Few things feel more terrifying and random than a stroke,
which can strike without warning. And fear of stroke -- when a blood vessel in
or leading to the brain bursts or is blocked by a blood clot, starving brain
cells of oxygen and nutrients -- is well founded. After all, stroke is the
number-three killer in the U.S., affecting more than 700,000 people each year.
Here are five foods that cause the damage that leads to stroke.
1. Crackers, chips, and store-bought pastries and baked
Muffins, doughnuts, chips, crackers, and many other baked
goods are high in trans fats, which are hydrogenated oils popular with
commercial bakeries because they stay solid at room temperature, so the
products don't require refrigeration. Also listed on labels as "partially
hydrogenated" or hydrogenated oils, trans fats are found in all kinds of
snack foods, frozen foods, and baked goods, including salad dressings,
microwave popcorn, stuffing mixes, frozen tater tots and French fries, cake
mixes, and whipped toppings. They're also what makes margarine stay in a solid
cube. The worst offenders are fried fast foods such as onion rings, French
fries, and fried chicken.
Why they're bad:
For years scientists have known trans fats are dangerous
artery-blockers, upping the concentrations of lipids and bad cholesterol in the
blood and lowering good cholesterol. Now we can add stroke to the list of
dangers. This year researchers at the University of North Carolina found that
women who ate 7 grams of trans fat each day -- about the amount in two doughnuts
or half a serving of French fries -- had 30 percent more strokes (the ischemic
type, caused by blocked blood flow to the brain) than women who ate just 1 gram
a day. Another recent study, also in women, found that trans fats promoted
inflammation and higher levels of C-reactive protein, which have been linked to
an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
What to do:
Aim to limit trans fats to no more than 1 or 2 grams a day
-- and preferably none. Avoid fast-food French fries and other fried menu items
and study packaged food labels closely. Even better, bake your own cookies,
cakes, and other snacks. When you can't, search out "health-food"
alternative snacks, such as Terra brand potato chips and traditional whole
grain crackers such as those made by Finn, Wasa, AkMak, Ryvita, and Lavasch.