Southern-Style Foods May Increase Risk Of Heart Attack

Fried chicken, chicken fried steak, gravy, greens sautéed in bacon fat; all rich, all delectable, all Southern, and eating them in regularity can increase the risk of heart attack by 56 percent.

“It would seem that just about everyone knows that eating fried pork chops and gravy, butter-drenched, lard-laden biscuits, and bacon-infused everything is not a healthy diet,” said Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Medical Center, in an interview with Health.

And while a diet lower in red meat and fried foods and higher in whole grains and vegetables have been preached for decades as a way to reduce one’s chances of heart attack, and for many may seem like common sense, it doesn’t necessarily align itself with regional and cultural culinary norms.

Results from a recent study researching the relationship between patterns in dietary behavior and heart disease showed that people who regularly consumed what are traditionally considered “Southern” foods were at a significantly higher risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke than those study participants who consumed other types of foods.

And the study, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation, is significant in that it is the first study of its kind to span socioeconomic and geographical borders.

“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,” said James M. Shikany, Dr.P.H., lead researcher for the study and nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Preventive Medicine, according to the American Heart Association.

Though the researchers in the study found that consumers who subscribe to a Southern-style diet face similar health risks regardless of location, they did find a higher concentration of Southern-style eaters in one area of the country; and not surprisingly it is the deep South.

African-American males, who have not graduated high school, or who are residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Tennessee are at the highest risk for heart attack, according to the study.

And trends in health concerns for those states confirm the study’s findings.

“The deep South is often referred to as the Stroke Belt and the Diabetes Belt because of the high prevalence of dietary-related stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease,” said Heller.

To diminish food-related risk of heart attack, heart disease, and stroke, experts recommend cutting back on Southern-style foods such as fried foods, offal meats, processed meats, and rich, buttery sauces and gravy. Also, sugary beverages such as sweet tea, a Southern staple, should be kept to a minimum.

[Image courtesy of John Parra/Getty Images]