Fried chicken and gravy is delicious, but it's also dangerous for your heart. That alone might seem to come from the Department of the Obvious, but just how dangerous a Southern-style diet can be might surprise you: Researchers at the University of Alabama say it can boost a person's heart attack risk by 56% for at least 5.8 years, based on a study of 17,400 black and white Americans 45 or older across the US who completed a physical exam and food questionnaire. Published in the journal Circulation, the study found those who regularly ate a Southern diet—composed of fried or fatty foods, eggs, processed meats like bacon and ham, organ meats like liver, and sugary drinks—also had a higher risk of a heart-related death, hypertension, and diabetes compared to those who ate less Southern food, reports LiveScience. Previous research tied the diet to an increased stroke risk.
Though the study didn't investigate why the diet was worse than others—researchers found no heart risk among convenience, plant-based, and sweets diets—a researcher tells HealthDay excess saturated fats in processed meats and sugar can boost cholesterol, insulin resistance, and body weight to hurt the heart. Sodium and nitrate preservatives also fill blood vessels with plaque. The Southern diet is most often consumed by black men in southern states, but "regardless of your gender, race, or where you live, if you frequently eat a Southern-style diet you should be aware of your risk of heart disease and try to make some gradual changes to your diet," a researcher says in a press release. "Try cutting down the number of times you eat fried foods or processed meats from every day to three days a week as a start, and try substituting baked or grilled chicken or vegetable-based foods." (If not, here are heart attack tips.)