Few things feel more terrifying and random than a stroke, which can strike without warning. And fear of stroke — when a blood vessel in or leading to the brain bursts or is blocked by a blood clot, starving brain cells of oxygen and nutrients — is well founded. After all, stroke is the number-three killer in the U.S., affecting more than 700,000 people each year. Here are five foods that cause the damage that leads to stroke.
1. Crackers, chips, and store-bought pastries and baked goods
Muffins, doughnuts, chips, crackers, and many other baked goods are high in trans fats, which are hydrogenated oils popular with commercial bakeries because they stay solid at room temperature, so the products don’t require refrigeration. Also listed on labels as “partially hydrogenated” or hydrogenated oils, trans fats are found in all kinds of snack foods, frozen foods, and baked goods, including salad dressings, microwave popcorn, stuffing mixes, frozen tater tots and French fries, cake mixes, and whipped toppings. They’re also what makes margarine stay in a solid cube. The worst offenders are fried fast foods such as onion rings, French fries, and fried chicken.
What to do
Aim to limit trans fats to no more than 1 or 2 grams a day — and preferably none. Avoid fast-food French fries and other fried menu items and study packaged food labels closely. Even better, bake your own cookies, cakes, and other snacks. When you can’t, search out “health-food” alternative snacks, such as Terra brand potato chips and traditional whole grain crackers such as those made by Finn, Wasa, AkMak, Ryvita, and Lavasch.
2. Smoked and processed meats
Whether your weakness is pastrami, sausage, hot dogs, bacon, or a smoked turkey sandwich, the word from the experts is: Watch out.
What to do
If a smoked turkey or ham sandwich is your lunch of choice, try to vary your diet, switching to tuna, peanut butter, or other choices several days a week. Or cook turkey and chicken yourself and slice it thin for sandwiches
3. Diet soda
Although replacing sugary drinks with diet soda seems like a smart solution for keeping weight down — a heart-healthy goal — it turns out diet soda is likely a major bad guy when it comes to stroke.
What to do
Substitute more water for soda in your daily diet. It’s the healthiest thirst-quencher by far, researchers say. If you don’t like water, try lemonade, iced tea, or juice.
4. Red meat
This winter, when the respected journal Stroke published a study showing that women who consumed a large portion of red meat each day had a 42-percent higher incidence of stroke, it got nutrition experts talking. The information that red meat, with its high saturated fat content, isn’t healthy for those looking to prevent heart disease and stroke wasn’t exactly news. But the percentage increase (almost 50 percent!) was both startling and solid; the researchers arrived at their finding after following 35,000 Swedish women for ten years.
What to do
Aim to substitute more poultry — particularly white meat — and fish, which are low in heme iron, for red meat. Also, choose the heart-healthiest sources of protein whenever you can, especially beans, legumes, nuts, tofu, and nonfat dairy.
5. Canned soup and prepared foods
Whether it’s canned soup, canned spaghetti, or healthy-sounding frozen dinners, prepared foods and mixes rely on sodium to increase flavor and make processed foods taste fresher. Canned soup is cited by nutritionists as the worst offender; one can of canned chicken noodle soup contains more than 1,100 mg of sodium, while many other varieties, from clam chowder to simple tomato, have between 450 and 800 mg per serving. Compare that to the American Heart and Stroke Association’s recommendation of less than1,500 mg of sodium daily and you’ll see the problem. In fact, a nutritionist-led campaign, the National Salt Reduction Initiative, calls on food companies to reduce the salt content in canned soup and other products by 20 percent in the next two years.
Some common, safe-sounding ingredients that really mean salt:
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Disodium phosphate
- Sodium alginate
What to do
Make your own homemade soups and entrees, then freeze individual serving-sized portions. Buy low-sodium varieties, but read labels carefully, since not all products marked “low sodium” live up to that promise.
By Melanie Haiken, Caring.com senior editor