By John Salak –
Whoa, hold the presses. This just in. The sumptuous “southern diet” that is high in fat, calories and cholesterol is probably not that healthy. Who would have thought?
This startling revelation came by way of an observational study recently published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The research’s conclusions were based on data from more than 21,000 people at least 45 years old who reside in what’s known as the Stroke Belt states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana. These people notably were enrolled in an ongoing national research project called Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS), which if not obvious, tries to sus out why there are geographical and racial differences among stroke victims.
Food is apparently one reason. The Southern diet, which the study labels as heavy added fats, fried foods, eggs, organ meats (such as liver or giblets), processed meats (such as deli meat, bacon and hotdogs) and sugar-sweetened beverages, is a gateway to increasing the risk of sudden cardiac death. Conversely, the Mediterranean diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains and legumes and low in meat and dairy is better for the average ticker and a lot of other body parts.
“While this study was observational in nature, the results suggest that diet may be a modifiable risk factor for sudden cardiac death, and, therefore, diet is a risk factor that we have some control over,” reported the study’s lead author, James M. Shikany of the Division of Preventive Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).
“Improving one’s diet — by eating a diet abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish such as the Mediterranean diet and low in fried foods, organ meats and processed meats, characteristics of the Southern-style dietary pattern, may decrease one’s risk for sudden cardiac death,” he added.
This is no small health matter as sudden cardiac death generally accounts for 1 in every 7.5 deaths in the United States, according to the American Heart Association.
The study reports that participants who consumed a Southern-style diet most regularly had a 46 percent higher risk of sudden cardiac death than people who least favored this diet. Those who followed a traditional Mediterranean diet had a 26 percent lower risk of sudden cardiac death than those who away from diets that emphasized eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, fish, beans, legumes and nuts.
Studying the impact of diets on health is nothing new. Neither are proclamations that the Southern diet is less than healthy. In fact, the University of Alabama at Birmingham has been citing these dangers for the better part of a decade.
In 2013, for example, it flagged the dangers of “Southern-style foods” in a presentation to the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference. In what it then described as the “first large-scale study” of the relation between Southern foods and stroke, researchers warned that chowing down on fried chicken, fried fish, fried potatoes, bacon, ham, liver and gizzards and sugary drinks was a recipe for a health disaster.
“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,” warned lead researcher Dr. Suzanne Judd of the university biostatistics department.
A year later, this Alabama university issued yet another warning tied to the Southern diet when it reported consuming the related foods regularly leads to a 50 percent increase in the risk of death from kidney disease.
“This adds to the evidence that suggests that the foods that they eat can meaningfully impact long-term survival in individuals with kidney disease,” lead author Orlando Gutiérrez of UAB’s Division of Nephrology noted at the time.
“It is possible that the Southern pattern of eating is a just a good marker of an unhealthy lifestyle, and not so much unhealthy eating,” Gutiérrez added. “Even if the latter is the case, it certainly suggests that adopting healthy habits such as engaging in physical activity and eating a healthy diet are important for long-term outcomes.”
Apparently, it is also important to start listening to UAB’s warnings.