Researchers are narrowing in on the reason why US residents in the southeast have a significantly higher probability of stroke than persons in the rest of the contiguous 48 states. In fact, those states–Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee–are grimly referred to as the Stroke Belt rather than the Sun Belt.
Over a four-year-period, Suzanne Judd, PhD, of the University of Alabama-Birmingham, and her colleagues examined dietary data on 20,480 people age 45 and older in the Lower 48. Judd presented the results of the study at a recent International Stroke Conference:
Persons who ate the most Southern-style food—averaging 6 meals per week– were 41% more likely to suffer a stroke over a 5-year period than those who ate the least—averaging 1 such meal per month.
After adjusting for factors such as smoking and physical activity, those who were in the top quartile for consuming the Southern diet had a 30% greater risk of stroke.
Researchers divided the self-reported diets of study participants into 5 eating styles:
Southern–Fried chicken and vegetables, processed or salty meats such as lunchmeat and jerky, red meat, eggs, sweet drinks such as sugared ice tea, whole milk.
Convenience—Mexican and Chinese food, pizza, pasta.
Plant-based—Fruits, vegetables, juice, cereal, whole-grain bread and fish, poultry and yogurt.
Sweets—Chocolate, desserts, sweet breakfast foods, breads plus added fats.
Alcohol—Beer wine, liquor, green leafy vegetables, salad dressings, nuts and seeds, coffee.
Only the Southern and Plant-based dietary patterns were associated with definite patterns of stroke risk; those in the Plant-based group experienced the least number of strokes.
In conclusion, Judd observed that the Southern diet combines 3 factors known to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease:
Foods high in saturated fats contribute to high cholesterol levels.
Salty foods contribute to high blood pressure.
Sugary drinks increase the risk of diabetes—just ask Paula Dean.
Sources: Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, May 2013 Paper read at International Stroke Conference, May 2013