There's a certain group of states in the south that have earned the name, America's Stroke Belt. The states that fall under this label include: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. These states share a very troubling health issue, namely the risk of dying from a stroke in these states is higher than in other parts of the country. According to a very recent study, one reason these folks may share this higher stroke risk is their consumption of fried fish, which is a dietary staple. That dietary habit may be contributing to 125 deaths per 100,000 people due to a stroke.
The recent study was actually part of a larger study REGARDS - Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke - based at University of Alabama at Birmingham, with 21,675 participants followed over 4 ½ years, tracking health events. Of course eating fish is generally a healthy habit, since many fish choices have omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered heart healthy fats. Eating fish 2 or 3 times a week is associated with reduced risk of stroke. But take that healthy fish and fry it and you turn a healthy habit into a "stroke risk factor." In fact, any participants who ate fish that was not fried with regular frequency, correlated with a reduced risk of stroke in the study. This study showed that most participants who ate fried fish, did so at least once a week, if not more frequently. And blacks had the highest consumption overall, which correlated with higher stroke risk.
So what can we learn from the study?
There are a number of health habits that can be confounded by a slight modification of those habits. Eating whole grain carbohydrates is a healthy habit - change your choice to refined carbohydrates and the health benefits decrease markedly. Eating salad daily is a great health habit - drown it in high fat salad dressing and you now have an artery clogging dish. Have a bowl of cereal for breakfast daily is associated with a lower risk of obesity. Eat too much of it and choose the high sugar versions with whole milk and you create a calorie heavy, high fat meal whose health benefits may be diminished. So remember that in order to keep the inherent health quality of many foods in place, you need to make sure to prepare and serve them in their healthiest format, without frying, adding extra saturated fat or sodium or refined sugars. Foods are typically most healthy in their natural, unadulterated state.
So do start the day with a healthy breakfast of cereal, fruit, low fat or fat free milk. Do it low mercury fish, baked or broiled, a couple of times a week. Do swap out meat for plant-based proteins several times a week, but don't fry your new selection or drwon it in creamy sauces. Do eat salads daily, but measure your dressing by the teaspoon and try to use olive oil as the main ingredient of the dressing. Do eat nuts but choose unprocessed ones without extra salt.