After you have a stroke, you are at a higher risk of poor nutrition due to the following factors:
• Swallowing problems (called dysphagia)
• Problems with arm/hand movements causing difficulty using a knife and fork
• Problems with memory and thinking resulting in forgetting to eat
• Loss of appetite
If you are not getting enough nutrients from what you are eating and drinking, you may lose weight and your recovery can slow down.
Eating a variety of healthy foods every day will provide your body with the nutrients it needs to recover and stay healthy. These foods include:
• Fruits and vegetables
• Whole grains. Whole grain breads and cereals contain important fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
• Lean protein. Low-fat meats or choosing other proteins, such as beans and legumes, helps limit the amount of cholesterol you eat.
• Limit salt by using herbs and spices for flavoring, limiting processed and snack foods, not adding extra salt when cooking or at the table, and reading labels and avoiding foods high in sodium. Eating too much salt can cause you to retain water and raise your blood pressure.
Eating a diet low in fat and salt and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains reduces the risk factors for another stroke. This type of diet lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, and helps you maintain a healthy weight and manage diabetes. Additionally, you may be on medications that interact with certain types of foods that you may need to avoid.
Still, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet post-stroke. Talking with a registered dietitian can help you learn how to plan and prepare healthy meals and snacks. Here are some other tips that can help you make the adjustment:
• Eat breakfast so you feel healthier, aren’t hungry, and will snack less.
• Move the salt shaker off the table so you aren’t tempted. Try new herbs like coriander and basil or spices like paprika, chili, and black pepper. Always check the labels as many prepared meals and snack foods contain lots of salt even if you don’t realize it.
• High-fiber foods are more than just whole grains like oats and bread. Beans, peas, nuts and fresh fruits and vegetables all are high in fiber.
• Use olive oil-based spreads instead of butter and grill food instead of frying. Make sure to drain excess oil or fat.
• Switch white pasta and rice for whole grain equivalents. It will lower your risk of stroke and keep you feeling full longer.
• Keep a bowl of fruit or veggies clean and ready to eat so that you have a healthy snack to munch on if you get hungry.
• Keep a food diary so you can see what adjustments need to be made to your diet and to motivate you to continue eating healthy.
• Use smaller plates and bowls so that you dish out smaller portions.
Changing your diet after a stroke is hard but vitally important. See if a friend or a loved one is willing to make the lifestyle change with you. When you have a support system by your side, you can keep each other accountable, make healthy meals together, and the change will seem much more manageable.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Nickie Kaetzel is a clinical dietitian at Fisher-Titus Medical Center. For help in reaching your health and wellness goals, contact your primary care physician for a referral for outpatient nutrition counseling.