Want to avoid a stroke? Reach for fruits and veggies, new research suggests.
The new European study of more than 418,000 people found that what you eat can influence your risk for different types of stroke.
"The most important finding is that higher consumption of both dietary fiber and fruit and vegetables was strongly associated with lower risks of ischemic stroke," said study lead author Tammy Tong. She's a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Oxford in England.
This study involved patients from nine European countries, and it investigated how diet affects both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke. Ischemic strokes — about 85% of cases — occur due to blockages in a vessel, while hemorrhagic strokes involve bleeds from blood vessels.
People who consumed greater amounts of fruit, vegetables, fiber, milk, cheese or yogurt had a lower risk of ischemic stroke, Tong's group found, but there was no significant association with hemorrhagic stroke. Eating more eggs was associated with a higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke, but not with ischemic stroke.
The total amount of fiber (including fiber from fruit, vegetables, cereal, legumes, nuts and seeds) was associated with the greatest reduction in the risk of ischemic stroke, the study found. Every 10 grams more of intake of fiber a day was associated with a 23% lower risk, which works out to two fewer strokes per 1,000 people over 10 years.
Fruit and vegetables alone were associated with a 13% lower risk for every 200 grams eaten a day, which is equivalent to one less stroke per 1,000 people over 10 years.
No particular foods were linked to a statistically significant higher risk of ischemic stroke, according to the study published Feb. 24 in the European Heart Journal.
Speaking in a journal news release, Tong advised that to help prevent a stroke, people should "increase their fiber and fruit and vegetable consumption, if they are not already meeting these guidelines."
Two experts in the United States agreed that diet is key to warding off a stroke.
"Higher consumption of red meat and eggs may also lead to higher non-HDL cholesterol and blood pressure, also increasing risk for ischemic stroke," explained Dr. Andrew Rogove, medical director of stroke services at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, New York. "This study suggests that a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, high fiber and dairy products may be protective for risk of stroke."
Katrina Hartog is a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition manager at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She said that "more and more, we are finding that plant-based diets have protective health benefits for reducing risk of many diseases, such as heart disease and now stroke."
But she stressed that this is an observational study, "so no cause-effect can be determined, only associations." Still, Hartog said, "this research sheds positive light on the impact of a diet high in fiber from fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains for ischemic stroke reduction."