Diet can be an instrumental factor in preventing or hastening the onset of a stroke.

Alice Mackintosh, nutritionist at The Food Doctor said: "Though genetic predisposition plays a part in the development of cardiovascular issues, it has been hypothesized that most cases of stroke can be prevented by living a healthy lifestyle, thereby reducing risks of further compromising heart health. Factors that can make one more susceptible to strokes include: smoking, stress, low physical activity, a high saturated fat diet, high cholesterol levels, uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure."

What healthy diet changes can you make in 2014, and what should you look at avoiding? We asked three experts for their advice.

Liver-supporting foods
You may ask what this has to do with your heart, but the liver is where cholesterol is actually made. Nutritionist Karen Poole says this includes onion, garlic, cabbage, fennel, broccoli, watercress, celery, radish, rocket, chicory, garlic, artichoke, and spinach into your weekly holiday diet.

"The liver initially makes cholesterol and then breaks it down when it has performed its tasks and a healthy liver will function more efficiently and is therefore, essential for effective overall blood cholesterol regulation. The liver will no doubt take a bashing over the festive season so make sure to give it some TLC."

meat pie

Cut out pastries and fatty meats
Recently findings have revealed that while all saturated fats are not evil when it comes to heart disease and strokes, trans fats should be avoided as much as possible. This - sad to say - will include all the things we like. Yvonne McMeel, resident nutritionist at Urban Retreat says these are "heavily processed food; meat pies, sausages and fatty cuts of meat, lard, cream, hard cheese, cakes and biscuits."

Omega-3
"Cholesterol balancing omega 3 fats has been shown to significantly reduce the risks of strokes," says Alice. "In particular, omega-3 fatty acids which can be obtained from fatty fish (e.g. salmon, herring and mackerel), walnuts, hempseed and even green leafy veg have stroke protective properties. by inducing vasodilation of blood vessels, they reduce the risk of blood clots whilst also decreasing platelet deposition in the arteries and veins, leading to a reduction of plaque build-up that can lead to a rise in blood pressure."

B12, folic acid and B2
"High levels of homocysteine, a byproduct of regular protein metabolism produced daily by everyone, is becoming widely recognised as an indicator for potential stroke and CVD issues," advises Karen.

"The good news is by increasing your intake of B12 ,B2 and folic acid you can affect your homocysteine levels and reduce the risk of cholesterol oxidisation (cholesterol is most dangerous when it is oxidised ) and subsequent plaque formation. Almonds, avocado, eggs, barley, wholegrains, broccoli, herring, salmon, sardines, beans, yeast, soy beans, green leafy vegetables, sprouts, endive and lentils.

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  • Chocolate

    A Swedish study in the journal <em>Neurology</em> showed that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/30/chocolate-stroke-risk-men_n_1841314.html">eating chocolate</a> is linked with a lower risk of stroke in men. The study, which included 37,103 men, showed that men who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/30/chocolate-stroke-risk-men_n_1841314.html">ate the most chocolate</a> in the 10-year study had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke, compared with those who didn't report eating any chocolate during that time period.

  • Whole Grains

    Eating lots of whole grains could help to <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11000647">lower risk of ischemic stroke for women</a>, according to a study in the <em>Journal of the American Medical Association</em>. The findings showed that women who ate the <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=117936&page=1#.UHL5F_mfGPJ">most whole grains</a> in the study (like the amount you'd get by eating two or three whole grain bread slices every day) had a 30 to 40 percent lower stroke risk, compared with women who ate the fewest whole grains in the study (like the amount you'd get by eating just a half-slice of whole grain bread every day), according to ABC News.

  • Citrus Fruits

    An <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/26/citrus-stroke-risk-antioxidant-flavonoid_n_1299753.html">antioxidant found in citrus fruits</a> could help to lower risk of stroke in women, according to a study of 70,000 women earlier this year in the journal <em>Stroke</em>. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital found that women who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/26/citrus-stroke-risk-antioxidant-flavonoid_n_1299753.html">consumed the most flavonoids</a> over a 14-year period had a 19 percent lower risk of stroke than the women who consumed the fewest flavonoids during that time period.

  • Antioxidants

    While antioxidants aren't exactly a food on their own, fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are rich in them are linked with a lower stroke risk for women. Research published in the journal <em>Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association</em> showed that women with no heart disease history who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/03/antioxidants-stroke-risk-diet-food-vegetables-fruits_n_1124102.html">consumed the most antioxidants</a> from food had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke, and women <em>with</em> a heart disease history who consumed the most antioxidants from food had a <em>57</em> percent decreased risk of hemorrhagic stroke. The researchers, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, speculated that the protection comes from <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/03/antioxidants-stroke-risk-diet-food-vegetables-fruits_n_1124102.html">antioxidants' ability to stop inflammation </a>and oxidative stress in the body by neutralizing harmful free radicals. Antioxidants can also help to reduce blood clots and lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation, <a href="http://newsroom.heart.org/pr/aha/vegetables-fruits-grains-reduce-219833.aspx">according to the American Heart Association</a>.

  • Low-Fat Dairy

    Consuming low-fat dairy could help to <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2012/04/20/skim-milk-drinkers-rejoice-you-may-have-a-lower-stroke-risk/">lower the risk of stroke</a>, according to a <em>Stroke</em> study. The research showed that the adults who <a href="http://www.webmd.com/stroke/news/20120419/low-fat-dairy-may-help-reduce-stroke-risk">consumed the most low-fat dairy</a> over a 10-year period had a 12 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who consumed the least low-fat dairy over the time period. "It is possible that <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-04/aha-eld041612.php">vitamin D in low-fat dairy foods</a> may explain, in part, the observed lowered risk of stroke in this study because of its potential effect on blood pressure," study researcher Susanna Larsson, Ph.D., associate professor of nutritional epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet, said in a statement.

  • Magnesium-Rich Foods

    Foods <a href="http://www.webmd.com/stroke/news/20120119/magnesium-rich-foods-may-lower-stroke-risk">loaded with magnesium</a> -- like beans, nuts leafy greens and whole grains -- are linked with a lower risk of ischemic stroke, WebMD Reported. The findings, published in the <em>American Journal of Clinical Nutrition</em>, showed specifically that for each 100 milligrams of magnesium consumed each day, ischemic stroke risk went down by 9 percent.

  • Fish

    Making sure to <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/26/us-fish-stroke-idUSTRE78P07V20110926">eat some fish</a> every week could help to lower risk of stroke, according to a review of studies published in the journal <em>Stroke</em>. Reuters reported on the study, which showed that eating fish several times a week was linked with a lower risk of stroke, compared with non-fish eaters. "I think overall, fish does provide a beneficial package of nutrients, in <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/09/26/us-fish-stroke-idUSTRE78P07V20110926">particular the omega-3s</a>, that could explain this lower risk," Dariush Mozaffarian, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, whose research was part of the <em>Stroke</em> analysis, told Reuters.

Fresh fruit and vegetables
We already know fresh fruit and veg is good for us, but when it comes to stroke prevention, Yvonne reveals it has a crucial role. "Vegetables are a good source of potassium which is the natural antagonist of sodium; it will help reduce blood pressure."

Both are packed with antioxidants which support the body's healing process. When it doubt, go for fruit and vegetables with the darkest colours. Alice adds: "Super foods such as goji berries, hempseed and acai can also protect against plaque build-up in arteries and should be consumed with regularity."

Oats
These play a key role in lowering cholesterol. "Beta glucans, present in oats, can help to lower cholesterol levels," says Karen, "as they bind to dietary fats and carry them out of the body before they can be digested and absorbed."

Garlic
"Fresh garlic contains several compounds, the most important of which is allicin," says Yvonne. "This has been shown to protect against high blood pressure, infections, indigestion amongst other conditions. Several studies have shown that it can reduce harmful cholesterol by about 12 per cent, and inhibits new growth of plaque in the arteries that can lead to heart attack or stroke. Garlic may also inhibit the growth of cancer cells and strengthen the immune system."

SEE ALSO:

Cannabis 'May Help Stroke Recovery'

Lowering Blood Pressure And Cholesterol Can Halve Heart Disease Risk Among Obese

Do's And Don'ts Checklist

  • DO take part in physical activity (30mins 5 days per week)
  • DO eat foods rich in folate, such as beans and pulses, green leafy veg and eggs, magnesium and potassium
  • DO build relaxation time into each day to reduce stress as cortisol release induces vasoconstriction (arteries contracting). Just 20 minutes per day could make a difference
  • DO keep to a healthy weight especially around the middle as visceral fat can release substances that disrupt hormone regulation and may raise blood pressure
  • DON'T continue to smoke
  • DON'T drink too much (no more than 2 drinks per day)

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  • Apples Lower Cholesterol

    One medium-sized apple contains about <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1809/2" target="_hplink">four grams of fiber</a>. Some of that is in the form of pectin, a type of soluble fiber that has been linked to <a href="http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Heart_Letter/2009/October/11-foods-that-lower-cholesterol" target="_hplink">lower levels of LDL or "bad" cholesterol</a>. That's because it <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart/news/20110412/apple-good-for-your-heart" target="_hplink">blocks <em>absorption</em> of cholesterol</a>, according to WebMD, helping the body to use it rather than store it. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/steenbergs/5003036427/" target="_hplink">Steenbergs</a></em>

  • Apples Keep You Full

    Apple's wealth of fiber can also keep you feeling full for longer without costing you a lot of calories -- there are about 95 in a medium-sized piece of fruit. That's because it takes our bodies longer to digest complex fiber than more simple materials like sugar or refined grains. Anything with at least <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/29/high-fiber-foods_n_1543165.html#slide=1019942" target="_hplink">three grams of fiber is a good source</a> of the nutrient; most people should aim to get about <a href="http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?isbn=0309085373 " target="_hplink">25 to 40 grams a day</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/joe57spike/5937593705/" target="_hplink">byJoeLodge</a></em>

  • Apples Keep You Slim

    One component of an apple's peel (which also has most of the fiber) is something called ursolic acid, which was <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120620212855.htm" target="_hplink">linked to a lower risk of obesity</a> in a recent study in mice. That's because it <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/06/21/apple-peel-compound-boosts-calorie-burning-reduces-obesity-in-mice_n_1614858.html" target="_hplink">boosts calorie burn and increases muscle and brown fat</a>, HuffPost UK reported. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/kasilof/5082397989/" target="_hplink">PLR_Photos</a></em>

  • Apples Prevent Breathing Problems

    Five or more apples a week (<em>less</em> than an apple a day!) has been linked with <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20405639_3,00.html" target="_hplink">better lung function</a>, <em>Health</em> magazine reported, most likely <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1343502.stm" target="_hplink">because of an antioxidant called quercetin</a> found in the skin of apples (as well as in onions and tomatoes), the BBC reported. And the breath benefits of apples extend even further: A 2007 study found that women who eat plenty of the fruit are <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/04/12/us-apples-asthma-idUSCOL25916220070412" target="_hplink">less likely to have children with asthma</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/londonlooks/5011156498/" target="_hplink">London looks</a></em>

  • Apples Fight Colds

    While they don't quite rival <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/27/vitamin-c-foods_n_1457397.html" target="_hplink">oranges</a>, apples <em>are</em> considered a good source of immune system-boosting vitamin C, with over <a href="http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1809/2" target="_hplink">8 milligrams per medium-sized fruit</a>, which amounts to roughly 14 percent of your daily recommended intake. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/free-stock/4899674251/" target="_hplink">Public Domain Photos</a></em>

  • Apples May Fight Cancer

    In 2004, French research found that a chemical in apples <a href="http://www.webmd.com/cancer/news/20041018/apple-day-for-cancer-prevention" target="_hplink">helped prevent colon cancer</a>, WebMD reported. And in 2007, a study from Cornell found additional compounds, called triterpenoids, which seem to <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070601181005.htm" target="_hplink">fight against liver, colon and breast cancers</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/21524179@N08/2086139540/" target="_hplink">nerissa's ring</a></em>

  • Apples Decrease Diabetes Risk

    A 2012 study published in the <em>American Journal of Clinical Nutrition</em> found that <a href="http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2012/02/20/ajcn.111.028894.abstract?sid=27948d70-4410-4250-8df4-da2a5954918d" target="_hplink">apples, as well as pears and blueberries</a>, were linked with a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/31/curcumin-diabetes-type-2-turmeric-curry-spice_n_1720326.html#slide=1302487" target="_hplink">lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes</a> because of a class of antioxidants, <a href="http://www.sharecare.com/question/what-are-anthocyanins" target="_hplink">anthocyanins</a>, that are also responsible for red, purple and blue colors in fruits and veggies. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/oth313/1760303362/" target="_hplink">oth313</a></em>

  • Apples Boost Brain Power

    The fruit has been linked to an uptick in acetylcholine production, <em>Good Housekeeping</em> reported, which communicates between nerve cells, so <a href="http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/nutrition/apple-health-benefits" target="_hplink">apples may help your memory</a> and lower your chances of developing Alzheimer's. A diet rich in antioxidants may have similar effects, so apples, since they are <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/11/041116215006.htm" target="_hplink">particularly rich in quercetin</a>, are a good bet, according to 2004 research. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/olmanson/3971847536/" target="_hplink">Shaina Olmanson / Food for My Family</a></em>

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