Sunday, July 20, 2008

Healing Foods: Stroke Prevention

When we think of stroke, we often think of paralysis to some parts of the body.

A stroke can be referred to as a "brain attack" -it occurs when a blood vessel, which brings a continuous flow of oxygen and nutrients to the cells of the brain, clogs or ruptures. This damaged blood vessel can no longer transport vital nutrients to the brain and nerve cells. When this happens, even for a short time, the cells may stop working and die. Because these cells control how we receive and interpret sensations, injury to them can impair communication, memory, spatial-perception, physical and emotional behavior, and/or vision.

More than half a million people in the US suffer strokes every year, and about 145,000 of them are fatal. The effects of a stroke may be slight or severe, temporary or permanent, depending upon which part of the brain was damaged and which blood vessels were affected. Recovery depends upon the body's ability to redirect blood flow and repair the brain's blood supply. Although the incidence of stroke more than doubles with each decade after the age of 55, 28 percent of all strokes occur in people under 65. Men are about 30 percent more likely than women to have a stroke.


It's often difficult to determine the source of a stroke. One of the most common causes is thrombosis, which occurs when a clot-formed as a result of blockage in the artery wall, most likely from fat and cholesterol build-up-clogs a blood vessel. Clots can form anywhere in the body and travel to the blood vessels in the brain, resulting in an embolism. A stroke also can occur when a weak artery in the brain bursts and floods the surrounding tissue with blood. This is referred to as a hemorrhage. The accumulated blood from the hemorrhage may clot, interfering with brain function. This bursting is more likely to occur in people who suffer from atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and/or high blood pressure. Hemorrhages are most often fatal.

Certain symptoms sometimes precede a stroke, and must be brought to a physician's attention immediately:

  • A sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body.
  • Sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye.
  • Loss of speech, or trouble understanding speech.
  • Sudden severe headaches with no apparent cause.
  • Unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness, or sudden falls, especially in combination with any of the above symptoms.

Since the 1980s, there has been a decline in the fatality rate from strokes. Although improvements in medical care may be one reason, more significant is the public's ability to understand and anticipate some stroke risk factors. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the greatest risk factor for stroke. If high blood pressure is controlled, the risk of stroke is greatly reduced. By monitoring your blood pressure regularly, you can control the course of your health. In most cases, blood pressure can be controlled by eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and participating in regular exercise.


A low salt, or sodium, diet does not prevent high blood pressure in all people; however, it's a prudent course of action. About 75 percent of the sodium in the American diet comes from processed foods. The US government recommends that adults consume no more than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day-about one teaspoon of salt. In reality, only 10 to 20 percent of all Americans and perhaps half of all hypertensive individuals are sodium sensitive (sodium raises their blood pressure).

Studies have shown that when an average amount of sodium is included in a vegetarian diet, blood pressure is not elevated except for those who are sodium sensitive. However, a study last October in Nature Medicine and a May 1996 study in British Medical Journal, support a direct correlation between high salt intake and blood pressure. A study in May of 1996 in Journal of the American Medical Association concluded this was only true for persons over 45. It also found sodium restriction did not have a significant effect on those with normal blood pressure.

For sensitive people, salt causes the body to retain excess fluid; this leads to increased blood volume and elevated blood pressure. Studies also indicate that mild deficiencies of magnesium can contribute to high blood pressure. Foods high in magnesium include nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and green leafy vegetables.

According to data gathered on more than 800 middle-aged men participating in the Framingham Heart Study since the 1960s, eating fruit and vegetables appears to lower men's risk of strokes. For every three servings of produce eaten each day, stroke risk decreased by 22 percent. Hypertensive people seem to respond well to diets with equal amounts of sodium and potassium. Fruits are high in potassium, and potassium and sodium appear to work together to control blood volume.

Being overweight places a strain on the heart and all the blood vessels. This can lead to high blood pressure, as well as other stoke risk factors such as heart disease and adult-onset diabetes. Preventive measures for heart disease also are valuable for reducing your chances of stroke: increasing exercise, lowering stress, and eating a reduced-sodium, high-fiber diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.

To lower your stroke risk, develop a meal plan based on fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Walnuts and flax seeds are good sources of omega-3-fatty acids, which have been associated with reduced incidence of heart disease. These acids may reduce spontaneous sticking of platelettes-small structures in the blood that help your blood clot.

To maximize nutrients and flavor, begin with a variety of seasonal fruits, vegetables, and grains. The following recipes are tasty, offer a feeling of satiety, and are very low in fat and sodium. This healthy and satisfying combination is achieved through selected ingredients, cooking techniques, and balancing the sweet, sour, bitter, and pungent flavors of food.

Orange Bean Chili is a substantial dish that can be served with protein-rich grain or crusty bread. A high heat roasting technique brings out the sweetness of the onion without the use of fat. Garlic, which generally provides a pungent flavor, becomes mellower with roasting. Tomato paste, orange, and orange juice provide a balance of sweet and acidic flavors. Bitter flavors are provided by the spices, herbs, and orange zest, and a heat sensation associated with chili is carried through the red chilies. Toasted corn adds color to the dish, as do the red pepper, cilantro, and black and garbanzo beans.

Sweet Potato Polenta is a wonderful accompaniment to the chili. Polenta can be made plain and served as "mush" or the "mush" can be spread out in a sheet pan and baked, then sliced into squares or triangles. Spices and the natural saltiness of the soy milk supply the flavor usually provided by salt and fat. The natural sweetness of the potatoes rounds out the flavor.

Fruited Quinoa Salad The Fruited Quinoa Salad makes a wonderful side dish. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) has a bitter and nutty flavor. Fruit and fruit juices are used to balance the bitterness and increase potassium. Acidity from the lemon juice brings up sweetness, and the masala provides the aromatic flavor. The toasted flax seeds add a crunch to top off the dish.

With high heat cooking-either roasting, grilling, broiling, or dry sauteing, we can achieve intense flavors without relying on fat. Our palate senses different tastes which together form the flavor that makes us take another bite and another...

Sweet Potato Polenta

2 large sweet potatoes (about 1-1/2 pounds)
2-1/4 cups lite soy milk
2 cups water
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup polenta or cornmeal

1. Preheat oven to 400°. In a nonstick baking pan, bake potatoes until tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size and shape of potatoes. Remove potatoes and set aside until cool enough to handle. Using a spoon, scoop flesh into a bowl, and mash lightly with 1/4 cup of the soy milk. Set aside.

2. In a large pot, combine remaining soy milk, water, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Whisk in polenta. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes, until polenta is thick enough for a spoon to stand upright in it. Stir mashed potato into polenta, mixing well.

Makes about 6 cups.

V PER CUP: 161 CAL (8% from fat), 4g PROT, 2g FAT, 33g CARB, 42mg SOD, 0 mg CHOL, 3g FIBER

Orange Bean Chili

Roasting the onion, garlic, and corn improves and intensifies flavor. Some supermarkets carry roasted garlic puree in a jar to save you a step.

1 small onion, unpeeled
1 head garlic, unpeeled
1/2 cup corn, fresh or frozen
1-3/4 cups cooked black beans (or a 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (or 1/2 of a 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
1 medium orange
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup water
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon dried chile flakes
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Place onion, garlic, and corn on a nonstick baking sheet, and roast, stirring the corn occasionally, until it's browned, about 15 minutes. Remove browned corn and set aside to cool. Continue roasting the onion and garlic until soft, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

2. Slice off top of garlic and squeeze desired amount into a 2-quart saucepan. (Garlic is milder when roasted, so use as much as you like-a clove or the whole head! Store any unused garlic, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.) Peel onion, chop, and add to pan, along with corn and beans.

3. Grate enough zest from the orange to measure 1 teaspoon and add to the bean mixture. Peel orange, removing pith, then section and cut flesh into cubes. Set aside.

4. In a small bowl, stir together tomato paste, water, oregano, coriander, allspice, and chile flakes; add to beans. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in orange cubes and diced red pepper. Garnish with cilantro, if desired.

Makes about 4 cups.

V PER CUP: 238 CAL (5% from fat), 11g PROT, 1.3g FAT, 44g CARB, 14mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 10g FIBER

Fruited Quinoa Salad

Fruited Quinoa Salad Instead of the small amounts of several spices in this recipe, try 1/2 teaspoon of an exotic blend, if available, such as Indian garam masala, or Chinese 5-spice.

1 large shallot
1-1/2 teaspoons flax seeds
1 cup quinoa
2 cups orange or apple juice
1/8 teaspoon each, coriander and cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
1/3 cup diced dried apricots
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1-1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon each, cardamom and white pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Place unpeeled shallot on a piece of foil, and roast about 30 minutes, until tender. Set aside to cool, then peel and dice. While shallot roasts, toast flax seeds in a dry skillet, over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until they smell toasty and begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

2. In a 2 quart saucepan, combine quinoa, fruit juice, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until grain is softened and chewy and liquid is absorbed. Set aside to cool.

3. In a salad bowl, toss together the quinoa, apricots, cranberries, shallot, lemon juice, cardamom, and pepper. Garnish with flax seeds.

Makes about 2-1/2 cups.

V PER CUP: 396 CAL (10% from fat) 12g PROT, 5g FAT, 76g CARB, 11mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 10g FIBER

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