Healthy food habits are a crucial part of ongoing health for recovering stroke patients as well as those at risk for a stroke. Proper adjustments to diet and nutrition can play an effective role in the prevention of stroke, and provide a fundamental tool during the recovery process.
Melaina Bjorklund, MS, RD, Clinical Dietician at Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, says that the dietary guidelines for recovering stroke patients and those with risk factors are very similar. “Both patients should be focusing on a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables,” said Bjorklund. “Whole grains that are high in fiber can help reduce cholesterol.”
A key dietary concern is keeping sodium intake low, consuming less than 1500 milligrams or less per day, which is not as much as it sounds like.
“One teaspoon of salt equals 2300 milligrams of sodium,” Bjorklund said. “And sodium is found in nearly everything - milk, bread, cereal. Patients should look for foods with no added salt and rather than using salt to flavor food, try using different herbs and spices.”
Other important guidelines, according to Bjorklund, include eating fish twice or more per week for the omega-3 benefits for cardiovascular health, and try to avoid saturated and trans-fats.
“Products like cheese and yogurt can be high in saturated fat and any processed foods like peanut butter, (that is not all-natural), are usually high in hydrogenated oil – which is a fancy word for trans-fat.”
A healthy diet reduces the risk for acquiring conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and obesity, which all increase a patient’s chance of getting a stroke.
In some cases after a stroke, survivors experience a loss of appetite, while others find eating difficult due to swallowing problems or limited hand or arm movement. A swallowing disorder called dysphagia can lead to poor nutrition or even aspiration pneumonia.
“A speech therapist will meet with the patient and do an in-depth swallow study and then recommend a diet moving forward,” said Bjorklund.
Thin liquids can be hard to swallow safely because they move quickly through the throat resulting in aspiration. Sometimes stroke patients will be given liquids that have been thickened so they move more slowly and stay together.
Penrose-St. Francis Health Services provides 24/7 advanced stroke treatment and was named a certified Advanced Primary Stroke Center by The Joint Commission. Penrose-St. Francis is part of Centura Health, the region’s leading healthcare network.
Because a healthy diet is such a critical part of recovery, in addition to reducing the risk of another stroke, patients at Penrose-St. Francis Health Services receive individualized diet modifications appropriate for the type and extent of their impairments. A clinical dietitian, such as Bjorklund, will help develop a plan of care that will provide a satisfying and nutritionally adequate diet.