July 9, 2021 — A large study shows that eating a diet high in fat, fried foods, processed meats, and sugary drinks is linked to a higher risk of sudden cardiac death, a common cause of death in the U.S.
The research, published June 30 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, examined the dietary patterns of more than 21,000 people 45 years old and older. The research took place over 18 years in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study.
In the study, the dietary patterns were named for the groupings of various foods that dominated the pattern. For example, the “Convenience” pattern relied on mixed dishes, pasta, pizza, Mexican, and Chinese food. The “Plant-based” pattern favored vegetables, fruits, fruit juice, cereal, beans, fish, poultry, and yogurt. The “Sweets” pattern loaded up on added sugars, desserts, chocolate, candy, and sweetened breakfast food. The “Southern” pattern included added fats, fried food, eggs and egg dishes, organ meats, processed meats, and sugar-sweetened beverages, reflecting a culinary pattern observed in the Southeastern U.S. Finally, an “Alcohol and Salad” pattern loaded highly on beer, wine, liquor, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, and salad dressing.
These patterns weren’t mutually exclusive; those who had an affinity for the Southern-style diet also ate fewer plants, for instance.
After adjusting for other factors that may impact risk, the study authors found that those who ate a Southern-style diet showed a trend toward a higher risk of sudden cardiac death at 46% compared to those who ate this kind of diet the least. Meanwhile, the study also revealed that eating a traditional Mediterranean diet was associated with a 26% lower risk for sudden cardiac death.
Lead study author James Shikany, DrPH, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, says the results suggest that diet is a factor we have some control over when it comes to reducing the risk of sudden cardiac death.
“I hope this is another piece of the puzzle that will help people make changes,” he says. “So instead of eating meat once or twice a day they’ll cut down to two or three times a week; I like small, incremental changes as those are more likely to last.”