If there existed a condition that was in the top five causes of death and a leading cause of disability in the U.S., affected someone in the U.S. every 40 seconds, totaling more than 795,000 people each year, and there was something you could do to significantly reduce your risk of it happening to you, you’d do it wouldn’t you?

There is such a condition, and that condition is stroke. Studies show that you can reduce your stroke risk by 80% by eating a healthful diet and making healthy lifestyle changes. The risk for stroke increases with age, the incidence doubling with each decade after the age of 45 years and over 70% of all strokes occur above the age of 65. Making healthy choices becomes even more important with each year that passes.

The research

In the U.S. Health Professionals study and the Nurses’ Health Study, poor lifestyle choices accounted for more than half of all strokes. Study participants who adhered to the five pillars of stroke prevention — did not smoke, had a body mass index of less than 25, took part in at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity, consumed alcohol in moderation (less than 9 drinks a week for women or less than 14 for men), and scored within the top 40% of a healthy diet score — had an 80% reduction of stroke compared with participants who followed none of those healthy diet and lifestyle measures. A study out of Sweden, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, found a similar benefit.

An analysis of 13 studies found following a Mediterranean-style diet alone, characterized by high amounts of olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables and cereal; moderate amounts of fish and poultry; low consumption of dairy products, red and processed meat, and sweets; and consuming wine in moderation was associated with a 30 percent reduced risk of having a stroke.

How diet helps prevent stroke

Diet can reduce the risk of stroke in a variety of ways, including helping to lower blood pressure [the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) are quite similar], lowering blood cholesterol and triglycerides (compounds that may clog arteries), preventing blood clots from forming, reducing inflammation, helping to regulate blood sugar, increasing the “good” bacteria in the colon, and aiding in weight management.

Bottom line

Diet is a critical part of stroke prevention, regardless of age. Pairing a healthy and balanced diet with the four other pillars of stroke prevention can significantly reduce your risk and protect your health against other disease conditions as well. According to the American Stroke Association, one in four stroke survivors will have a second stroke. Because the risk of having a second stroke is high, following a healthy diet and lifestyle is the best approach for protecting your future health.

Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition.