If I told you that there was an easy way to lower your risk of suffering a stroke by one-fifth, you’d want to know the secret, right? Well, here it is: Eat more citrus. If that sounds too simple to be true, let me tell you about a recent study that identified the connection and brought more pinpoint clarity to the oft-heard but oh-so-broad advice to consume more fruits and veggies.
Researchers analyzed 14 years’ worth of dietary data on nearly 70,000 US women who participated in the large-scale Nurses’ Health Study, teasing out the potential effects of numerous different nutrients to see which might be particularly beneficial in terms of stroke protection.
Findings: Women who consumed the most flavonones—an antioxidant nutrient—were 19% less likely to have an ischemic stroke (the most common type, which occurs when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain) than women who consumed the least flavonones.
Citrus fruits and juices, such as orange and grapefruit, are particularly rich in flavonones. Although vitamin C traditionally is credited with being the protective constituent in citrus, this study found no connection between vitamin C intake and reduced stroke risk. Rather, researchers believe that flavanones may help by making blood vessels more flexible, combating inflammation and controlling other conditions that promote clotting.
Calorie caution: Because commercial fruit juices generally are high in sugar, it’s easy to consume excess calories when you drink a lot of juice. Better: Eat citrus fruits instead of drinking their juice—ounce for ounce, the whole fruit provides more of the stroke-protective flavanones plus extra fiber (which helps satisfy the appetite), without causing you to go overboard on calories. Try a citrus variety: Valencia oranges, navel oranges, white grapefruit, colored grapefruit, lemons, mandarins, tangelos, tangerines.
Source: Aedín Cassidy, PhD, is a professor and head of the department of nutrition at Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, and lead author of a study on stroke risk published in Stroke.