Southern Diet, You’re Giving Me a Heart Attack

Southern food may increase heart disease risk

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Your mouth may like fried chicken and gravy, buttered rolls and sweet tea, but what about your heart?

In one of the first studies to compare dietary habits across the US, researchers from the University of Alabama found that a traditional Southern diet was linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

"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 lead study author James M. Shikany, DrPH, a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in a press release. "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."

Dr. Shikany and team used data from the REasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study to look at more than 17,000 white and black US men and women age 45 or older who enrolled between 2003 and 2007.

These men and women, who hailed from various regions across the US, were initially interviewed by Dr. Shikany and team and then tracked for six years.

Any participant who already had a history of heart disease was eliminated from this study.

Participants received an in-home physical exam and completed a food survey, which asked how often and how much they consumed certain foods during the previous year.

Dr. Shikany and team identified five dietary patterns among the participants: convenience, sweets, Southern, plant-based and alcohol/salads.

The convenience diet included mostly pasta, Mexican food, Chinese food, mixed dishes and pizza, while the plant-based diet included mostly vegetables, fruits, cereal, beans, yogurt, poultry and fish.

The sweets diet consisted of foods with added sugars, desserts, chocolate, candy and sweetened breakfast foods, while the alcohol/salads diet consisted of alcoholic beverages, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and salad dressings.

The Southern diet included mostly fried food, egg dishes, organ meats, processed meats, added fats and sugar-sweetened beverages.

The participants who primarily followed the Southern dietary pattern had a 56 percent increased risk of heart disease compared to those who rarely ate that way.

None of the other dietary patterns were linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Black men and participants who had not graduated high school were the groups most likely to eat a Southern diet.

Participants who lived in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana also tended to eat a Southern diet.

In a related editorial, Susan M. Krebs-Smith, PhD; Amy F. Subar, PhD, RD; and Jill Reedy, PhD, RD, wrote, "Questions remain regarding how those factors relate to the overall pattern of eating, whether those factors could be identified in other samples, and whether those factors are the most important with regard to [heart disease]. If this study was reexamined with different methods, we would have additional insights regarding the relationship between diet and [heart disease] in this population.”

The three doctors are associated with the Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program at the National Cancer Institute.

The study and editorial were published in the August issue of the journal Circulation.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition funded this research.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed

Review Date: 
August 10, 2015
Last Updated:
August 19, 2015