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 about a forty-percent increase in risk in people that were eating a lot of southern-style foods, and by a lot it was on average six times a week," said Dr. Suzanne Judd, the lead author of the study, which was based at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
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.
"African Americans, particularly young African-Americans, are about two to four times more likely to have a stroke than their white counterparts," said Judd.
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.
Southern-style diets tend to be high in fried foods, processed meats, eggs, whole milk and sugary drinks.
In contrast, people whose diets were high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish had a 29 percent lower stroke risk.
"The foods that we eat affect the lining of our arteries, and those arteries can thicken," said Dr. Michael Frankel, a neurology professor at the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta. "We call it atherosclerosis, and they can cause that atherosclerosis to accelerate or worsen and then cause blood clots to form and that leads to strokes and heart attacks."
Judd says small improvements can begin to reduce one's stroke risk. Southerns may not need to change their ways entirely.
"If people can add just one fruit or vegetable, add a whole grain bread instead of a white bread, maybe cut some sugar out of their beverages, that might help to reduce their risk of stroke," said Judd.
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.