By Clare Tone, M.S., R.D., Environmental Nutrition Newsletter
About 500,000 first-time strokes occur every year in the U.S. Since high blood pressure is the number one risk factor, it’s no surprise that managing high blood pressure through diet is a key focus. In October 2014 the American Stroke Association and the American Heart Association released newly revised guidelines for stroke prevention, recommending a Mediterranean or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet pattern while maintaining a healthy weight in order to control blood pressure and lower the risk of stroke.
A Mediterranean diet with nuts
This diet pattern is recommended based on the PREDIMED study, which was published April 2013 in The New England Journal of Medicine. This randomized, controlled trial involving more than 7,000 people at high cardiovascular risk showed a dramatic 34 to 49 percent reduction in stroke for those following a Mediterranean diet focusing on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and fish — with either mixed nuts or olive oil.
Those on the mixed nut diet (about 1/4 cup per day) saw the highest degree of risk reduction. According to Penny M. Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., distinguished professor of nutrition at Pennsylvania State University, “The results of the PREDIMED trial are very impressive because they demonstrate marked cardiovascular benefits of a healthful dietary pattern with nuts.”
First studied in the 1990s, ongoing research continues to show the DASH diet has a positive influence on cardiovascular health, including reduced blood pressure. The DASH diet emphasizes high potassium and low sodium consumption through ample daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. Saturated fats are decreased with low-fat dairy products and reduced intake of red and processed meats.
Putting it all together
While there are some differences between DASH and Mediterranean diet patterns, they share many features. Both are based on fresh, plant-based foods, which naturally increase potassium while decreasing sodium levels. The Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on fish and plant oils, such as olive oil and nuts, is naturally low in saturated fat, a key feature of DASH guidelines. While the Mediterranean diet includes wine in moderation, the DASH diet does not. The stroke prevention guidelines recommend heavy drinkers reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption while people who choose to drink should do so in moderation. While neither the DASH nor Mediterranean diets are specifically weight-loss diets, both can support a healthy weight in conjunction with an active lifestyle.
(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384. www.EnvironmentalNutrition.com.)