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Diet Habits That Are Increasing Your Risk of Stroke, According to Science

Consider dropping these habits if you want to protect your brain.

Getting older doesn't automatically come with an increased risk of age-related health issues such as stroke. While stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., with 795,000 people experiencing one each year, this condition is still preventable by making healthy choices.

A stroke occurs when blood circulation to the brain fails, which can cause brain cells to die from decreased blood flow and a lack of oxygen. This could cause speech, movement, eating, and cognitive issues—and in severe cases—death.

A few factors that increase your risk of stroke are out of your control, such as gender and family history, but the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke notes that are also many treatable and preventable risk factors—like cigarette smoking, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol levels, hypertension, and obesity—that are just as, if not more, closely linked to risk of stroke.

In fact, a study published in the journal Circulation found that poor lifestyle choices accounted for more than half of stroke incidences. When the researchers asked study participants to make five healthy lifestyle choices—not smoking, moderate intake of alcohol, maintaining a body mass index under 25, daily exercise for 30 minutes, and a healthy diet score in the top 40%—to reduce their stroke risk, those who were able to achieve all five had an 80% reduction of stroke compared with participants who achieved none.

Maintaining a healthy diet is just one of the ways you can reduce your risk of stroke. After scanning through countless studies, we compiled a list of the diet habits that are increasing your risk of stroke so you know what you need to change to protect your brain. For more on how to eat healthy, don't miss the 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

You're a big fan of salty foods.

woman making sandwich bread lettuce cheese deli meat for lunch

If pretzels, french fries, deli meats, canned soups, and other foods high in sodium are part of your regular diet, you may be more likely to suffer from a stroke, according to a study published in BMJ. Eating too many salty foods can increase your risk of elevated blood pressure, a preexisting condition that accounts for 54% of stroke cases worldwide, per the American Heart Association. The nonprofit organization recommends capping your sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. If you like to frequent the drive-thru, then you may want to take a look at these 19 Best Low-Sodium Fast Food Orders, According to Dietitians.

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You hate bananas.

woman throwing banana out of car

. . . And other foods high in potassium, such as beans, beets, potatoes, spinach, and tomato sauce. Your body doesn't produce this mineral naturally, so it's important to consume it through healthy foods and drinks. As an electrolyte, potassium helps with fluid balance, and it can help rid the body of excess sodium. Because diets high in potassium lower blood pressure—a risk factor for stroke—consuming inadequate potassium levels could increase your stroke risk along with your risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a Journal of the American College of Cardiology meta-analysis.

You rely heavily on processed foods.

Woman reaching for junk sweet donut instead over fruits and vegetables

A review of 25 years of data that included a total of 121 publications analyzed the link between diet and stroke risk. In addition to low-sodium and high-potassium diets, researchers also found that consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is each likely to reduce stroke risk. Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains help to crowd out foods and nutrients that are more likely to increase your risk of stroke, such as fatty and salty foods. Plus, produce is high in free-radical-fighting antioxidants, which have been linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular issues.

You prefer bottled salad dressing.

Bottled salad dressing

We commend you for having that salad, but opting for a standard, store-bought salad dressing may be depriving you of reaping the stroke-preventing benefits of olive oil. Most bottled salad dressings are made with vegetable oil—either canola or soybean oil—and rarely feature the staple fat of the Mediterranean diet.

Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, extra virgin olive oil can account for as much as 20% of calories in Mediterranean diets! A British Journal of Nutrition meta-analysis found that consuming this oil is linked to a significantly reduced risk of stroke. However, the review was purely observational, and the researchers weren't able to determine how olive oil can help reduce your risk of stroke.

Take a step toward better dietary habits, and invest in a good bottle of extra virgin olive oil. All you need to make a homemade salad dressing is a drizzle of EVOO and a splash of vinegar!

READ MOREWhat Happens To Your Body When You Eat Olive Oil

You never order the fish.

alaskan pollock

Think outside the box: If your protein of choice is always chicken, you may be missing out on the preventative benefits of fish. Compared with those who never consumed fish or ate fish less than once per month, participants who ate fish one to three times a month had a significantly lower incidence of stroke than those who never ate fish, according to a study published in the journal Stroke.

You always order another round.

women drinking wine

If you drink alcohol in moderation—that's one drink per day for women and one to two per day for men—then you don't have to be too concerned, especially if your drink of choice is wine. But if you're drinking half a bottle of wine or more per night, then you may want to second guess your alcohol habits. Alcohol has been linked to stroke risk since 1725, likely because long-term drinking of more than two servings of alcohol per day can cause high blood pressure, according to a Current Hypertension Reports review.

If you're looking for a couple more reasons to avoid alcohol, don't miss the Surprising Side Effects of Not Drinking Alcohol, Say Experts.

Olivia Tarantino
Olivia Tarantino is the Managing Editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in nutrition, health, and food product coverage. Read more about Olivia