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Southern Diet Linked to Higher Stroke Risk

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Gizzards, Organ Meats

The Southern diet includes meats high in saturated fat: things like organ meats and gizzards (the neck of poultry). "In a lot of Southern kitchens, people will use all parts of an animal -- to flavor broths and stews -- and they will use organ meats and cuts that you wouldn’t see in other places," Judd says.

Calorie-wise, the Southern diet does not differ that much from other diets.

The research shows that 10 states -- Delaware, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Illinois, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan, and Maryland -- followed the Southern diet the most. 

Racial Disparity

Previous studies have shown a two- to four-times-higher risk of stroke among young African-Americans compared to young whites, Judd says. In this new study, the Southern diet explains about 63% of the racial variation in stroke risk.

"To me, the really interesting part of the study is that diet explains so much of the racial disparity between African-Americans and whites," she says.

Judd and her colleagues also ranked people according to how well they stuck to a plant-based diet. The groups that followed this diet the most showed a 20% lower risk of stroke. "As long as you were eating some (of the plant-based diet), it looked like it was protective," she says.

"We'd love to look at that next -- to find out whether it’s the bad foods or the lack of good food" that raises stroke risk, she says.

Judd and her colleagues also hope to look at how the Southern diet might affect mental skills. And they would like to learn whether being born in the South or moving there makes a difference to dietary habits.

Novel Information

When asked to comment on the study, Brian Silver, MD, a neurologist at Rhode Island Hospital, called it "fantastic."

"The authors have done their homework in trying to really analyze in great detail the effects of diet on stroke risk," he says.

Silver says he was surprised to learn that almost two-thirds of the stroke risk is due to diet. "That is novel information for certain. It tells us that we can’t just blame our genes necessarily; we definitely do have to make efforts to try to fix our diet."

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