U.S. adults have a greater rate of stroke than European adults, according to a new study presented at an American Stroke Association meeting. And the statistics are not even close. U.S. men have a 61% greater risk of stroke and U.S. women have double the risk.
There are simply more risk factors among Americans and there are barriers to getting proper care. Much of it had to do with lower-income adults in both parts of the world, where those in the U.S. were far worse off. The study is based on surveys over the past four years among people over 50. The questions were intentionally written to draw conclusions across an entire population.
They looked at information on nearly 13,700 Americans and more than 30,000 people in 11 different European countries. Factors examined were strokes, socioeconomic status and risk factors for stroke that include obesity, diabetes, smoking, rate of exercise and alcohol use. Across the board, women were about 25% less likely to suffer a stroke.
The rate of stroke varied across the dozen countries, but it was highest in the U.S. Conversely, it was lowest in countries near the Mediterranean basin — Spain, Italy, Greece and Switzerland. This is another indication that the “Mediterranean diet” works to protect the heart and circulatory system (more on that in a minute).
Here’s who had the greatest risk of stroke: Americans in the lower brackets of wealth, income and education. For some reason, they were higher than similar people in other countries. Researchers think government policies and access to healthcare have a lot to do with it. Plus, in Europe, doctors are focused on dealing with risk factors for stroke; in other words, prevention. The U.S. focus tends to be more on treatment and not rooting out the causes of stroke.
U.S. policies about nutrition and transportation could make individuals prone to less exercise and less nutritious diets, the study suggests. In any case, it seems that adopting a Mediterranean approach to eating will help keep you safe from stroke.
Here are a few tips on how you can make the Mediterranean diet part of your daily routine:
- Stop using cooking oils that are high in trans and saturated fats, like palm oil, vegetable shortening, butter and hard margarine; instead use canola, flax seed or olive oil.
- Eat omega-3 rich foods once or twice a week; including fish like salmon, mackerel and bluefin tuna, flax seeds, walnuts, beans and olive oil.
- Cut back on red meat. If you eat it three times a week or more try eating fish or beans (not the refried kind though!) on at least two of those nights instead.
- Switch from refined flour (white) to whole grain — this includes breads and pastas.
- Get those veggies in anywhere you can! The Mediterranean diet contains considerably more vegetables than the typical American diet.
- Aim to include them in each meal of the day.
- Add veggies to your omelet, fruit to your cereal; skip the iceberg lettuce and grab the spinach? have a handful of cherry tomatoes as a snack instead of candy.
- There are so many easy ways to incorporate veggies into your meals!
- Nuts are your friends, but avoid the salted and coated varieties. It’s true, nuts are good for you, and the
- Mediterranean diet is full of them. But once your douse them in a salty, sugary coating you’re covering up the good with bad.
- Try natural nuts, or only lightly salted if it’s a must
To successfully ease yourself into this new way of eating, try switching out one bad habit at a time. Start with those unhealthy snacks. Or replace your cooking oil. Add a new, good habit every few days and soon you won’t miss how you used to eat, and you’ll be that much healthier for it!