Diet is an important part of recovery following a stroke. It may involve making changes to help prevent further strokes, as well as adjustments that accommodate any symptoms a person has, such as difficulty swallowing.
Some people recovering from a stroke may also have other health conditions that require dietary changes, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. As these conditions may have contributed to the stroke, it is important to also address them.
Read on to learn more about balanced diets for stroke patients, including foods for stroke prevention, swallowing difficulties, and managing co-existing conditions.
One of the main aims of diets for people who have had a stroke is helping prevent future strokes. The Mediterranean diet is a common approach to this. It involves focusing on fresh produce, lean protein, and healthy fats such as olive oil.
- a variety of fruits and vegetables, ideally fresh, frozen, or canned
- whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, and barley
- legumes, such as beans, peas, and lentils
- lean proteins, such as chicken or tofu
- oily fish, such as salmon, sardines, or herring
- unsaturated fats, such as olive oil or avocado oil
- low fat dairy products, such as yogurt or skim milk
- nuts and seeds
Be mindful that some types of fish contain more mercury than others. Smaller fish, such as sardines, contain beneficial nutrients
Some foods to reduce or avoid include:
Some people experience difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, after a stroke.
- Level 4 modifications involve pureeing food so that chewing is not necessary.
- Level 5 foods are minced and moist, so they do not require biting.
- Level 6 foods are soft and bite-sized so that a person can safely chew and swallow the food.
- Level 7 includes regular foods that a person can eat as they typically would.
Foods that people can easily change into one of the above consistencies include:
- scrambled eggs
- baked fish, such as salmon
- minced meat, such as chicken or turkey
- root vegetables, such as carrots
A person’s medical team can also help with identifying what modifications are appropriate.
Other tips that may help with preparing softer foods include:
- cooking vegetables in water so they soften, rather than roasting or frying them
- sieving or straining foods to remove pips, seeds, husks, or skins
- cooking meat until it is very tender
Losing weight is a common side effect of a stroke, and it can have a negative effect on stroke outcomes. Diet is an important aspect of managing this, and it can help a person maintain or gain weight.
Nutrient-dense foods that contain a high number of calories in each portion can help prevent weight loss. Many of these are also adaptable for people with dysphagia. They include:
- soft cheeses
A person may also wish to try nut or seed butters. However, when trying these, it is important to ensure the consistency is runny enough to swallow them easily, as some nut butters can be very thick.
Another option is high calorie smoothies or shakes. People may be able to buy formulas that are suitable for after a stroke, or it is possible to make them at home. Some ingredients that may work for this include:
- protein powders, such as whey, pea, or soy protein
- nut powders or butters
- pasteurized egg whites
- natural sweeteners, such as dates or honey
- a liquid, such as water, milk, or plant milks
People may also be able to add extra calories to meals by:
- adding extra oil, such as olive oil
- using full-fat dairy products instead of ones that are low fat, if a doctor says doing so is safe
- trying smaller, more frequent meals instead of a few large meals
It is especially important for people with high blood pressure to monitor their sodium intake. Sodium is in salt. Humans need salt to survive, though too much
People can use more spices and less salt to add flavor to foods. Foods that can be high in salt include:
- processed meats, such as bacon
- salty snacks, such as potato chips
- canned soups
- convenience foods, such as frozen dinners, pizzas, or spice mixes
- preserved foods, such as olives in brine
Diabetes is another risk factor for a stroke, so if a person has both conditions, they will also need to consider how food will affect their blood sugar level.
It may be especially
- candy and chocolate
- ice cream
- sweetened yogurts
- baked goods
- drinks with added sugar, such as soda, juices, sports drinks, or energy drinks
People can discuss managing several medical conditions through their diet with a registered dietitian. Medicare covers this for people with diabetes.
If it is difficult for a person recovering from a stroke to chew, swallow, or consume enough calories, they should speak with a doctor as soon as they can. A doctor may be able to offer additional help or refer them to a dietitian for further support.
People can also speak with a doctor or dietitian if they would like additional help reducing their stroke risk or managing chronic conditions through their diet.
If a person is having difficulty shopping for or preparing food, an occupational therapist may be able to help them carry out day-to-day activities with more ease. This could involve making adjustments around the house to make movement easier and using large utensils that are easier to grip, among many other potential changes.
Some resources that may help include:
Diets for stroke patients can vary depending on their exact needs. Often, it includes making changes to help avoid future strokes. This can involve eating foods that promote cardiovascular health, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
For people who have difficulty preparing food, eating, swallowing, or helping prevent weight loss, diet may also involve modifications that make these activities easier. For example, soft foods can be easier to eat while still giving a person the nutrients they need.
A person should contact a doctor or dietitian for advice on what to eat following a stroke, especially if they have other health conditions that have their own dietary requirements.