If you or someone you love has had a stroke, a speedy recovery and avoiding a second stroke will be top priorities. Proper nourishment can help with both of these goals, by aiding recuperation and by reducing several stroke risk factors influenced by food choices, including obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Stroke survivors often deal with obstacles which make mealtimes challenging. These can include diminished appetite, difficulties with swallowing and muscle weakness or dulled sensation in the hand or arm. Adaptive eating utensils such as rocker knives, which allow for the cutting of food with one hand, can help make mealtimes more comfortable and serene. Choosing appetizing, healthy food can also help. Here are 10 staples no stroke survivor’s kitchen should be without.

  1. No-salt seasoning – Robust, intensely flavored food can help stimulate the appetite. Substitute herbs and seasonings such as garlic, onion flakes or cayenne pepper for salt, which can spike blood pressure and increase water retention.
  2. Olive oil – Reducing fat intake and avoiding butter and trans fat is a must. A good alternative is olive oil, which is rich in monounsaturated fat and antioxidants like vitamin E. Olive oil drizzled on whole wheat toast or a hearty, grain bread is delicious.It also adds subtle flavor to broiled fish and other cooked foods.
  3. High-fiber cereal – Fiber, particularly soluble fiber, has been shown to be beneficial in stroke avoidance. Look for cereals that are tasty but have no added salt. Steel-cut oatmeal and other whole grain varieties can be served with almond milk for an added nutritional boost. Slice in bananas, strawberries or blueberries for additional antioxidants, flavor and color.    
  4. Twelve-grain or other high fiber bread – Bread may be considered the stuff of life, but not all breads are created equal. Look for a high-fiber, low-sugar variety which is multi-grained or whole wheat. Sprouted wheat, flax seed and low carbohydrate bread varieties are all excellent choices. Rotate the flavors to avoid getting bored. Peanut or almond butter on hearty toast makes an excellent breakfast, particularly when coupled with juicy and healthy citrus fruit.  
  5. Lean Protein – Low-fat protein choices are preferable to pork or red meat. Look for low-mercury varieties of fish that are high in omega-3s and b vitamins, such as wild salmon, which lends itself to a wide range of recipes and flavorings. Organic chicken can be served baked, broiled, in a salad or as soup. Easy to chew, tasty tofu can be folded into vegetable-laden stir fries or blended into healthy, protein-rich fruit shakes perfect for breakfast or as a refreshing snack.
  6. Vegetables – Eating a variety of colorful vegetables every day helps provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, fiber and even calcium. If chewing and swallowing are difficult, steam vegetables like peppers, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts until they are soft and easy to eat. Don’t forget to add cooked root vegetables into the mix, like parsnips, carrots, beets and turnips.
  7. Fruit – Naturally sweet, high in vitamins and fiber and low in fat, fruits are a panacea of easy-to-love nutrition. Choose fruits that are fresh and in season and if possible, organic, particularly if they do not have peels or skins that are removed before eating. Potassium-rich bananas are also an excellent choice, able to add nutrition and flavor to recipes like whole-wheat pancakes, smoothies and fruit bread.
  8. Greek Yogurt – Non-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt is calcium rich, high in protein and a natural probiotic. Greek yogurt has a lower sodium count than regular yogurt does, which is a huge plus. Look for the unflavored kind and add fruit, nuts and natural sweeteners like cacao powder or date sugar.  
  9. Quinoa – This popular superfood is a nutrition gold mine. It is filled with protein, essential amino acids, fiber, minerals, b vitamins and flavonoids. It’s subtle, grainy taste makes it an excellent side dish or breakfast cereal alternative.
  10. Whole wheat pasta – Nothing says Sunday dinner more than spaghetti and meatballs. Everyone loves this comfort food, but old-school, refined pasta lacks the fiber and nutrition of the new, current generation of whole wheat pastas. Multi-colored vegetable pasta made from beets and carrots or low-carbohydrate pastas with low glycemic loads are also better nutritional choices than the stuff you grew up with.

Meal time should be sustaining to both spirit and body. Towards that end, make sure the food served is colorful, presented in an appetizing manner and cut into bite-sized pieces whenever possible. Soft, well-cooked versions of beloved favorites can also help with eating ease and enjoyment. Whenever possible, bake or broil instead of frying and remember that it’s ok for everyone to take their time and savor the experience, even if it remains challenging for awhile. 

Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.