Hey, Ya'll! Eating Southern Food Regularly Linked to Increased Stroke Risk

Dorian Martin Health Guide February 08, 2013
  • When shopping at my local book store, I can just feel my taste buds start salivating as my arteries start to clog just a bit as I peruse the cookbook section.  One shelf features Paula Deen’s cookbooks, as well as those of her sons. Another cookbook by the Lee Brothers focuses on stories and recipes for Southerners and those who want to be Southerners. There are all those cookbooks by the chefs from New Orleans (Emeril Lagasse, John Besh, etc.). And there are the cookbooks published by Southern Living magazine. All of these cookbooks offer wonderful Southern flavor; however, some of the recipes  may not be the best things to eat on a regular basis if you value your health.


    Why? According to a new study that was presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2013, there appears to be a link between a regular diet of Southern-style foods and a higher risk of stroke. This is the first large-scale study on the relationship between Southern foods and stroke. Previous research has suggested that Southerners face a 20-percent higher risk of stroke than the rest of Americans.


    This new study involved more than 20,000 people from 48 states who were part of the ongoing Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study, which began in 2003. The participants, who were either white or black, were all at least 45 years old.  Furthermore, an equal number of men and women participated in this study.


    At the start of the study, participants were asked about what foods they ate. They also went through an in-person medical assessment that included measurements of height, weight and blood pressure; an electrocardiogram; and a blood test. The researchers followed up by telephone with the study participants at six-month intervals to ask about their sleep habits, overall health and whether they had had a stroke.


    Using a mathematical model, the researchers grouped foods commonly eaten by the participants into 56 different categories and then scored each participant’s eating habits based on these categories. These scores were reviewed further in relation to how often the study participants reported that they had a stroke.
    The researchers also identified five diet styles based on the participants’ responses. These styles were:

    • Southern – This type of diet as having a high intake of fried chicken, fried fish, fried potatoes, bacon, ham, liver and gizzards,  sugary drinks such as sweet tea, whole milk, eggs and red meat.
    • Convenience – This diet style included Mexican and Chinese food, pizza and pasta.
    • Plant-based – this diet style included fruits, vegetables, juice, cereal, fish, poultry, yogurt, nuts and whole-grain bread.
    • Sweets – This diet style included fats, breads, chocolate, desserts and sweet breakfast foods.
    • Alcohol – This diet style included beer, wine, liquor, green leafy vegetables, salad dressings, nuts, seeds, and coffee.

    The researchers' analysis found that:

    • The frequency of strokes that were reported was directly proportional to how much Southern food participants had eaten.
    • Participants who ate Southern foods about six times a week had a 41-percent higher stroke risk as compared to people who ate this type of food about once a month.
    • Study participants who were African Americans who ate a Southern diet had a 63-percent higher risk of stroke than that of white participants.
    • Study participants who ate the highest amount of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains (approximately five times a week) had a 29-percent lower risk of stroke than those whose diets consumed the lowest amounts of these foods (approximately three times a week).
    • The other three types of diet (convenience, sweets and alcohol) didn’t seem to affect stroke risk.

    Why does regular consumption of Southern food seem to be a health hazard? “We’ve got three major factors working together in the Southern-style diet to raise risks of cardiovascular disease: fatty foods are high in cholesterol, sugary drinks are linked to diabetes and salty foods lead to high blood pressure,” said Dr. Suzanne Judd, lead researcher and a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Alabama Birmingham’s biostatistics department.


    So what’s the takeaway? I’d suggest that if you tend to eat a lot of what is classified as Southern food, cut back on those foods and opt for more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Make fried chicken or fried potatoes (or whatever Southern foods you love) a once-a-week special meal as opposed to a meal you turn to almost every day. That way, you’ll be lowering your risk of stroke while still enjoying Southern food!


    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:


    American Heart Association. (2013). Southern diet could raise your risk of stroke.


    Associated Press. (2013). Study reveals Southern diet could link to high stroke risk. Houston Chronicle.

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