REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Heart Attack Odds Rise on a Southern Diet

Fried chicken with gravy, buttered rolls, bacon or ham, and sweet soda or tea. Sounds delicious, right?

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Eating a typical Southern-style diet will increase your risk of heart disease by 56% over the next five years and eight months, the American Heart Association (AHA) said in new research published in Circulation, an Association journal.

In fact, the Association found that Americans who regularly eat typical Southern meals are munching on a dishful of  heart attack. Its researchers studied the dietary habits of 17,000 white and African-American adults in different regions of the country and adjusted for demographic and lifestyle factors.

The AHA’s researchers found “the highest consumers of the Southern diet tended to be male, African-American, those who had not graduated from high school or were residents of southern states,” including North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana, it said in a statement. The association added, “no other dietary pattern was associated with the risk of heart disease.” Coronary heart disease is the buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries that could lead to heart attack. A steady diet of these foods can also lead to obesity or diabetes, among other ailments.

“Regardless of your gender, race, or where you live, if you frequently eat a Southern-style diet you should be aware of your risk of heart disease and try to make some gradual changes to your diet,” James M. Shikany, Dr.P.H. lead researcher and a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Preventive Medicine said in the statement. “Try cutting down the number of times you eat fried foods or processed meats from every day to three days a week as a start, and try substituting baked or grilled chicken or vegetable-based foods.”

Researchers grouped the types of foods the participants regularly ate into five dietary patterns. The AHA said these included: the “convenience” pattern was comprised mostly of pasta dishes, Mexican food, Chinese food, mixed dishes and pizza; the “plant-based” pattern which was mostly vegetables, fruits, cereal, beans, yogurt, poultry and fish; the “sweets” pattern which consisted of added sugars, desserts, chocolate, candy and sweetened breakfast foods; the “alcohol/salads” was characterized by beer, wine, liquor, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and salad dressings, and the “Southern” pattern, which was an eating pattern that the researchers observed to a greater extent in the Southeastern United States, which included added fats, fried food, eggs and egg dishes, organ meats, processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages.

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To date, three state legislature in the South—Alabama, North Carolina and Louisiana—have introduced new laws that would “improve access to healthy, affordable foods, from better loan terms for stores, subsidies, tax incentives, and a host of other financial packages,” the Association said. About 25 to 30 million Americans don’t have access to a local grocery store and live in what are called “food deserts,” says the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Efforts are being made by local health departments to provide things like grants to help grocery or convenience store owners in food deserts with education about healthy food, or to help them buy equipment such as shelves and refrigeration for fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as connect with local farmers and fisherman.

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