Ashley Tallyn
Physical health

What you eat matters. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce your risk of stroke.

We all know diet is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But it can be hard to find the right foods.

There are no secrets to a healthy diet. But we’ve put together five tips to help.

If you’re looking to make a big change to your diet, you should always speak with your GP, nurse or dietitian first.

#1 Get your 5 a day

Fruit and vegetables are an important source of vitamins and minerals. You should aim to have five portions of fruit and vegetables every day.

Eating five portions may seem like a lot to aim for. But there are things you can do to make it easier.

  1. Make your plate colourful! Choose a colourful variety of fruits and vegetables in every meal, including leafy greens, orange and red fruit, or purple foods like aubergines and berries.
  2. Add extra fruit and veg to meals you already make. Add some frozen berries to your morning porridge. Or some chopped vegetables to a home-made pasta sauce.
  3. Swap unhealthy snacks for fruit and veg. Instead of crisps and chocolates, try a piece of fruit, or carrot sticks with houmous.
  4. It doesn't have to be raw. The fruit and vegetables you eat also do not have to be raw to count towards your five a day. They can be canned, frozen, cooked and tinned too.
  5. But pick the right tinned options. Choose fruit in juice rather than syrup, and vegetables in water without salt or sugar.

The NHS’s Eatwell Guide has more advice on getting your 5 a day.

#2 Eat more wholegrains

Wholegrains are linked to a lower risk of stroke. This is because wholegrains are a good source of both types of fibre. Foods that are high in fibre help to reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood.

Compared to white bread and pasta, wholegrain foods also tend to contain more vitamins and minerals, including B-vitamins and folic acid.

We've included a few tips for eating more wholegrains from our PDF: Healthy eating and stroke.

  • Start off by adding wholegrains into some of your main meals. Try brown rice instead of white, brown pasta and wholewheat couscous. Or add barley into a stew.
  • Look for wholegrain breakfast cereals and bread. Try bread made with rye and other grains.
  • Oats can help lower cholesterol. Why not try porridge for breakfast? Or try eating a couple of oatcakes as a snack?
  • If you are unable to eat gluten or wheat, alternative grains include buckwheat, corn, rice, quinoa and millet.

#3 Watch out for hidden salt and sugar

Eating too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for stroke.

Eating too many sugary foods is also bad for your health. It can cause you to put on weight if you're eating more than your body needs. This can increase your risk of having a stroke, as well as developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

What are the recommended amounts?

  • Salt: You should aim to eat no more than one teaspoon, or 6g, of salt each day.
  • Sugar: It’s recommended that adults consume no more than seven teaspoons, or 30g, of sugar a day.

We've got a few tips for reducing how much salt and sugar you eat:

  • Check the labels on processed food. It is important to check the labels when you buy processed foods. Look for the 'traffic light' system. Try to go for food that has more greens and ambers. Avoid the ones with lots of red.
  • Flavour your foods with herbs and spices, instead of salt. Lemon juice and garlic are also great ways to add flavour.
  • Make your own sauces instead of buying them ready made. This way you have control of how much sugar and salt goes into them.
  • If you take a dissolvable vitamins or painkillers when necessary, it's worth remembering that these can contain salt. Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are worried about this.

You can learn more about salt from this NHS guide. They also have tips on how you can cut down on sugar.

#4 Pay attention to oils and fats

We all need some fat in our diet. Fat is a valuable source of energy and it helps the body absorb certain nutrients. But eating too much fat can lead to weight problems and high cholesterol.

So we have to be careful to eat the right kind.

  • The two types of healthy fats are unsaturated fat and omega fatty acids.
  • The two main unhealthy fats are saturated fat and trans fat. These can increase your risk of stroke, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The NHS Eatwell Guide has a section all about fat, where you can learn more about choosing the right kinds of fat.

Try out some of our tips on how you can reduce unhealthy fat in your diet:

  • Dairy is a great source of calcium but it can also be high in fat. Try skim or semi-skim milk instead of full fat milk. You can also try low-fat alternatives to dairy.
  • Read the food labels and packets to know what the fat content is before you buy it.
  • Cut off any visible fat and skin before cooking meat. Crackling and poultry skin are much higher in fat than the meat itself.
  • Grill meat, rather than frying it. And avoid adding extra fat or oil when cooking meat. You could even roast meat on a metal rack above a roasting tin so the fat can run off.

#5 Choosing the right drinks

It's easy to overlook drinks as part of our diet. We all know about reducing fizzy drinks. But there are other drinks that could be adding extra sugars and salt to your diet.

The NHS Eatwell guide tells us to drink between 6-8 glasses a day. Water, lower-fat milks and lower-sugar or sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee, all count. Even your lunchtime soup can count towards it!

We've got a few tips to help you get enough fluid from the right kind of drinks:

  • Water, plain tea, some fruit teas and black coffee are great ways to quench your thirst without calories or sugar.
  • Drink fruit juice or smoothies for an easy way to get one of your 5 a day. Limit them to 150ml per day to reduce sugar and prevent damage to your teeth.
  • Watch out for 'fruit drinks' or 'sports drinks'. They won't count toward your 5 a day and may have a lot of extra sugar.
  • It's ok to drink tea and coffee as part of a balanced diet. But remember that caffeine can make the body produce urine more quickly.

You can find more information on eating a healthy diet on our website.

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