The Southern diet – fried foods and sugary drinks – may raise risk of this heart disease

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In a new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers found regularly eating a Southern-style diet may increase the risk of sudden cardiac death, while routinely consuming a Mediterranean diet may reduce that risk.

The Southern diet is characterized by 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.

The Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains and legumes and low in meat and dairy.

In the study, the team examined data from more than 21,000 people ages 45 and older.

Of the participants in this analysis, 56% lived in the southeastern U.S., which is noteworthy as a region recognized as the Stroke Belt because of its higher stroke death rate.

The Stroke Belt states included in this study were North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana.

The team focused on the association between dietary patterns with the risk of sudden cardiac death, which is the abrupt loss of heart function that leads to death within an hour of symptom onset.

Sudden cardiac death is a common cause of death and accounted for 1 in every 7.5 deaths in the United States in 2016, or nearly 367,000 deaths, according to 2019 American Heart Association statistics.

Researchers calculated a Mediterranean diet score based on specific food groups considered beneficial or detrimental to health.

They also derived five dietary patterns. Along with the Southern-style eating pattern, the analysis included a “sweets” dietary pattern, which features foods with added sugars, such as desserts, chocolate, candy and sweetened breakfast foods;

a “convenience” eating pattern which relied on easy-to-make foods like mixed dishes, pasta dishes, or items likely to be ordered as take-out such as pizza, Mexican food and Chinese food;

a “plant-based” dietary pattern was classified as being high in vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, cereal, bean, fish, poultry and yogurt;

and an “alcohol and salad” dietary pattern, which was highly reliant on beer, wine, liquor along with green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and salad dressing.

After an average of nearly 10 years of follow-up, the team found participants who ate a Southern-style diet most regularly had a 46% higher risk of sudden cardiac death than people who had the least adherence to this dietary pattern.

Also, participants who most closely followed the traditional Mediterranean diet had a 26% lower risk of sudden cardiac death than those with the least adherence to this eating style.

The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle recommendations emphasize eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, fish, beans, legumes, nuts and non-tropical vegetable cooking oils such as olive and canola oil.

Limiting saturated fats, sodium, added sugar and processed meat are also recommended.

These findings support the notion that a healthier diet would prevent fatal heart disease and should encourage all people to adopt a healthier diet as part of their lifestyles.

The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. One author of the study is James M. Shikany, Dr.P.H., F.A.H.A.

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