According to, about 741,800 Canadian adults aged 20+ live with the effects of a stroke. One-quarter of Canadians living with stroke are under the age of 65. However, previous estimates of stroke prevalence may have massively underestimated the true number of individuals experiencing the effects of stroke in Canada! (pause)

I am here today to talk to you about the reality of limited mobility and decreased function that many stroke survivors face, and the promise of hope for better recovery (and maybe even increased survival rates). At the end of this presentation, I am going to leave you with a few tips on how you can prevent a stroke entirely, so that you will hopefully never have to apply what I am going to teach you today!

Strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is suddenly reduced, which may leave the affected person with brain damage that impairs their thinking. (pause) Those statistics that I started with are pretty startling, eh? It’s actually shocking the number of people who deal with this tragic life event. Having gone through it myself not once, but twice, I think that I have a rather unique perspective! After having to essentially give up my life for my recovery, I became determined to help make every other stroke survivor’s tomorrow a little better.

It turns out that proper nourishment can help with both a speedy recovery from a stroke, as well as help in avoiding a second stroke by aiding recuperation and by reducing several stroke risk factors influenced by food choices (including obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure). Although my stroke was classified as a hemorrhagic stroke and these risk factors include other kinds of strokes as well, the same treatment plan should help all of them.

So after much research, it was discovered that the following three food recommendations may help with stroke recovery because they promote the growth of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is the perfect fuel for stroke recovery, because it enhances neurogenesis, which involves the creation of new neurons in the brain (this is different from neuroplasticity, which involves the rewiring and reorganizing of the brain). Neurogenesis is important during stroke recovery because your brain needs to regenerate new cells and pathways to compensate for the damage caused by the stroke.

So the first recommendation (and maybe the most important one!) is to try and avoid saturated fat and refined sugar. Studies show that saturated fat and sugar reduce BDNF, neuroplasticity and decrease learning. They also stifle your brain’s ability to grow new brain cells, rewire your current cells and relearn the abilities that were impaired after stroke.

Saturated fats can be found in many sneaky places you may not even think: dairy (like cream, butter, milk, cheese, even ghee), meat (like fatty cuts of beef, pork or lamb, as well as processed meats like salami, sausages and chicken skin), even palm and coconut oils! Refined sugar is typically found in any packaged foods that have sugar listed in the ingredients. One thing to watch out for is that refined sugar can be masked under the names invert sugar, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, corn syrup and brown rice syrup. Even organic sugar is still refined sugar! The best route is to simply try and avoid all sources of saturated fats and sugars.

The second recommendation is to try adding omega-3’s to your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help normalize BDNF levels and protect against reduced plasticity and impaired learning after traumatic brain injury. Since you want to activate as much neuroplasticity as possible during stroke recovery, the best course of action is absolutely to focus on getting your omega-3’s. Some excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids include chia seeds, salmon, flaxseed, hemp seeds and egg yolks.

The third recommendation is to try adding something like blueberries to your diet. Blueberries are well-known for their memory-boosting qualities, but they also help boost neurogenesis and cognitive function. Studies have shown that blueberry supplementation led to improvement in some cognitive abilities, possibly due to the impact of flavonoids on cell signalling pathways that involve BDNF. In other words, the flavonoids (antioxidants) in blueberries help boost brain function and neurogenesis. The flavonoids in other fruits and vegetables should also prove effective.

There are certain other foods that may also help with recovery after a stroke. Stroke survivors who eat plenty of leafy greens, fish and other healthy foods may help preserve their brain function as time goes on. Leafy greens (such as spinach, kale and collard greens) contain nutrients that appear to support brain function, including things like vitamin K, folate, beta-carotene and lutein.

Harvard researchers analyzed the diets of 114,000 people over a period of 8 to 14 years. They found that eating more fruits and vegetables (especially certain varieties) reduced subjects' stroke risk by 19 to 32%! This powerful point is driven home even more when you look at the numbers:

·         Eating one daily serving of cruciferous veggies(broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage) may reduce your risk of stroke by 32%

·         Eating one daily serving of citrus juice may reduce your risk of stroke by 25% (citrus fruit rings in at a 19% reduction in risk)

·         Eating one daily serving of leafy greens may reduce your risk of stroke by 21%

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, you can cut stroke risk by 8% with a daily serving of a magnesium-rich food. Maximize your intake by enjoying plenty of avocados, whole grains, beans and leafy greens. Also, eating more potassium-rich foods such as beans is a practice that may offer protection against stroke. New research shows that increasing dietary potassium helps decrease blood pressure, which also helps lower stroke risk.

For a lifestyle recommendation when it comes to stroke prevention, the most important thing that you can do is to work on managing your stress levels. Chronic, long-term stress can eventually lead to a stroke if left untreated. Stress hormones can increase blood pressure, and when those hormones are around long-term, it can lead to chronic high blood pressure, which is one of the leading causes of stroke. Some stroke risk factors that are aggravated by chronic stress include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, artery disease (also known as atherosclerosis), heart disease and smoking.

One of the most important things to remember is that meal time should be sustaining to both spirit and body... so when planning meals for this specific population, one should always make sure that the client’s mental state is also looked after. Try including things like yoga or tai-chi (both of which should help further reduce blood pressure), or perhaps recommend joining a walking group. Any low-impact activity that includes a mindfulness component should definitely help one with their recovery after a stroke.

If food can be the tool we use as practitioners to help our clients who have been through an event such as a stroke to regain full functionality, then I believe we have a huge opportunity here to help a lot of people. Going through an event such as a stroke can have such a negative impact on someone’s life, and as practitioners, it is up to us to help cushion the blow.

One way that we can help our clients best is to educate them on ways to possibly prevent something like a stroke from ever happening in the first place. Here are a few ways to help your clients to start decreasing their stroke risk today:

·         Get them to lower their blood pressure

o   High blood pressure is a huge risk factor, doubling or even quadrupling your stroke risk if it is not controlled. High blood pressure is the biggest contributor to the risk of stroke in both men and women

o   The goal should be to work on maintaining a blood pressure of less than 135/85 (however, for some, a less aggressive goal such as 140/90 may be more appropriate)

o   This can be achieved by reducing salt intake to about half a teaspoon a day, avoiding high-cholesterol foods, eating lots of fruits and veggies, and getting more exercise

·         Work with them on losing weight

o   Obesity, as well as the complications linked to it (including high blood pressure and diabetes), raises your odds of having a stroke. If you're overweight, losing as little as 10 pounds can have a real impact on your stroke risk

o   While an ideal body mass index (BMI) is 25 or less, that may not be realistic for everyone. Your clients should work with their doctor to create a personal weight loss strategy

·         Get them to exercise more

o   Exercise contributes to losing weight and lowering blood pressure, but it also stands on its own as an independent stroke reducer

o   Try to get your clients to exercise at a moderate intensity at least five days a week. This can easily be achieved by starting something like taking a walk around the block a few times a week, joining a fitness club, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator

·         Drink, but in moderation

o   Drinking a little alcohol may actually decrease your risk of stroke. In fact, studies show that if you have about one drink per day, your risk may be lower, but once you start drinking more than two drinks per day, your risk goes up very sharply. This is easy to achieve by having no more than one glass of alcohol a day

o   Make red wine your first choice for an alcoholic drink. It contains resveratrol, which is thought to protect the heart and brain

o   Also, watch your portion sizes! A standard-sized drink is a 5-oz. glass of wine, 12-oz. beer, or 1.5-oz. glass of hard liquor

·         For goodness sakes, quit smoking!

o   Smoking accelerates clot formation in a couple of different ways. It thickens your blood, and it increases the amount of plaque buildup in the arteries

o   Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, smoking cessation is one of the most powerful lifestyle changes that will help you reduce your stroke risk significantly

In conclusion, I believe that it is up to us as health care practitioners and providers to be trailblazers for our clients and help lead them down the path that will ultimately lead to better health, well-being and vitality. If we can do this using a tool as simple and accessible as healthy food, then I believe that we have a great opportunity to maximize a lot of people’s health and hopefully reduce the number of people who will go through an event such as a stroke in their lifetime.

I hope that you leave here today inspired by how much good we can do as practitioners, and that you will join me in raising awareness of the fact that stroke can be a preventable thing! We just need to give our bodies the right fuel.