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Best foods for seniors during stroke recovery

Written by Anna Bampton & Nick Denniston, Dietitians with integratedliving

Getting enough nutrition after stroke can help you heal better and lower the chances of another stroke. Find out the best foods to eat for stroke recovery.
 

Good nutrition plays an important role in our overall health and is crucial for seniors recovering from a stroke. Following a healthy diet, which includes key nutrition recommendations for stroke survivors, can assist with recovery, lowering the probability of another stroke and maintaining good physical and mental health.  

Unfortunately, about 50 percent of stroke survivors experience some swallowing and chewing difficulty which can make it challenging to eat well. This may result in malnutrition which can slow down recovery and lead to other health issues. 

It is important that you are assessed by a speech pathologist as soon as possible following a stroke as you may need a texture modified diet and/or thickened fluids in order to be able to eat and drink safely. If you are unsure how to follow this diet recommendation or you are struggling with poor appetite or loss of taste, a referral to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian is highly recommended to ensure your diet is nutritionally adequate.  

Here are some key foods recommended to optimise your nutrition for stroke recovery.  

Beans and legumes  

At the top of the list are beans and legumes. These vegetables are often overlooked as being a little bland or not as trendy as some of the super foods leading supermarket advertising, however they tick all the boxes in terms of their ability to help with stroke recovery. 

They are a great alternative to meat, providing the essential protein needed to assist with rebuilding strength. 

The fibre in beans and legumes is vital for lowering cholesterol, keeping blood sugar levels stable, managing your weight and keeping your bowels regular.  

Beans and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans and split peas are also typically low in fat and do not contain cholesterol. The fats they do contain are beneficial fats for heart health. In addition, these foods are high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium which are important nutrients in the prevention of stroke.   

More importantly, beans and legumes are soft in texture, therefore safe to consume if you are following a soft diet due to swallowing issues.

Fruit and vegetables

Studies have shown eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day can reduce your risk of stroke by up to 30 percent. They contain useful antioxidants that help to mop up free radicals and reduce damage to blood vessels, are low in salt to decrease the risk of hypertension and are high in fibre to decrease cholesterol levels. 

Fruit and vegetables are also naturally low in calories which prevents unnecessary weight gain. Some of these foods, such as banana and potatoes, are high in the mineral potassium, which helps control blood pressure – crucial to lowering stroke risk. 

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Fish (especially bony soft-bone and oily fish) 

We are often reminded of the benefits of fish and why we should include them more regularly in our diet. 

Fish are a good source of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats. These are polyunsaturated fats known as essential fats and they assist with decreasing the risk of stroke by keeping artery walls healthy, regulating blood clotting, lowering blood pressure and improving cholesterol profile. 

Fish are also high in protein (for example 120g of salmon  = 25 grams of protein) and great sources of Vitamin D. Studies have shown Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of stroke by 64 percent. 

Choose soft-bone fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and mackerel – these are good foods to eat after a stroke because they are high in calcium which can assist with controlling blood pressure. They are not a swallow risk as well because the bones are soft and completely edible.

Nuts and seeds*

Nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and flax seeds are a healthy source of protein which support re-building muscle mass strength and stroke recovery. As these foods are high in calories, you only need to consume them in small amounts, which can be helpful if you have a poor appetite or have experienced unintentional weight loss.  

These foods are also a good source of healthy fats – polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and Omega 3. They assist with increasing our good cholesterol levels and decreasing our bad cholesterol, therefore decreasing our risk of stroke.  

In addition, they are high in soluble fibre, which prevents the absorption of cholesterol from the bowel, therefore lowering the ‘unhealthy’ cholesterol levels.  

* IMPORTANT NOTE: Please note to avoid nuts and seeds if you are experiencing swallowing difficulties. Speak to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian if you are unsure. 

Wholegrains

Wholegrains have a low glycaemic index (GI)** which are helpful in the management of diabetes and decreasing the risk of stroke. Some examples of wholegrains include barley, brown rice, corn, buckwheat, quinoa and rye.  

An easy wholegrain to include in your diet are oats – they are a great choice for breakfast. Oats contain a fibre called beta-glucan which is beneficial for lowering cholesterol levels.  

Wholegrains are also a good source of folate which may reduce the risk of stroke and are high in antioxidants which can help reduce damage to blood vessels.

Oats are typically beneficial to include in your diet too due to containing a fibre called beta-glucan which is beneficial for lowering cholesterol levels.  

** NOTE: The GI rates carbohydrates according to how quickly they raise the glucose level of the blood. Eating foods with low GI is recommended for diabetics who needs to control their blood glucose levels.
 

Key nutrition points to remember: 
  • Avoid foods high in salt as this can increase your risk of hypertension. 
  • Include foods high in unsaturated fats (healthy fats) and avoid foods high in saturated fat to improve cholesterol levels.  
  • Limit intake of foods high in sugar to avoid damaging blood vessels. Foods high in sugar increases your risk of diabetes, which in turn increases your risk of a stroke.  
  • Limit alcohol intake – It is recommended to have no more than two alcoholic drinks per day and to include some alcohol-free days throughout the week. Alcohol contributes to many stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure and weight gain. 
     

Nutrition after a stroke plays a vital role in not only the recovery process following a stroke, but also in maintaining our health long term. Inclusion of the foods mentioned above can assist with improving your overall health while also decreasing the risk factors which could lead to further strokes occurring. 
 

Find out how we can help you eat better as you recover from stroke.