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Published on December 04, 2013

Wheat and Modified Starches May Increase Stroke Risk

If you think that limiting your cholesterol and fat intake is the key to decreasing your risk for stroke, you may need to develop a new diet plan. According to recent research, there may be a completely different culprit hiding in the food you eat.

“Historically, people have looked at saturated fat and cholesterol as the culprits that increase stroke risk,” said Dr. Hana Choe, a neuro-interventionalist at Abington Health’s Neurosciences Institute. “But that’s not the target we once thought it was; cholesterol levels don’t always correlate with stroke.”

So what does?

Wheat and modified starches.

“There’s more information coming out about the wheat we currently consume,” said Dr. Choe. “Genetic modifications to wheat may have changed the protein in the wheat, which provokes an inflammatory response in the body. This inflammation may produce a cascade of events that not only injure blood vessels, but also allow plaques to form.”

As plaque builds up, you’re more likely to develop atherosclerosis or stenosis in blood vessels in the brain or heart. “And the inflammation may be causing plaques to rupture, leading to an ischemic stroke or heart attack,” said Dr. Choe.

But you shouldn’t only limit wheat, carbs and modified starches. Consuming high amounts of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which can be found in many manufactured food items such as popular low-fat foods, can also increase your risk for stroke. Since HFCS often ends up getting stored as fat, consuming too much of it can increase the risk of having a stroke or heart attack, as well as obesity and metabolic syndrome. Consistently high levels of HFCS can also cause inflammation in the blood vessel walls, which make them more prone to disease.

So what can you do to reduce your risk?

Unfortunately, most wheat has already been modified to be more resistant to wheat disease and produce a greater yield of grains. As a result, Dr. Choe recommends decreasing carb and wheat intake, such as pasta, bread products, pastries and cereals.

She also says to avoid a low-fat diet. Even though many people think this is the healthy way to go, Dr. Choe says these foods end up having the opposite effect.

“I can’t say that low-fat diets are going to be helpful in the long run, especially since that means you end up increasing the carbohydrates and different fillers that usually come from wheat products, such as modified starches,” said Dr. Choe. “They also end up increasing waist lines, inflammation, and ultimately cardiovascular and stroke risk.”

When planning your meals, aim for plenty of vegetables and fruits that are low in sugar. “Some fruits that are high in sugar such as bananas, pineapples and mangos are okay in moderation, but should be limited,” she added.

Dr. Choe also recommends eating foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish and nuts, as well as avocado, meats and healthy proteins.

In addition to making healthier food choices, you should also get moving. “You don’t need to do strenuous exercise, just some physical activity to keep the blood moving,” said Dr. Choe. “Explore new ways of moving the body, like yoga or tai chi to keep the body limber and functional.”

“We all need to be more conscientious about what we put in our bodies and what we do with them. After all, we are what we eat.”

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