Location can play a role in the foods you eat, meaning wherever you are right now is effecting what you consume. If you reside along the west coast you probably enjoy fresh vegetables and even prawns. But if you reside in the South you probably enjoy collard greens, grits, fried chicken, potatoes and corn bread, just to name a few.
The Southern diet revolves around comfort food: the stuff you grew up on, the stuff your grandmother made and the stuff that is severely putting your heart at risk.
It may not be a shock to you, but the Southern diet has been linked to an increased heart risk. What is shocking about the new report is why.
Southern diet linked to poor heart health
The Southern diet is characterized by fried and fatty foods, which by now we know can contribute to poor heart health. Researchers from the University of Alabama examined data from over 17,000 individuals over the age of 45. These individuals had no prior history of heart disease, resided all over America and were asked to fill out food frequency questionnaires. Furthermore, all individuals took part in a physical exam. Over the course of six years researchers checked in with each person to document cases of heart disease.
Researchers noted five emerging eating patterns from the data.
- Southern pattern: Fatty, fried foods, organ meats, processed meats, added fat, sugary beverages
- Convenience pattern: Foods easy to prepare – pasta, Mexican, Chinese, pizza
- Plant-based pattern: Plenty of fruits, vegetables, poultry
- Sweets pattern: Foods high in sugar, desserts, etc.
- Alcohol/salad pattern: Alcoholic beverages and salads
Those who reported primarily following the Southern diet were at 56 percent higher risk of developing heart disease. Southern dieters were even more likely to have hypertension, diabetes and fat in the blood. Even when results were adjusted for income, age and gender, the association between the Southern diet and poor heart function remained.
Furthermore, the typical individual consuming the Southern diet most was African-American, brought in an income of $20,000 or less, did not graduate high school, was over the age of 65 and resided in what is commonly referred to as the “stroke belt” (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana).
The surprising information here is the fact that those who adhered to the Southern diet the most were seniors who did not make much money. This shows that options are limited for individuals in this group, and eating healthy becomes harder due to higher prices.
The Southern diet also contains high sodium, trans fats and can lead to insulin resistance, which can all contribute to poor heart health.
Solutions to the Southern diet
Although location may influence how you eat, you can still make healthy choices within your means without necessarily giving up what you love. A health expert who commented on the study proposed solutions such as oven-baking food or cooking collard greens New York Style – this involves simmering the greens in olive oil. Criticism of the suggestions reveals that although these are viable solutions, they may still be difficult for those living in poverty.
Other suggestions propose minimizing your intake of the Southern diet and trying to balance your diet with whole foods which are not deep-fried. Although this may not be significant, minimizing your intake is still a viable step towards protecting your heart.
If the struggle is getting senior adults to eat well, then government intervention needs to occur, making it easier for seniors to obtain healthy food. Furthermore, a majority of them did not graduate high school, so education may also have to take place to stress the importance of a healthy diet as a means to protect the heart.
Even though the findings may not surprise you, they still offer important insight which paint a picture of America. The research further reveals that there are parts of the population which will require support in order to live well.