How does a stroke affect eating and nutrition?
Stroke can devastate a person's nutritional health because it may limit his or her ability to perform daily activities associated with eating, such as grocery shopping, preparing meals and feeding oneself.
Stroke can also impair a person's ability to swallow. Swallowing problems may result from weakening of the tongue or loss of coordination of tongue movements. Food can become pocketed between the cheek and teeth and drooling may occur because of an inability to seal the lips.
The person may also:
- Choke and cough during and after meals
- Be unable to suck from a straw
- Lack a gag reflex
- Suffer from chronic upper respiratory infection
If calorie and nutritional needs cannot be met, the person may become malnourished, a condition characterized by weight loss and a poor appetite.
Diet modifications need to be individualized according to the type and extent of these impairments. A registered dietitian (RD) can develop a plan of care that will provide a satisfying and nutritionally adequate diet.
Management and Treatment
What are some tips for eating well with swallowing problems?
- Liquids of thicker consistency are easier to swallow.
- Drink eight cups of liquid each day to meet fluid needs.
- Very warm and well-chilled foods make swallowing easier.
- Eat small meals frequently throughout the day to meet nutrient needs.
- Eat moist foods, such as casseroles and foods with sauces.
How can I adjust my diet to reduce my risk of stroke?
A healthy diet can reduce your risk for acquiring medical conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, high lipid levels (high cholesterol), coronary artery disease and obesity. All of these conditions can increase your chance of having a stroke. Your genetics, history of prior stroke, age, sex, current weight, distribution of body fat, eating habits and fitness level also influence your risk.
Factors that tend to increase blood pressure:
- Being overweight
- Lack of exercise, sedentary lifestyle
- Low intake of some minerals, such as calcium and potassium
- High intake of sodium (salt)
To lower your risk of stroke, follow these guidelines:
- Eat a variety of foods.
- Maintain a healthy weight by balancing the calories you eat with physical activity.
- Choose more whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
- Choose foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Choose foods with moderate amounts of added sugar.
- Choose foods with moderate amounts of salt (sodium).
- If you drink beverages containing alcohol, consult your physician and do so in moderation.
Practical tips for getting started on a healthier diet and lifestyle:
- Be realistic: Make one or two small changes every month and stick to them, such as including a fruit and/or vegetable with each meal.
- Be adventurous: Expand your tastes and try a greater variety of foods.
- Be flexible: Balance what you eat and your physical activity over several days.
- Be sensible: Enjoy all foods; just don't overdo it.
- Be active: Walk the dog; don't just watch the dog walk!
- Seek assistance from a registered dietitian (RD) to help guide you in making these significant lifestyle changes toward healthier eating.
- American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Nutrition Tips for Stroke Survivors. (http://strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/LifeAfterStroke/HealthyLivingAfterStroke/Nutrition/Nutrition-Tips-for-Stroke-Survivors_UCM_308569_SubHomePage.jsp) Accessed 11/18/2021.
- Corrigan ML, Escuro AA, Celestin J, Kirby DF. Nutr Clin Pract. 2011;26(3):242-52. Nutrition in the stroke patient.
- National Stroke Association. Diet and Nutrition. (https://www.stroke.org/we-can-help/survivors/stroke-recovery/life-style/diet-and-nutrition/) Accessed 11/18/2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Stroke: Healthy Living. (https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/healthy_living.htm) Accessed 11/18/2021.
- Gershkoff A, Moon D, Fincke A, Dangaria H. Gershkoff A, Moon D, Fincke A, Dangaria H Gershkoff, Arthur, et al.Stroke Rehabilitation. In: Maitin IB, Cruz E. Maitin I.B., Cruz E Eds. Ian B. Maitin, and Ernesto Cruz.eds. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment: Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2014.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/14/2019.