bananas

  1. Apples and pears can lower stroke risk

    Supposedly cutting-edge procedures like the brain stent I just mentioned won't lower your risk of stroke -- and they might even kill you.

    But you don't have to turn to risky surgery or unproven meds to keep a stroke at bay: A new study finds all you might really need is more of the foods you already enjoy.

    And no, it's not candy and cake (nice try, though).

    Dutch researchers tracked the eating habits of nearly 21,000 people with an average age of 41 and no signs of heart disease at the start of the 10-year study.

    During that time, 233 people suffered a stroke -- with the volunteers who ate the most white fruits and vegetables (think apples, pears, and bananas) 52 percent less likely to be among them.

    Even those who ate just a little got a benefit: The researchers wrote in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association that just a few slices of apple a day, for example, can lower the risk by 9 percent.

    Along with apples, pears and bananas, the researchers say white fruits and vegetables include cauliflower, chicory, and cucumbers -- but not potatoes. Those are actually a starch, and -- let's face it -- you shouldn't be eating them anyway (especially if they come from any place that has a big golden M on the sign).

    The catch here is that the study was based on the least reliable form of science: the food frequency questionnaire. In other words, let's file this one under "interesting" but not something you need to start planting an apple orchard for.

    The study also didn't show why these fruits and vegetables might be able to slash the risk of stroke -- but the smart money is on the terrific antioxidant flavonoids such as quercetin, the pigment that helps turn apples red (and gives even green pears those red patches you so often see).

    Along with other bioflavonoids -- including the lutein and zeaxanthin also found in apple and pear skins -- quercetin may help protect your heart and even lower your risk of cancer.

    If you're not eating an apple, pear or banana every day, you can get these and other great nutrients from a high-quality bioflavonoid supplement.

  2. Go bananas to lower stroke risk

    Taking statins to lower your LDL cholesterol levels may not do a thing for your stroke risk... but there's something simple and easy you can do right now that will.

    Eat a banana.

    A new study finds that potassium--a nutrient you don't often hear about, but probably don't get enough of--can slash your stroke risk and lower your risk of heart disease.

    Researchers looked at data from 11 studies that involved nearly 250,000 people and found that those who ate more than 1.64 grams of potassium a day--less than half a banana--had a 21 percent lower risk of stroke than those who got less of this key nutrient.

    Those who enjoyed a potassium-rich diet--or at least one not so badly deficient--also had a lower risk of other cardiovascular problems, including heart disease, according to the study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

    The researchers point to experimental data that shows how this mineral appears to have a protective effect on the arteries, stopping the walls from thickening.

    But there's another way potassium can help: It balances out salt.

    And odds are, you're badly out of balance.

    Our bodies need a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of potassium to salt... but most people get the opposite, and many people get up to five times more salt than potassium.

    That poor ratio, and not high salt levels on their own, is often the real cause of many cases of hypertension... and it's just one more reason why the mainstream obsession with sodium levels is off the mark.

    If you could simply readjust that potassium-to-salt ratio, those numbers would fall into line on their own.

    One way to do that is to give up packaged foods, which are loaded with sodium... but don't be afraid to cook fresh food with salt.

    Then, replace your table shaker with a potassium-based salt substitute.

    Your sodium levels will fall without plummeting... while your potassium levels will rise to where they need to be.

    But let's face it--salt substitutes aren't for everyone, and they can be hard to get used to.

    Don't worry--you've got other options. Great sources of potassium include fish, dairy, raisins, apricots, and those bananas I keep mentioning.

    One note of caution here: Talk to your doctor before adding potassium to your diet or supplement regimen, especially if you have a history of kidney problems.

    Sometimes, you really can get too much of a good thing.

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