Deep-fried foods may be causing trouble in the Deep South. People whose diets are heavy on them and sugary drinks like sweet tea and soda were more likely to suffer a stroke, a new study finds.
It's the first big look at diet and strokes, and researchers say it might help explain why blacks in the Southeast — the nation's "stroke belt" — suffer more of them.
Blacks were five times more likely than whites to have the Southern dietary pattern linked with the highest stroke risk. And blacks and whites who live in the South were more likely to eat this way than people in other parts of the country were. Diet might explain as much as two-thirds of the excess stroke risk seen in blacks versus whites, researchers concluded.
"We're talking about fried foods, french fries, hamburgers, processed meats, hot dogs," bacon, ham, liver, gizzards and sugary drinks, said the study's leader, Suzanne Judd of the University of Alabama in Birmingham.
People who ate about six meals a week featuring these sorts of foods had a 41 percent higher stroke risk than people who ate that way about once a month, researchers found.
In contrast, people whose diets were high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish had a 29 percent lower stroke risk.
"It's a very big difference," Judd said. "The message for people in the middle is there's a graded risk" — the likelihood of suffering a stroke rises in proportion to each Southern meal in a week.
Results were reported Thursday at an American Stroke Association conference in Honolulu.
The federally funded study was launched in 2002 to explore regional variations in stroke risks and reasons for them. More than 20,000 people 45 or older — half of them black — from all 48 mainland states filled out food surveys and were sorted into one of five diet styles:
—Southern: Fried foods, processed meats (lunchmeat, jerky), red meat, eggs, sweet drinks and whole milk.
—Convenience: Mexican and Chinese food, pizza, pasta.
—Plant-based: Fruits, vegetables, juice, cereal, fish, poultry, yogurt, nuts and whole-grain bread.