Tips for keeping your health in check after a stroke
Alyssa Crouch works at Encompass Health’s MidAmerica Rehabilitation Hospital as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Encompass Health is a national sponsor of the American Stroke Association’s Together to End Stroke initiative. Resources for living well after stroke can be found here.
Change can be overwhelming and changing something that most people encounter multiple times a day, such as meals and food choices, can be daunting, especially after suffering a stroke. One thing that can be helpful is to prioritize your nutrition goals and focus on just one goal a week or even per month. Starting with smaller target goals can help keep you on track to achieve overall success.
Ideas for goals include:
1. Increase your daily vegetable intake by at least 1 serving
The American Heart Association recommends 5 servings or 2.5 cups of vegetables a day based on a 2000 calorie diet. Including more vegetables in your diet not only adds beneficial nutrients, but it adds fiber which has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels and reduce blood pressure. For some, getting the full 5 servings a day is routine, for others it can be a struggle. If you find yourself in the latter group, try some creative ways to add in vegetables with your meals. Purchase pre-cut or pre-prepared options to help simplify meal prep. Keeping frozen or canned items with no added salt on hand makes it easier to add them into meals. You can also try sneaking vegetables into dishes that wouldn’t always have them (i.e. casseroles and pasta sauces) by shredding, dicing, or mashing them before you adding to the dish. And if you don’t like vegetables cooked one way, try something new! You can boil, steam, blanch, roast or grill most vegetables all of which will bring different textures and flavors.
2. Eat at least 1 serving of fish a week
The American Heart Association recommends eating 2 servings of fish (especially fatty fish) a week, based on a 2000 calorie diet, which is 3.5 oz. or ¾ cup flaked fish. Fish is not only a good source of protein but it’s also a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fatty acid required in the diet. Adequate intake of Omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and lower inflammation in the body. If you aren’t a big seafood eater, try keeping frozen shrimp or individually packed and frozen fish fillets on hand so you can quickly prepare them and add it to salads, tacos or pasta. Keep canned tuna in the pantry for an easy lunch mix of tuna with a mashed avocado, Greek yogurt or sour cream and seasonings to taste.
3. Prepare all your meals at home one week
Eating out can be a fun occasion, but you often don’t have control of how your food is being prepared. By cooking at home, you give yourself more of an opportunity to choose healthier options and prepare them with less sodium, added sugar and saturated fat. Look for an American Heart Association cookbook to start getting ideas on meals. You can also visit https://recipes.heart.org/en through the American Heart Association website for access to free recipes or download the free Simply Good cookbook for stroke survivors and their families. Designate an hour of time once a week to set up a meal plan, including a grocery list, so you are more likely to stick to the goal. Using something like a slow cooker will generally involve less standing in the kitchen and allow more flexibility with time. Enlist the help of others when needed or get the whole family involved by letting each member choose a recipe or ingredient to be used during the week.