Dietary patterns: separating fact from fiction to reduce the risk of recurrent stroke

July 5, 2018

We all know we should maintain a healthy diet. But with the wealth of advice on exactly what is it that constitutes ‘healthy eating’, it can be hard to separate the scientific facts from the supermarket-aisle fiction. So while we all agree that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is a good thing and that the indulgent ‘stroke belt’ diet with its fried foods and processed meats is a bad thing, what else do we know for sure?

The answer, surprisingly, is not much more. And this is reflected in the often confusing guidance given by well-meaning organizations. Lucky for us, a team of researchers in the US have come forward to help us on our journey to healthy eating by looking at dietary patterns (i.e., the combinations of foods we eat) and how they affect cardiovascular/stroke risk.

Trimming the (hydrogenated) fat

The first conclusion reached by the team was that fruit and vegetables are a good thing. The people with the highest consumption of fruit and vegetables were 21% less like to experience a stroke than the lowest consumers; a comparable reduction to that achieved with statin use (18%). There is also extensive evidence to suggest that consumption of fish oils (such as omega 3) and other components of the enviable ‘Mediterranean diet’ reduce the risk of stroke (including recurrent stroke), while artificial or hydrogenated (‘trans’) fats increase the risk. Saturated fat, however, the former ‘bad boy’ of the diet world, and the fats found in dairy products might have little influence either way.

Shine a light on healthy eating

So has this study shed any more light on what it means to eat healthy in a post-stroke world? In some ways, yes. It tells us that while eating healthy isn’t always easy, it makes a difference. And this is particularly true for those of us who are trying to reduce the risk of a recurrent stroke.

The lead author of the original article is Jennifer L. Dearborn, Department of Neurology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA.

Editorial note:

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in hydrogenated fats reduces the risk of a second stroke.

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