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Sep 02, 2015

Southern Diet Strongly Linked to Heart Disease

Excessive sugar and saturated fats are to blame for the negative impact on heart health.

The typical Southern diet, packed with fried foods and sugar-sweetened beverages, increases risk for heart disease by 56%, according to a study recently published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Known as the REGARDS study (Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke), this study analyzed heart risks associated with popular dietary patterns in the United States. First launched in 2003, the study was designed to investigate why some parts of the country have higher rates of heart disease and stroke than others. Many studies have identified an area in the Southeastern U.S. called the “stroke belt,” where rates of stroke and heart disease are unusually high. It’s likely that simple lifestyle factors like diet may be the cause for some of this association.

More than 17,400 U.S. adults participated in the REGARDS study between 2003 and 2007, completing detailed surveys about their health and lifestyle. Researchers then followed participants for nearly six years, tracking outcomes like heart disease, heart attack and death.

Based on feedback from dietary questionnaires, researchers identified five key dietary patterns among participants.

  • Convenience diet, loaded with takeout foods like pizza and Chinese food, as well as pasta dishes and Mexican dishes.
  • Plant-based diet, high in fruits, vegetables, cereal, yogurt, beans, fish and poultry.
  • Sweets diet, high in candy, chocolate, desserts and other sweet foods.
  • Alcohol and salad diet, loaded with salads, vegetables and alcohol including beer, wine and liquor.
  • Southern diet, high in fried foods, egg dishes, processed and red meats, high-fat foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Overall, researchers found that adults eating a Southern diet had 56% higher risk of heart disease than those who did not. Even after taking into account factors like weight and medical history, those eating a Southern diet still had 37% greater risk of heart disease than those who didn’t.

Most importantly, findings confirm the importance of maintaining a heart-healthy diet. Diet is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce risk for heart disease. The better choices you make, the lower your risk for heart disease will be.

This is especially apparent in the Southern diet, which is loaded with sugar and saturated fats, both of which can cause weight gain and have a negative impact on heart health. No matter what part of the country you live in, it’s important to maintain a well-balanced diet to help reduce risk for heart disease and promote better health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

  • Why does the stroke belt have increased cardiovascular risk?

  • There are many explanations for increased cardiovascular risk in the region, such as poor diet and reduced physical activity among residents. Race also plays a large factor, as there is a high African-American population, which is affected by heart disease and stroke more than other races.

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