Best African foods for post-stroke recovery 


.By Oluwasola Samuel, Freelance Writer. With editorial support and medical review by the DLHA Team.


African healthy food pyramid

African healthy foods pyramid. Click on image to enlarge. .



Key Facts

  • After a stroke, it's important to get all the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals you need for a quick recovery.
  • A stroke could result in physical disability, less appetite, and an inability to swallow food.
  • For a quick recovery, it's important to take your diet seriously. You might need a dietitian to help track and structure a personalised diet for you.





Stroke is a non-communicable disease, and it's the leading cause of disability worldwide. It could have a long-lasting impact on its victims and their families. Yet, amid this menace lies hope, and a crucial part of this hope is the diet of stroke patients. 


When it comes to stroke recovery, having the right dietary requirements is crucial. Africans have relied on the nutritional knowledge passed down through generations. African cuisines are not only nutritional and delicious, but they are also packed with healing properties. 


This article is your guide to educating and unlocking the secrets embedded in African cuisines. In this article, we would list some of the key nutrients essential for post-stroke recovery. Also, we would look at nutritious African dishes, foods to avoid, and other vital information that will help you recover from a stroke.  



Key Nutrients Essential in African Foods for Post-Stroke Recovery


After a stroke, it's no longer business as usual when it comes to your diet. "Stroke survivors need all the nutrients available to aid their recovery," says Oluwatomide B. Ogundigba a dietitian and health safety officer at Jami Services & Sons Company,


Below are some of the nutrients stroke survivors need for stroke recovery. They include:


1. Omega 3 fatty acid 


"This nutrient is a healing nutrient that has anti-inflammatory and brain-protective properties that are crucial for stroke recovery," Oluwatomide explains.


Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, sardines, mackerels, nuts, cod liver oil, melon seeds, or moringa leaves. [1]

2. Folate


"Folate is the natural form of vitamin B9, and it's vital for optimal brain function and cognitive recovery after a stroke. Folate helps the cell divide and repair itself, which makes it crucial to have in the diet to aid recovery," says Oluwatomide.

Folate is in spinach, green vegetables, kale, beans, lentils, peas, okra, oranges, nuts and seeds, bananas, mangoes, etc.

3. Magnesium


Magnesium plays a crucial role in body functions. [2] It helps muscle function, nerve health, bone health, and regulation of blood pressure, and it improves sleep and mood. Magnesium is in beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and legumes. 

"It's important to incorporate the right recommended daily amount of magnesium per person. Ensure you consult your healthcare provider to know the right amount of magnesium you need in a day," Oluwatomide added. 

4. Potassium 


"This nutrient is crucial for nerve function. It helps regulate blood pressure for patients struggling with high blood pressure. Also, it helps muscle contraction and reduces your risk of another stroke," says Oluwatomide.


More importantly, potassium helps move nutrients around the body, and it is in beans, lentils, potatoes, spinach, bananas, etc.3



Nutrient-Rich African Food for Post-Stroke Recovery


"Africa has an abundance of nutrient-rich cuisines, which are available to everyone. There are lots of foods available in their natural form in Africa compared to canned or processed foods available in stores and supermarkets around town," Oluwatomide explains.


Before eating or choosing a meal, it's important to get the help of a dietitian, who will give you a personalised diet plan that suits your needs. After a stroke, your diet should change to help you recover quickly. You need nutrient-rich food that will aid your recovery process.


To achieve this, your dietitian will have to adopt the DASH, or Mediterranean diet. Later on in this article, we will explain the DASH and Mediterranean diets. But first, let's look at some nutrient-rich African foods for post-stroke recovery.

They include: 


1. Oily Fish

African knife (oily) fish

African knife fish. Example of oliy fish sources in Africa Others include Salmon, Makerel, Titus fish


There are different types of fish with unique nutritional values. Fish like African knifefish, mackerel, tuna, and salmon are good sources of fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids aid in the healing of the brain. Ensure to take into consideration the recommended daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids.


"You can grill or steam, and if you must fry,  pan-fry or sautee using olive oil. Add spices to give it a distinct African taste. You can add your preferred vegetable to this meal if you wish" says Oluwatomide.


2. Ofada rice


Ofada rice is non-genetically modified rice that's mostly grown in Ogun State, Nigeria. Ofada rice is a local Nigerian unpolished rice. It's known for its brown stripes because it's unpolished. This rice has several nutrients, ranging from zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, folate, potassium, calcium, iron, vitamin B, and many more, that are crucial for maintaining general health.


"To prepare ofada rice, cook the ofada rice and fry the pepper with olive oil. Add locust beans, crayfish, clove, ginger, basil leaf, curry leaf, and onion. You can then add your Titus or mackerel fish," Oluwatomide explains. 

3. Pepper soup


There are different types of pepper soups. In this article, we will be dwelling on the Nigerian pepper soup. This soup is a popular cuisine in Nigeria; it is prepared with different peppers, herbs, and sometimes meat or fish.


"To give your pepper soup that savoury and traditional taste, add blended cloves, ginger, basil leaf, locust beans, crayfish, curry leaf, onion, and Scotch bonnet peppers. You can also add mackerel fish or Titus, but avoid red meat," Oluwatomide explains.


Before adding pepper to your diet, kindly consult your healthcare professional for advice.


4. Melon soup

Egusi (melon) soup

Egusi (Melon) soup


This soup is also known as "Egusi" in Nigeria. This soup is a powerhouse, packed with lots of nutrients and vitamins. Melon soup (Egusi soup) is prepared with green vegetables and other proteinous ingredients.


Melon soup is a good source of healthy fats that are important to overall health. Adding vegetables to melon soup adds fibre, which aids digestion.


"To prepare melon soup, ensure to add green vegetables, palm oil, blended pepper, Cameroon pepper, crayfish, onion, and mackerel fish. Add a little salt, and avoid seasoning agents. Seasoning agents are high in sodium, so you should avoid them," Oluwatomide explains. 


Before trying out any food, ensure you consult your healthcare professional for advice.



Tips for incorporating healthy African foods into a post-stroke diet


Incorporating a healthy African diet can sometimes be frustrating due to some controllable and uncontrollable factors like depression, a lack of time to cook, a lack of purchasing power, or a lack of education about the right dietary requirements.


The following are ways you can incorporate healthy African cuisine into your diet: 


1. Go for brain-boosting food

brain boosting furits and vegetables

Brain boosting friuts and vegetables


As a stroke patient, when preparing your meal, ensure to include brain-boosting ingredients or food. [4] This supports cognitive function, brain health, nerve function, and blood pressure regulation. You can add vegetables like kale and spinach because they are rich in folate, potassium, and antioxidants.


Ozebo soup is a popular dish in the eastern part of Nigeria. You can include this soup in your diet because of the cocoyam added to the meal. It's a potassium powerhouse, and it's good for your general health.


2. Add protein to your meal


Always ensure to add protein-rich ingredients or foods to your diet. Adding protein-rich ingredients is beneficial to your general health. Foods like beans, eggs, tofu and chicken are good sources of protein. Protein contains amino acids. [5] It's responsible for repairing and building tissues, bones, and muscles. 


3. Go for healthy fat


Prioritizing healthy fat after a stroke is important for post-stroke recovery. Healthy fats play a vital role in reducing inflammation. [6] It improves brain function and general health. Eating healthy fat not only boosts brain function but also helps in the absorption of essential nutrients and minerals. These nutrients and minerals aid in your recovery efforts.


"Stroke patients must focus more on unsaturated fat. They are in food sources like avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. Stroke patients must also limit their consumption of saturated fats. They are in processed foods, fatty meats, and dairy products. This is because they increase cholesterol levels, which slows down recovery," says Oluwatomide.


"Stroke patients must ensure they read the labels of food items to know the type of fat in them. They should also adopt grilling, baking, or steaming instead of deep-frying. This helps to reduce high consumption of unhealthy fat," Oluwatomide explains.


4. Meal preparation


When it comes to preparing meals for stroke patients, one needs to take note of the following: 

  • Instead of deep-frying your fish or meat, you can opt for baking. Steaming and grilling are also options. These methods help reduce the high consumption of unhealthy fat. 
  • Use olive oil in cooking instead of the conventional vegetable oil that you have around. This is because olive oil is good and friendly to the heart. It's a good source of unsaturated fat, which is common in Mediterranean diets.
  • Reduce salt consumption in your meal. Instead of using salt or seasoning agents, opt for herbs and spices to give your food a unique taste that suits you. 


  • Portion control is important to avoid overeating which can result in excess weight gain. [7]


5. Focus on a variety of African cuisines


There are lots of African cuisines that a stroke patient can benefit from. Ensure to aim for different foods, and don't forget to be colour-conscious. Add different ingredients and vegetables to give them an appealing colour to avoid getting bored. Also, spice up your meals to bring your taste buds back to life, making you want to eat more. 



Food to avoid during post-stroke recovery


Stroke patients can no longer continue their usual diet because, at this stage, recovery is the main priority. They need all the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to aid their recovery.


There are certain foods you have to reduce their intake or eradicate. You have to do this to achieve a quick recovery.


Below are some of the foods you must avoid, and they include: 

1. Reduce salty snacks like potato chips and crackers. These foods are high in salt, and they should be removed from your diet.

2. Reduce processed protein foods high in sodium. Foods like canned meat and sausages are loaded with sodium, and they should be avoided.

3. Avoid foods with added sugar or refined carbohydrates. Foods like sweets, soda, juice, and sweetened drinks are high in sugar and can spike your sugar levels. Also, foods like white bread, pasta, and pastries lack fibre and nutrients. You can opt for brown rice or whole-wheat bread for sustained energy and dietary fibre. 

4. Avoid processed fatty foods. Foods like whole milk, cheese, butter, sausages, and red meat are high in saturated fat. They increase cholesterol levels and inflammation. You can go for lean meat instead or food that is fat-free.

5. Stay away from caffeine, soda drinks, certain herbs, or bitter kola. They should be removed from your diet. 

6. Avoid alcohol and tobacco use. They increase your blood pressure and expose you to heart disease. They also increase your risk of another stroke, which can be deadly. 



Why stroke patients should adopt the DASH and/or the Mediterranean diet. 


DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This diet was invented to lower blood pressure. It focuses more on reducing sodium consumption. It also promotes the consumption of foods rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. 


A DASH diet contains fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts, skinless fish, and low-fat poultry. This diet is against processed foods and added sugars. It aims to reduce salt and saturated fats. The DASH diet was recognised by the American Heart Association's list of heart-healthy diets this year. [8]


The Mediterranean diet got its name from the countries located along the Mediterranean coastline. It focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans, and lentils. It also promotes moderate consumption of dairy products and fish. According to a U.K. study in 2018, adhering to a Mediterranean diet reduces women's risk of having a stroke by 22%. [9]


The MIND Diet or Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay Diet is a combination of the Mediterranean and DASH diet with a specific aim of improving brain health. It combines foods from both diets that have been proven to contain beneficial nutrients for brain health while limiting foods that increase the risk of brain diseases. 


Your healthcare professional/dietician would guide you as to which of the dietary plans is best for your particular condition. . 



Can stroke patients eat salt? 


Yes, stroke patients can eat salted food, but it must be in moderate quantity. Salt helps to balance and maintain fluid balance in the body. It also helps with the absorption of essential nutrients and minerals. 


Too much salt intake can lead to high blood pressure and kidney damage, and it puts you at risk of stroke. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the recommended salt intake is 2000 mg/day.10 The WHO also advised that the salt consumed must be fortified with iodine. Iodine is essential for healthy brain development in children as well as improving general mental function. 


If you want to limit or track your salt intake, here are a few tips that can help: 

1. Cook at home so that you can monitor the amount of salt added to your meal. 

2. Limit consumption of processed foods as they are high in sodium. 

3. Rinse canned foods thoroughly to reduce their sodium concentration. 

If you have a stroke, ensure you consult your healthcare professional to help determine the ideal amount of salt you need in a day.  



Can stroke patients eat sugar?  


"Sugar is one of the things you need to reduce during post-stroke recovery," says Oluwatomide.


Most times, moderate consumption of sugar is safe for some patients. However, too much sugar can hinder stroke recovery and worsen health conditions. It can spike sugar levels and increase weight gain. It can also cause nutrient deficiency and inflammation. 


According to the National Health Service (NHS), adults should take no more than 30 grammes of free sugar a day. [11]  This is about 7 sugar cubes a day for an adult.


Foods like chocolate, milk, biscuits, sweets, and fizzy drinks should be less consumed because they contain free sugar. They have adverse effects after long-term use. Instead of taking the foods listed above, you can opt for honey. You can add honey to your diet, but it should be in moderate quantity. 


It's crucial to eat nutrient-rich food and reduce added sugar in your diet. This ensures a swift and optimal recovery. Ensure to consult your health professional on the amount of sugar you need daily.





Stroke patients looking to recover from stroke must have a change in diet. This will help them heal and recover quickly. The diet plays a vital role in stroke recovery. You should note this: we are whatever we eat, and the food you eat contributes to your well-being.


Stroke patients should adopt the DASH and Mediterranean diets. These diets focus more on food that helps to decrease blood pressure and food that combats inflammation linked to stroke damage and recovery. 


The DASH and Mediterranean diets also promote foods that are dense in essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. All these help your brain function and help you maintain a healthy weight. It also reduces your risk of chronic diseases and helps you recover from stroke. 


Before embarking on any diet plan, it's crucial to consult your healthcare professionals. They will spell out what you need, depending on your needs. Also, you will need a dietitian who will draw out a diet plan for you based on the available food around you. 




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6. National Library of Medicine, What is an inflammation? In: [Internet] [Internet. Last updated: February 23, 2018]. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); [cited 2023 Dec 24]. Available from:

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9. Paterson KE, Myint PK, Jennings A, Bain LKM, Lentjes MAH, Khaw KT, et al. Mediterranean diet reduces risk of incident stroke in a population with varying cardiovascular disease risk profiles. AHA Journals. Stroke.2018. 49(10):2415–20. 

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Published: December 31, 2023

Updated: January 12, 2024

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