The Worst Possible Diet for Your Heart and Your Waistline

Fried chicken meal
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You might think that a diet of pizza and fast food would be bad for your cardiovascular health and for weight gain—and you would be right. And you might know that a diet that is heavy in added sugars is bad for your health—that is also correct. But researchers have now uncovered a diet that is even worse than both the above.

Living in the Stroke Belt

The southeastern United States has gained a dubious title from public health experts: the Stroke Belt.

That is because this region of the United States has the highest incidence of stroke, as well as other forms of cardiovascular disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the highest concentration of stroke rates in the United States occur in the South.

The American South, as a region overall, has also repeatedly been found to have the highest levels of obesity and diabetes, both of which are risk factors for stroke and cardiovascular disease.

The Southern Diet

As it turns out, in addition to issues with sedentary lifestyle and low walkability in urban and rural areas in the South, the Southern-style diet has a lot to do with the “Stroke Belt” title, too.

Researchers who gathered data from over 17,000 adult participants found that those who were the highest consumers of what was called the “Southern pattern, characterized by added fats, fried food, eggs, organ and processed meats, and sugar-sweetened beverages” had an extremely high risk of cardiovascular disease—including heart attack and stroke.

In fact, those who consumed primarily a Southern diet were at higher risk of cardiovascular disease than those who ate mainly fast foods like pizza and Chinese take-out or who subsisted mainly on high-sugar diets.

Move Over, Fried Chicken

This means that eating primarily fried foods, as is common in the South—think fried chicken, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, fried pickles; basically, fried everything—will take down your ticker faster and more often than just about any other style of eating.

No, don’t interpret this as meaning that “pizza and fast food are good for you”—they’re still not—but rather, understand that there is something even worse out there, as far as your heart, your brain and your waistline are concerned.

Other elements of the Southern diet that contribute to higher cardiovascular disease rates include the frequent inclusion of processed and salty meats (like ham and bacon) as well as the increased intake of sugared beverages (like soda, sweet tea and juices).

Healthier Styles of Eating

For dietary styles that have been scientifically proven to be good for your cardiovascular system, look instead to the Mediterranean-style diet, the DASH diet and any dietary pattern that includes lots of whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables.


Shikany JM, Safford MM, Newby PK, et al. Southern dietary pattern is associated with hazard of acute coronary heart disease in the reasons for geographic and racial differences in stroke (REGARDS) study. Circulation. 2015 Aug 10. [Epub ahead of print]

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevalence of self-reported obesity among U.S. adults by state and territory, BRFSS, 2013. Accessed online at on August 14, 2015.

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