blood flow to the brain) than women who ate just 1 gram a day. Another recent study, also in women, found that trans fats promoted inflammation and higher levels of C-reactive protein, which have been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

What to do

Aim to limit trans fats to no more than 1 or 2 grams a day -- and preferably none. Avoid fast-food French fries and other fried menu items and study packaged food labels closely. Even better, bake your own cookies, cakes, and other snacks. When you can't, search out "health-food" alternative snacks, such as Terra brand potato chips and traditional whole grain crackers such as those made by Finn, Wasa, AkMak, Ryvita, and Lavasch.

2. Smoked and processed meats

Whether your weakness is pastrami, sausage, hot dogs, bacon, or a smoked turkey sandwich, the word from the experts is: Watch out.

Why it's bad

Smoked and processed meats are nasty contributors to stroke risk in two ways: The preserving processes leave them packed with sodium, but even worse are the preservatives used to keep processed meats from going bad. Sodium nitrate and nitrite have been shown by researchers to directly damage blood vessels, causing arteries to harden and narrow. And of course damaged, overly narrow blood vessels are exactly what you don't want if you fear stroke.

Many studies have linked processed meats to coronary artery disease (CAD); one meta-analysis in the journal Circulation calculated a 42-percent increase in coronary heart disease for those who eat one serving of processed meat a day. Stroke is not the only concern for salami fans; cancer journals have reported numerous studies in the past few years showing that consumption of cured and smoked meats is linked with increased risk of diabetes and higher incidences of numerous types of cancer, including leukemia.

What to do

If a smoked turkey or ham sandwich is your lunch of choice, try to vary your diet, switching to tuna, peanut butter, or other choices several days a week. Or cook turkey and chicken yourself and slice it thin for sandwiches.

More foods that can trigger stroke

3. Diet soda

Although replacing sugary drinks with diet soda seems like a smart solution for keeping weight down -- a heart-healthy goal -- it turns out diet soda is likely a major bad guy when it comes to stroke.

Why it's bad

People who drink a diet soda a day may up their stroke risk by 48 percent. A Columbia University study presented at the American Stroke Association's 2011 International Stroke Conference followed 2,500 people ages 40 and older and found that daily diet soda drinkers had 60 percent more strokes, heart attacks, and coronary artery disease than those who didn't drink diet soda. Researchers don't know exactly how diet soda ups stroke risk -- and are following up with further studies -- but nutritionists are cautioning anyone concerned about stroke to cut out diet soda pop.

What to do

Substitute more water for soda in your daily diet. It's the healthiest thirst-quencher by far, researchers say. If you don't like water, try lemonade, iced tea, or juice.

4. Red meat

This winter, when the respected journal Stroke published a study showing that women who consumed a large portion of red meat each day had a 42-percent higher incidence of stroke, it got nutrition experts talking. The information that red meat, with its high saturated fat content, isn't healthy for those looking to prevent heart disease and stroke wasn't exactly news. But the percentage increase (almost 50 percent!) was both startling and solid; the researchers arrived at their finding after following 35,000 Swedish women for ten years.

Why it's bad

Researchers have long known that the saturated fat in red meat raises the risk of stroke and heart disease by gradually clogging arteries with a buildup of protein plaques. Now it turns out that hemoglobin, the ingredient that gives red meat its high iron content, may pose a specific danger when it comes to stroke. Researchers are investigating whether blood becomes thicker and more viscous as a result of the consumption of so-called heme iron, specifically upping the chance of strokes.

What to do

Aim to substitute more poultry -- particularly white meat -- and fish, which are low in heme iron, for red meat. Also, choose the heart-healthiest sources of protein whenever you can, especially beans, legumes, nuts, tofu, and nonfat dairy.

5. Canned soup and prepared foods

Whether it's canned soup, canned spaghetti, or healthy-sounding frozen dinners, prepared foods and mixes rely on sodium to increase flavor and make processed foods taste fresher. Canned soup is cited by nutritionists as the worst offender; one can of canned chicken noodle soup contains more than 1,100 mg of sodium, while many other varieties, from clam chowder to simple tomato, have between 450 and 800 mg per serving. Compare that to the American Heart and Stroke Association's recommendation of less than1,500 mg of sodium daily and you'll see the problem. In fact, a nutritionist-led campaign, the National Salt Reduction Initiative, calls on food companies to reduce the salt content in canned soup and other products by 20 percent in the next two years.

Why it's bad

Salt, or sodium as it's called on food labels, directly affects stroke risk. In one recent study, people who consumed more than 4,000 mg of sodium daily had more than double the risk of stroke compared to those who ate 2,000 mg or less. Yet the Centers for Disease Control estimate that most Americans eat close to 3,500 mg of sodium per day. Studies show that sodium raises blood pressure, the primary causative factor for stroke. And be warned: Sodium wears many tricky disguises, which allow it to hide in all sorts of foods that we don't necessarily think of as salty. Some common, safe-sounding ingredients that really mean salt:

  • Baking soda

  • Baking powder

  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)

  • Disodium phosphate

  • Sodium alginate

What to do

Make your own homemade soups and entrees, then freeze individual serving-sized portions. Buy low-sodium varieties, but read labels carefully, since not all products marked "low sodium" live up to that promise.


10 months ago, said...

My blood pressure is very low the Doctor acts like it ain't no problem even after I tell him I'm dizzy loss of appetite very very tired very crabby .I'm 46 years old have a six year old at home and he would be devastated if I wasn't here .My blood pressure is 60 over 40.I'm going to demand heart screening witch one is best ?


11 months ago, said...

I don't eat canned anything just for the reason of the sodium in the food.


12 months ago, said...

Hi Bucci, you can have this e-mailed to you by clicking the orange icon above (there's an envelope on the icon). Best, Diana


about 1 year ago, said...

I would like to have this information on email .


almost 3 years ago, said...

Thanks for the effort! These articles are very informative, most of the convenient foods are dangerous and until recently I did not know the consequences and ate what was available at work and traditional foods at home both have severe disadvantages. Historically scientists did not give and still do not give adequate information about foods and if they give warning tradition defeats logic. Thank you again


almost 3 years ago, said...

I learn that how bad are foods having trans fat which can lead to fata strokes. Ashraf Dowla


almost 3 years ago, said...

Reminded me of foods I need to avoid to prevent another stroke! Add to that, the article on foods that help to avoid a stroke . . .


over 3 years ago, said...

I'm doomed.


almost 4 years ago, said...

Thanks, I had my second stroke this past oct- 18th 2 strokes and a heart attack in a year and 3 days, my doctor told me to drink diet soda ,said it was better for me . Thanks for sitting him straight on this fact. I don't think you could do much more to improve this page .


almost 4 years ago, said...

omg ! the content was unknown to me...thank you very much !


almost 4 years ago, said...

Can't think of anything to make it more helpful; other than the fact that it will help me to eat and to drink in a way that will be better for my health.


almost 4 years ago, said...

Knew most of this already. However, THANK YOU for the reminder!! I DO need to maintain focus on these things.


almost 4 years ago, said...

Reading ladels on can because many people buy them, some do because we cannot afford to buy fresh vegetables. I would like to know more about Pancreatic cancer, my mother died because of it.


almost 4 years ago, said...

great website to find out how to live longer


about 4 years ago, said...

Is this geared towards women ? I noticed the statistics were in women. So Im confuse as far as far as whats ok for men. Our chemistry's a little different.


about 4 years ago, said...

I am a stroke decendent. My maternal grand-mother,my maternal aunt,my mother,and my sister! HELP! Benavides


about 4 years ago, said...

I had no idea that baking powder and baking soda were largely sodium based.


about 4 years ago, said...

For me it was finding out exactly what foods were really bad for the body. These are excellent articles that everyone should read, and then follow.


over 4 years ago, said...

If it related to the organic, home grown, food that I eat.


over 4 years ago, said...

wow thanks for the info.


over 4 years ago, said...

Add infomation on hemorrhagic strokes too.


over 4 years ago, said...

Eliminate smoked foods: does that include smoked salmon???


over 4 years ago, said...

It helped to identify the culprit--nitrites.


over 4 years ago, said...

I really enjoy lean cuisine. I will not be partaking of it anymore,at least not often. The package says it is heart healthy. How do they get away with this?


almost 5 years ago, said...

Make healthy choices. http://veganrawfood.net


almost 5 years ago, said...

PatD, In defence of a professionally writtten, conscientiously framed, health focused article for mass consumption, I disagree with your fairly arrogantly delivered criticism of a generally very useful health oriented article.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Very useul information. I was glad to see that my favorite snack foods were the 8 snack foods that were heart friendly foods listed at the beginning of the article. I will share it with my friends. Mahalo


almost 5 years ago, said...

Thank you for a timely (especially for me and my friends) health article.


almost 5 years ago, said...

all of the information was especially due to the fact that i have been on high blood pressure meds for about 3 months now and am trying to make some lifestyles changes for myself and my family.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Great, common-sense suggestions to increase/extend quality of life.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Thank you so much for the valuable information, I have been diognosed with a small amount of blockage leading to my heart about four years ago, and was prescribed plavic for six months. Since that shocking news, I have stuck with a healthy diet with very little deviating healthy eating. Not only did it scare me straight to a much better eating habbit, I feel much better physically. Thanks for alerting everyone and reminding me to stay on a healthy diet. If ever you commit you won't forget. It is not as hard to remember when you love life. Good health to the readers and doers.


almost 5 years ago, said...

I think i will make some white meat (chicken) cooked it and then grin it up. save some of the broth, mix it with a thicker from the (store power mix). THANK YOU VERY MUCH""""""""""""""""""""""""""


almost 5 years ago, said...

This article was excellant, as I am a turkey sandwich eater at least once a week. only once in a while I may take a cookie and make it last about 4 days. Trying to change my eating habits to yogart, apples, pears and other fruits. broccoli and string beans and cooked carrots for veggies.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Calling very different salts only "salt", doesn't seem seriously.


almost 5 years ago, said...

all of the above just don't like it !!!!! lol lol but ty for the information


almost 5 years ago, said...

Your advise is worth million, and a life time of health-living ... T hanks FOR ALL YOU YOU.


almost 5 years ago, said...

I could not believe that such items were that indicative for heart problems


almost 5 years ago, said...

Great article. Thanks for the information.


almost 5 years ago, said...

Great info and reminders of what not to eat. We have so many good things available.


almost 5 years ago, said...

I"ve used substances ,referred to in the article, for as lomg as I can remember, but always in moderation. Fast food is not the healthy way to live, you can see that if you go to a fast food facilty and see the type's of people eating there.


almost 5 years ago, said...

I will be scrutinizing the ingredients in more canned foods. Disodium phosphate and Socium alginate as well. Thank you for making me more aware of what I put into my body.