In a recent study published in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal, a team of researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that regular consumption of the “Southern-style” diet might increase the risk of heart and chronic kidney disease.
The new findings confirmed the results from a previous study that showed regular consumption of the “Southern-style” diet of fried foods, processed meats, foods high in fat and sugar-sweetened beverages, increases the risk of stroke and also the risk of death as a consequence of chronic kidney disease.
Documented risk factors for coronary heart disease (CHD) include dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, overweight/obesity, cigarette smoking, and physical inactivity. Observational and intervention studies provide evidence that diet also influences the development of CHD, likely through its effects on several of these key risk factors.
In the study titled “Southern Dietary Pattern is Associated with Hazard of Acute Coronary Heart Disease in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study”, James Shikany and colleagues used data from 17,418 participants from Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) to test the association of overall diet, as characterized by dietary patterns, with risk of incident acute CHD.
REGARDS is a large cohort study designed to identify factors which increase the risk of stroke in African Americans and subjects aged ≥45 years residing in the southern US. Five primary dietary patterns emerged from the analysis: Convenience, Plant-based, Sweets, Southern, and Alcohol and Salad. Participants were placed into categories of adherence to these dietary patterns, and researchers preformed a comparative analysis between those who consumed each pattern the most and those who consumed each pattern the least. The Southern-style pattern had the biggest increase in risk of heart disease.
The results specifically showed that after a median follow-up of 5.8 years, a total of 536 acute CHD events occurred. After adjustment for sociodemographics, lifestyle factors, and energy intake, highest consumers of the Southern pattern experienced a 56% higher hazard of acute CHD.
“People who most often ate foods conforming to the Southern-style dietary pattern had a 56 percent higher risk of heart disease compared to those who ate it less frequently,” said study lead author James M. Shikany, Dr.P.H., professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine.
Shikany noted that no other dietary pattern was related with an increase risk for heart disease. “I’m not surprised regular consumption of a Southern-style diet impacts heart disease, but the magnitude of the increased risk for heart disease was surprising,” Shikany said. “However, I was more surprised we didn’t see a protective effect of the plant-based dietary pattern.”
“For anyone eating a lot of the main components of the Southern dietary pattern, I’d recommend they scale back on their consumption,” Shikany said. “If you’re eating bacon every morning, maybe cut back to only two or three days per week, or if you’re drinking four glasses of sweet tea or several sugar-sweetened soft drinks per day, maybe reduce that to one a day and replace those with non-sweetened beverages.”
Shikany noted that people are more likely to adhere to small changes in diet. “I don’t like to recommend people completely eliminate foods because people don’t like that, and because of that, they won’t do it,” Shikany said. “So I advise gradual changes and not completely eliminating things that people enjoy eating. I think there’s plenty of room here for people to make changes and not completely eliminate a food item, while still improving their heart health.”