Can the Mediterranean Diet Lower Stroke Risk?

Research has shown the Mediterranean diet has many health benefits – it may reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and depression, to name a few. Now a new study in the journal Stroke shows it may also reduce the risk of stroke in women, particularly those at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke is caused by a rupture or clot in an artery that carries blood to the brain. When the brain is deprived of oxygen-rich blood, brain damage occurs, often resulting in disability or even death. In fact, stroke is the number one cause of disability in the United States and the fifth-leading cause of death.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

Inspired by the cuisine of coastal regions in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and North Africa, the Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle change you can stick with long-term, not a short-lived diet.

The American Heart Association recommends eating at least five servings of vegetables and fruits a day to reduce the risk of stroke. It’s easy to reach that number when following a Mediterranean-style meal plan.

This Mediterranean lifestyle emphasizes eating mostly plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans/legumes and nuts; swapping butter for plant-based oils like olive, avocado and canola oil; seasoning foods with herbs and spices, while limiting salt; eating fish or poultry at least twice a week; limiting red meat to only a few times per month; switching to low-fat dairy products; limiting processed grains and sugars; getting regular physical activity; and savoring meals with family and friends.

Another bonus is these foods help you stay satisfied and full, thanks to their protein, healthy fats, and fiber content.

What Are the Benefits?

This new study found that women who closely followed a Mediterranean-style meal plan had a 22% lower risk of stroke. While the study only found a significant reduction in stroke risk for women, eating a Mediterranean-inspired meal plan may still be beneficial for men. Numerous studies have noted the benefits of eating more vegetables and fruits and less meat and saturated fat.

The Mediterranean diet may be protective against stroke because it can reduce controllable stroke risk factors, including cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. When you follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and see your primary care physician for a yearly checkup, you are doing your part to reduce your stroke risk.

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Joel Callahan, Jr., MD

Board-Certified Neurologist
Pardee Neurology Associates

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