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.

Diet for stroke prevention typically involves eating lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and foods low in added salt.

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.

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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.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating:

Be mindful that some types of fish contain more mercury than others. Smaller fish, such as sardines, contain beneficial nutrients without harmful levels of mercury. A person may wish to aim to eat these twice a week.

Some foods to reduce or avoid include:

Some people experience difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, after a stroke.

The AHA suggests ways of modifying recipes to accommodate the needs of adults who have had a stroke. The suggestions align with the International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative, which describes different food consistencies people can use based on how severe the symptoms are. They include the following:

  • 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:

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:

  • avocado
  • banana
  • soft cheeses
  • yogurt

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
  • fruits
  • 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

High blood pressure is the most common stroke risk factor. Diet can help to manage it. Many of the dietary changes that can help reduce future strokes can also help with blood pressure.

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 can be harmful.

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

In a 2021 study, using high amounts of herbs and spices in food lowered blood pressure. The study involved 24 different herbs and spices, including:

Other aspects of diet and lifestyle, such as drinking alcohol and smoking, can also affect blood pressure.

Learn about the link between high blood pressure and stroke.

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 important for people in this group to limit foods that contain added sugar, such as:

  • candy and chocolate
  • ice cream
  • sweetened yogurts
  • baked goods
  • drinks with added sugar, such as soda, juices, sports drinks, or energy drinks

Some people may also need to count the overall number of carbohydrates they eat each day. This can help with managing blood sugar and determining how much insulin to use.

People can discuss managing several medical conditions through their diet with a registered dietitian. Medicare covers this for people with diabetes.

Learn about the link between diabetes and stroke.

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:

  • the American Stroke Association’s Simply Good online cookbook, which is also available in Spanish
  • stroke support groups, which people can find locally using this tool
  • the Stroke Family Warmline, which provides support for caregivers and family members

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.