What a Southern Diet Actually Is, and Three Ways It’s Killing You


Bacon for breakfast, fried chicken for lunch, and sweet tea to wash it all down—are the staple foods of a Southern-style diet slowly killing you? According to a new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, there’s a good chance they are. 

Researchers found the regular consumption of fried foods, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and foods high in fat afflict massive risk factors on healthy men and women, and worsen chronic conditions, too. 

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Using data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study—a national, population-based study of white and black adults—the research team came up with five dietary patterns using data from nearly 17,500 participants. These food and eating patterns included “convenience”, plant-based (people who eat primarily fruits, veggies, and fish), Sweets/fats (people who eat lots of sweet snacks, desserts, fats, and oils), “Southern” (fried food, organ meat, and sweetened drinks), Alcohol/salads (random combo, we know, but these folks drink lots of booze and eat a lot of salad, per the REGARDS study.)

Participants were divided into categories based on their adherence to these dietary patterns, and then comparisons were made between those who consumed each pattern the most and those who consumed each pattern the least. Turns out, the Southern-style pattern exhibited the biggest increase to the risk of heart disease.

According to the researchers, participants with a higher consumption of the Southern dietary pattern were typically younger than 65 years, male, and a resident of the “Stroke Belt.” Didn’t know there was an area referred to as the Stroke Belt? States include Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. But anyone whose diet is heavy in these types of foods is at a high risk. 

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Lead study author James M. Shikany, says: “For anyone eating a lot of the main components of the Southern dietary pattern, I’d recommend they scale back on their consumption. 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.”

Making small changes to your everyday diet is a better way of ensuring you don’t deprive yourself in the short term, and then binge-eat in the future. There’s room for the foods you love without eating them at every single meal. Aside from weight gain, the repercussions from eating these foods every day are not worth their weight in bacon (we promise). Just click through the next few slides for three ways a long-term heavy reliance on this type of diet can kill you—literally.

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Higher risk of heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And two of the main risk factors are the type of food you eat, and the quantity. According to the study results, people who most often ate foods in the Southern-style dietary pattern had a 56 percent higher risk of heart disease compared to those who ate it less frequently. “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 says. 

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Higher risk of kidney disease

People with kidney disease who ate foods consistent with the Southern-style dietary pattern most frequently had a 50 percent increase in risk of death, according to the results. This is an alarming statistic when you figure in 3.9 million U.S. adults have been diagnosed with kidney disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

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Higher risk of stroke

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of adult disability. With an estimated 800,000 men and women in the U.S. suffering strokes each year, do you really want to up your odds?

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