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‘Southern Diet’ Could Increase Stroke Risk

American Stroke Association blames fried, salty foods and sugary drinks (Feb. 7)

Eating Southern-style foods may be linked to a higher risk of stroke, according to research presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2013.

In the first large-scale study of the relationship between Southern foods and stroke, researchers characterized a Southern diet by a high intake of foods such as fried chicken, fried fish, fried potatoes, bacon, ham, liver, and gizzards, as well as by a high intake of sugary drinks, such as sweet tea. In addition to being high in fat, fried foods tend to be heavily salted.

“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 lead researcher Suzanne Judd, PhD, MPH.

Previous research has shown that Southerners are about 20% more likely to have a stroke than the rest of Americans.

Comparing the dietary habits of more than 20,000 black and white adults, the researchers found:

  • The frequency of stroke was directly proportional to how much Southern food participants ate.
  • People who ate Southern foods about six times a week had a 41% higher stroke risk compared with those who ate these foods about once a month.
  • Eating a Southern diet accounted for 63% of the higher risk of stroke among African-Americans above that of their white counterparts.
  • Those whose diets were highest in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains (eaten about five times a week) had a 29% lower stroke risk compared with those whose diets were the lowest in these foods (eaten about three times a week).

The study raises red flags for African-Americans, who are five times more likely to eat Southern foods than whites, Judd said. The risk of first-time stroke among blacks is almost double that of whites, according to American Stroke Association statistics.

About two-thirds of the participants who ate the most Southern-style foods lived in the southeastern U.S. But, no matter where they live, people eating a lot of Southern foods should be more aware of their risks of stroke, Judd commented.

Healthcare providers should educate patients about nutrition earlier, and ask patients about what they’re eating, how much, and how often, she said.

Source: American Heart Association; February 7, 2013.

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