Southern diet could be deadly for people with heart disease

Researchers defined the U.S. Southern diet as high in added fats, fried food, eggs, processed meats and sugar-sweetened beverages. By contrast, the Mediterranean diet was defined as high in vegetables, fruits, fish, whole grains and legumes, and low in meat and dairy.

The study is among the first to zero in on people who already had a history of coronary heart disease, such as a previous heart attack or coronary artery bypass surgery. Researchers examined data from 3,562 white and African-American men and women ages 45 and older living in different parts of the United States. Participants were first given an exam and dietary assessment, and then called every six months to ask about new coronary heart disease events.

Seven years later, 581 people had experienced a second coronary heart disease event, and 1,098 people had died from a variety of causes. After looking closely at an assortment of dietary patterns, researchers found a clear association between death and people who ate a Southern diet.

“The greater someone adheres to the Southern dietary pattern, the higher the risk of all-cause mortality,” said James Shikany, the study’s lead author and a nutritional epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Division of Preventive Medicine. “But with the Mediterranean diet, the greater they adhere, the lower the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease and all-cause mortality.”

The study was a follow-up to research published in 2015 that found a higher risk of acute heart attack or heart-related death among participants without a history of heart disease at the start of the study.

Shikany said it’s important to note that the research – both the new study and the 2015 study – looked at dietary patterns, not specific foods. “We do not know which individual components of the Southern pattern confer the most risk,” he said. 

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