Fried chicken and sweet tea aren’t helping your heart

Fried chicken and sweet tea aren’t helping your heart

Multiple studies have shown that a Southern diet, which includes high intake of salt and unhealthy fats, is linked to health problems like stroke and kidney disease. To reduce the risk of these illnesses, individuals should cut back on the problematic foods and add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and polyunsaturated fats to their diets.

Increased risk of stroke
According to research presented at the American Stroke Association's 2013 International Stroke Conference, people who ate southern food six or more times a week had a 41 percent greater chance of stroke. These foods include bacon, ham and sweetened beverages, in addition to fried staples like fish, potatoes and chicken.

"We've got three major factors working together in the Southern-style diet to raise risks of cardiovascular disease: fatty foods are high in cholesterol, sugary drinks are linked to diabetes and salty foods lead to high blood pressure," said Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., the study's lead researcher.

Individuals with kidney disease
A new study linked this type of diet to other problems throughout the body. The research, published in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, showed that processed and fried foods are linked to death in kidney disease patients.

"This is the first study to identify a regionally specific diet pattern that's highly associated with adverse outcomes among persons with kidney disease," said Orlando Gutierrez, M.D., lead author of the study.

The data showed that individuals with kidney problems had a 50 percent greater risk of death over six years if they adhered to a Southern diet.

Offsetting the risks
Researchers agree that making dietary changes can reduce the risks associated with consuming too much fried and processed foods. Individuals should try to get five servings of fruits and vegetables each day and eat more whole grain foods.

There's also evidence that suggests baked fish is a better source of healthy fats than fried fish. A study by the American Heart Association showed that the preparation of seafood impacts its nutritional quality. Baked or broiled fish were shown to have more cardioprotective omega-3 fatty acids.

"It appears that boiling or baking fish with low-sodium soy sauce and tofu is beneficial, while eating fried, salted or dried fish isn't," said Lixin Meng, M.S., lead researcher of the study.

If you're concerned about your diet, consider making changes to follow these recommendations. A fish oil supplement can also supply the necessary levels of omega-3s that are often lacking in an American diet.

Essential takeaways

  • A diet heavy in fried foods and sweet drinks can increase your risk of heart problems and kidney disease. 
  • Bake or broil fish instead of frying to preserve beneficial fatty acids. 
  • Increase intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and omega-3s to keep your heart healthy.