Based on fried, ultra-processed and soft drinks, this diet also comes from the United States and displaces the ‘Western diet’ as the least healthy.

A sandwich with bacon and ketchup.

If in recent years it has been seen as the so-called ‘western diet’, based on processed and ultra-processed, is guilty of a multitude of damages and ailments in industrialized countries, it seems that it would not be the worst dietary option after all. A new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association I would suggest that there is a worse diet if possible: the ‘southern diet’, in reference to the southern states of the United States, and based on fried foods and sugary drinks among others.

And, according to the AHA study, a southern-style diet would be one characterized by the consumption of fats, fried, eggs, organ meats (liver, giblets), processed meats (cold cuts, bacon and sausages) and sugary drinks. Similar to the aforementioned Western diet, but with an even greater predominance of fried foods.

This diet, as mentioned by the study authors, led by James M. Shikary, professor of medicine and associate director of research in the Division of Preventive Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, would be able to dramatically increase the risk of sudden death from cardiac causes. But, for its part, the Mediterranean diet could offset that risk.

To reach such a conclusion, Shikary and his colleagues examined data from more than 21,000 people aged 45 and over enrolled in a national research project called Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS), which examines the geographical and racial differences in terms of stroke, between 2003 and 2007, with 56% of its participants being women, 33% black adults, and 56% inhabitants of the southeastern United States.

The study also included participants with and without a history of coronary heart disease. Participants’ diet was evaluated by means of a food frequency questionnaire at the beginning of the study, including both frequency and amount of consumption of 110 different foods during the previous year.

Although there are already many studies focused on the potential association between diet and cardio and cerebrovascular disease, this particular work would stand out for the search for an association between diet and risk of sudden cardiac death. This type of death is common, accounting for one in every 7.5 deaths in the United States in 2016.

In this case, the researchers calculated a Mediterranean diet score based on specific food groups considered beneficial or detrimental to health. Five dietary patterns were created:

1) Southern diet.

2) “Sweet” dietary pattern, highlighting the consumption of added sugars such as desserts, chocolates, sweets and sweetened foods during breakfast.

3) Dietary “convenience” pattern, based on easy-to-prepare foods like mixed bananas, pasta dishes, or fast foods like pizza, Mexican food, and Chinese food.

4) “Plant-based” dietary pattern, rich in vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, whole grains, legumes, fish, poultry and yogurt.

5) Dietary pattern of “alcohol and salad”, highlighting the consumption of beer, wine and liquor, along with green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and salad dressing.

The patterns were not mutually exclusive. In fact, Shikany notes that all the participants had some level of adherence to each pattern, but that they stood out for adhering more significantly to one of them in particular.

The worst way to eat

According to the study findings, after 10 years of follow-up every six months, there were more than 400 sudden deaths for cardiac causes among the 21,000 study participants. Overall, participants who followed a southern diet had up to a 46% higher risk of sudden cardiac death than those who had a lower adherence to this dietary pattern.

On the other hand, those who followed a dietary pattern similar to the Mediterranean diet (in this case, the plant-based pattern), they had a 26% lower risk of sudden cardiac death.

The AHA itself supports in its recommendations the need to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, fish, legumes, nuts and vegetable oils such as olive or canola oil.

In addition, it is also advisable to reduce the consumption of saturated fat, sodium, added sugars and processed meat. Above all, and taking into account that the main source of added sugar in the American diet is soft drinks, it is strongly advised to stop the consumption of this type of drink.

As can be seen, all these recommendations would represent a plant-based, Mediterranean-style dietary pattern, totally in opposition to the “new” southern diet mentioned in this work.