May is the 32nd annual Stroke Awareness Month. It was created in 1989 by the American Heart Association to promote stroke awareness and reduce the overall rate of stroke in the U.S.

Nutrition can play a vital role in the prevention of cardiovascular events such as experiencing a heart attack, congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease and stroke. By staying informed on the risks associated with stroke and the preventative measures you can take to lessen your odds, you may find how just a few lifestyle changes can end up benefiting you for a lifetime!

The AHA states that the following factors can increase the chances of having a stroke:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Tobacco use
  • Consuming an unhealthy diet (high in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol)
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
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Whether you may have a preexisting health condition or you’re just looking to better your cardiovascular health, consuming a healthy diet is one of the easiest modifiable factors of stroke prevention you can make.

So what’s nutrition’s role? By limiting your consumption of saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol, you can improve your lipid panel while lessening your chance of plaque buildup. Try to consume more lean meats, reduced or nonfat dairy products, and plant-based oils such as olive, canola and avocado oil. Poultry and fish are great lean-meat options. If you choose to eat red meat, round and loin cuts tend to be the leanest.

Along with consuming healthier fats, decreasing your daily intake of sodium can also help reduce the risk of stroke by better controlling your blood pressure. Avoid using salt excessively when cooking and baking; opt for sodium-free or reduced-sodium seasonings. Be mindful about convenience and processed foods. These food items don’t need to be altogether avoided; however they typically rack up a majority of our daily sodium needs, plus some. Look for food items that have 140 mg or less sodium per serving, and move that salt shaker to the back of the cupboard.

Lastly, don’t forget about your fruits and vegetables. Higher fruit and vegetable intake has been associated with lower risks of stroke, says the AHA. Eat the rainbow! The more colors you fill your plate with, the more nutrients you offer your body. Dietary guidelines recommend adults consume 2-3 cups of fruits and vegetables daily.

There are many fun spring recipes you can find online to incorporate more fruits and veggies into your routine while improving your cardiovascular health! The following recipe is an easy way to incorporate lean meat and delicious vegetables while getting to fire up the grill this spring and summer.

Grilled Chicken Skewers

Create your marinade. Spices such as sage, thyme, red pepper flakes, black pepper and bay can all add a tasteful edition to the chicken. If you choose to use a premade seasoning mix, look for salt-free or reduced-sodium choices. Whisk together seasonings with a plant-based oil, honey and minced garlic.

Prepare the chicken. Slice chicken breast into 1½-inch chunks. Add to marinade, cover and place in the fridge. Allow the marinade to sit from 2-12 hours. The longer it marinates, the greater the taste!

Slice your veggies — or fruit! You can choose to pick up your favorite vegetables or improvise quickly with what you have in the kitchen. From bell peppers, onion, zucchini and even pineapple; each will add a beautiful color while providing essential nutrients. Evenly distribute veggies or fruit between the pieces of chicken to avoid the vegetables falling off the skewers.

Time for the grill. Preheat your grill on high for 10 minutes. Preferred temperature is medium heat, 425-450 degrees. Place the skewers on the top grates and grill until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees. Be sure to rotate the skewers often with tongs so each side cooks well. Enjoy!

Kaddie Levine, RD, LD, is a dietitian for St. Luke's in Duluth.
Kaddie Levine, RD, LD, is a dietitian for St. Luke's in Duluth.

Kaddie Levine, RD, LD, is a dietitian for St. Luke's in Duluth.