You are what you eat, and, in the case of fats, making natural, lean choices can help prevent a stroke.

A large, longitudinal study that will be presented at an upcoming American Heart Association (AHA) scientific session found that vegetable and polyunsaturated fats are connected with a lower risk of stroke, which is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This information, noted Dr. Amre Nouh, Hartford HealthCare’s System Director of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Disease, aligns with existing research connecting 80 percent of strokes with largely “modifiable” conditions like diabetes, obesity, sleep apnea, high blood pressure and alcohol abuse.

“Only about one-quarter of stroke has an unclear cause, which makes the condition preventable in large respect,” Dr. Nouh said.

A healthy lifestyle can actually reduce your risk of stroke by 80 percent. One element of a healthy lifestyle, Dr. Nouh said, is making positive dietary choices. The new research, out of the Harvard School of Public Health, indicates that only 22 percent of Americans follow AHA dietary guidelines that include a high-fiber diet based in plant foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and whole grains) with poultry and fish. Choices like carbohydrates, red meat and salt should be limited.

This, Dr. Nouh said, describes the Mediterranean Diet, which he recommends to everyone.

“It’s scientifically proven to be very beneficial in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease,” he said, adding that portion control is also key to maintaining a healthy weight, which can further improve risk of stroke.

Providers with the Hartford HealthCare Ayer Neuroscience Institute Stroke Center place a lot of emphasis on diet when working with patients who have had a stroke and want to prevent more.

“Unfortunately, sometimes it takes something bad, like a stroke, to push people to make changes to their lifestyle. What’s the incentive to modify their diet before?” he said. “With primary and secondary stroke prevention, the Mediterranean diet shows significant reduction in risk.”

The Stroke Center nurse navigator meets with stroke patients in the hospital and part of the educational booklet they hand out addresses healthy nutrition, he continued.

Separate research also connects the Mediterranean Diet to other positive health changes such as preventing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome, lowered risk of some cancers and cognitive dysfunction such as Alzheimer’s disease.

“If we go back to the fact that most stroke is preventable, following the Mediterranean Diet is the most effective step people can take to be healthy and avoid stroke,” Dr. Nouh said.

For more information on stroke, click here.