Good nutrition or healthy eating is a key to stroke recovery. Healthy eating can help to keep your loved one’s blood pressure, blood sugar and weight under control. Healthy eating may even help prevent another stroke.
What Do You Need to Know?
Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov to help you pick foods that are healthy. Follow the plate model to avoid overeating and make better choices.
Grains are carbohydrate foods. Grains have fiber, vitamins and minerals. Fiber lowers the chance of having another stroke. Wheat, rice, oats and barley are common grains. Whole grains are best. Make half of your grains “whole.” Fill one quarter of your plate with grains and other carbohydrate foods.
Non-starchy vegetables are another good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Choose dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and collard greens. The darker the leaves, the healthier the vegetable. Orange vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots are good choices too. Limit starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes. Vegetables may be raw, cooked, frozen, canned, or dried. Fill half of your plate with fruit and vegetables.
Fruits are good sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Choose different fresh, dried, canned, or frozen fruits. It’s best to choose whole fruits rather than juices. Juices have more sugar and less fiber than whole fruits. Fill half of your plate with fruit and vegetables.
Milk, Yogurt & Cheese
Dairy products contain calcium and vitamin D. They help keep bones strong. The Dairy Group contains milk, lactose-free milk, fortified soy milk, yogurt, and some types of cheese. The Dairy Group does not include cream cheese, sour cream, cream, and butter that are high in fat and have little calcium. Choose low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk (skim) products. If your loved one can’t have milk products, there are other choices. For instance, some cereals and juices are fortified or have extra calcium and vitamin D. Mackerel, salmon and sardines are high in calcium and vitamin D. Lactose-free products or calcium supplements can also be taken in place of milk products.
Lean Protein Foods
Proteins are found in meat, fish, beans, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Proteins help with muscle, bone and skin health. Select a wide variety of protein foods. Limit red meat, which is high in saturated fat. Fish and poultry are better choices. Eat at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week. Choose seafoods that are high in fatty acids (omega-3s) and low in methylmercury, such as salmon, trout, and anchovies. Stay away from frying. Instead, boil, bake or grill meats. Be sure to remove the skin and extra fat before cooking. Fill one quarter of your plate with lean protein foods.
Fats, Oils & Sweets
A healthy diet includes some fats. The key is to choose healthy fats. Eat more monounsaturated (olive oil, avocado) and polyunsaturated (canola oil, flaxseed oil, oily fish) fats. Limit saturated fats that are found in animal products and tropical oils that are solid at room temperature. Trans fats are man-made fats. Trans fats are unhealthy and increase the chances of heart attacks and strokes. Trans fats are found in baked goods and some restaurant food. Soft, low-fat tub margarine is better to use than stick margarine. Snacking on nuts is a healthy choice. Encourage your loved one to decrease sweets and high fat foods. For example, limit added fats to the size of the top of a thumb.
Why Should Your Loved One Drink Plenty of Liquids?
Liquids help lubricate joints, pump blood to heart, and prevent dehydration and constipation (trouble having bowel movements.) Drinking water is one of the best ways to get the right amount of liquids. Drink about eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Carry a refillable water bottle. Drink a glass of water when you wake up and at every meal. Drink water after exercise or activity. Unsweetened tea, low-fat or fat-free milk and 100% fruit juice are good choices, too. Liquids are also found in foods like fruits and vegetables. Water-rich foods include cucumbers, watermelon, lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, and celery. Reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol causes your body to remove fluids from your blood.
What About Salt?
Too much salt can raise your loved one’s blood pressure. Cut back on salty snacks and processed food. Remember that your loved one should have only 2/3 of a teaspoon of table salt each day. This includes everything your loved one eats or drinks, not just what is added when cooking or eating. Remember that canned foods and many canned soups have added salt. Compare the sodium content and choose the foods with lower numbers. When buying prepared meals, choose those with less than 600 milligrams (mg) of sodium per meal. When cooking, use garlic, citrus juice, salt-free seasoning and spices. Keep takeout and fast food to an occasional treat.
Strategies to Eating Healthy
People, especially those who eat alone, may skip meals and put off buying groceries and cooking. Meals on Wheels or hot lunches at community centers are good resources. The high costs of food may also interfere with healthy eating. Go to Shop Simple with MyPlate (www.myplate.gov/app/shopsimple) to find, low-cost foods. Another alternative for healthy affordable meals is a cookbook called “Good and Cheap” (https://books.leannebrown.com/good-and-cheap.pdf) that is available FREE as a downloadable PDF.
- Cook several extra meals at one time. Date and freeze the extra meals to eat later.
- Read the food labels or “nutrition facts” on packaged or processed foods. Many of these products are high in fat and salt.
- Add more salads, vegetables and fruits to your loved one’s diet.
- Season foods with lemon juice, herbs and spices instead of salt or butter.
- This website (https://www.eatthis.com/recipes/) has recipes with healthy changes to traditional meals.
Does Your Loved One Have Problems Eating?
Some survivors have dysphagia or trouble swallowing. This makes eating difficult. The healthcare team will perform tests to find the cause of the problem. Most people recover from dysphagia in a short time. Sometimes surgery or medicine is needed. Speech pathologists are helpful in improving eating problems from dysphagia. Exercises to strengthen the muscles used for eating are often helpful. Your loved one may be taught to eat in a special way. For example, sometimes turning the head to the side while eating helps. Adding special thickening to drinks may be helpful for problems swallowing liquids. Other tips are to sit up straight and slowly eat and drink. Suggest that your loved one take small sips of liquids and small bites of food. If it is unsafe for your loved one to swallow anything by mouth, a tube for feeding may be needed.
Your loved one may feel less hungry after a stroke. Speak to your healthcare team to see if medicines are to blame. Try giving your loved one small meals through the day. If possible, have someone eat with your loved one. Talk with a dietitian (nutritionist) about other tips to improve your loved one’s appetite.
Change in Taste
The stroke may have changed your loved one’s sense of taste. This can also be caused by some medicines. To help, serve foods with strong flavors. Use spices and herbs to add flavor.
- Plan meals to include poultry (chicken), fish, beans, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Drink low-fat or fat-free milk.
- Bake, grill or broil foods, rather than frying foods.
- Use only 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt each day in all foods and drinks.
- Encourage your loved one to drink plenty of liquids.
Additional credible resources on this topic can be found here. Website pages may change or update, therefore if a link does not work, you may also try to type the information into your internet search bar. This Resource List will be updated frequently.
*Link Disclaimer: Links to information and Web sites outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs do not indicate an endorsement of products or services offered by the sites. In addition, these sites may have privacy and security policies that are inconsistent with those of VA.
References: National Stroke Association. (2006). Hope Recovery Guide. Retrieved July 10, 2008, from: http://www.stroke.org/site/DocServer/hope_full.pdf?docID=921*.; National Caregivers Library. (2008). Help with Eating. Retrieved July 10, 2008, from: http://www.caregiverslibrary.org/Default.aspx?tabid=468*; National Stroke Association. (2008). Stroke facts; Recovery after Stroke: Healthy Eating. Retrieved July 10, 2008, from: http://www.stroke.org/site/DocServer/NSAFactSheet_Eating.pdf?docID=987*;United States Department of Agriculture. (2008). MyPyramid.gov. Retrieved September 2, 2008, from: http://www.mypyramid.gov*; NIH Senior Health. (2008). Eating well as you get older. Retrieved September 2, 2008, from: http://nihseniorhealth.gov*; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved September 2, 2008, from: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov*.
These materials were created for the project:
Web-Based Informational Materials for Caregivers of Veterans Post-Stroke
Project Number SDP 06-327 funded by VA HSR&D Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI)