Heart Healthy Diet Hard to Find in Traditional Southern US Food

At first glance, the headline for this article may seem from the Department of “Research on the Obvious.” However, here are some facts that offer more insight to help you eat foods that will keep your heart healthy.

“We know that food can affect your blood pressure, cholesterol and a variety of other markers that can impact your heart,” says McLeod Cardiologist Anil Om, MD. “Yet, while heart attack rates in the Northeast have declined since 1973, the declines in the South weren’t nearly as significant.”

In 1973, the clusters of heart attack regions encompassed the Northeast corridor through parts of Appalachia and into the Midwest, plus the coastal areas along the Southeast, including South Carolina and North Carolina.

By 2010, heart disease deaths dropped across the nation, good news for the Northeast and Midwest, where drops of 83.4% were reported. But no so good in the south, where rates only dropped 9.2%

Obviously, many factors affect heart disease death rates – from smoking and physical activity to economic conditions and, of course, diet.

One research study followed 17,000 people aged 45 and older, looking at what they ate. Researchers found that people fell into five dietary patterns – some of them very unique:

  • Plant-based diets involve vegetables, fruits, fruit juice, cereals, beans, poultry and yogurt.
  • Sweets diet patterns include added sugars, desserts, chocolate and candy.
  • Convenience diets include people who eat at restaurants offering pasta, pizza, Mexican and Chinese food.
  • Alcohol-Salad diets include people, who prefer drinking beer, wine and liquor to go with their green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and salad dressing.
  • Southern diet patterns include fried foods, processed meats, foods with added fats and sugary drinks.

Given all the diet variations – not all of them good – it was the Southern diet that caused the most concern. Participants, whose diets most closely reflect the Southern diet foods, showed a 37% higher heart attack rate over 6 years, compared to the healthiest choices.

Helping your heart doesn’t require entirely changing your diet or drinking only kale smoothies. Try grilled chicken, rather than fried. Cut down on the number of sweet teas you drink. Or do half sweet-half unsweetened tea.

Any positive changes you make are helping not only you, but also your family. Start today.

Find a cardiologist near you.

Sources include: McLeod Health, American Heart Association, U.S.Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, American College of Cardiology