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Bless Your Heart: Southern Diet Weighs Heavily on TN Health

A new study published in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal, finds that a regular diet of Southern foods can increase your risk of heart disease by 56 percent. Credit: American Heart Association
A new study published in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal, finds that a regular diet of Southern foods can increase your risk of heart disease by 56 percent. Credit: American Heart Association
August 19, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The long-term health impact of consuming fried chicken, sweet tea and other traditional Southern comfort foods can increase your risk of heart disease by 56 percent, a new study suggests.

According to research published in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal, people with a routine diet of Southern foods, including eggs, processed meats, liver and other organ meats and sugary drinks are at a higher risk of suffering a heart attack or heart-related death in the next five years.

Dr. Sharmin Basher, a cardiologist for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said it's not uncommon for health issues related to a Southern diet to be part of a family tradition.

"This is not uncommon to see multi-generational families, many that have the same risk factors among siblings and parents and grandparents and risk factors that are known to contribute to heart disease and stroke," she said. "and those are notably high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes."

Researchers found the most frequent consumers of the Southern diet tended to be male, African-American, had not graduated high school or were residents of Tennessee and other Southern states.

While cutting out fried and high-sugar foods is optimal, Basher said, you don't have to quit cold turkey when it comes to Southern fare.

"It's a more realistic approach for many people," she said. "Another option is making healthier subsitutes for the staple Southern comfort dishes that we are familiar with, such as a healthier version of fried chicken."

Basher added that the best way to improve your heart health is to follow a plant-based diet regularly and save traditional Southern dishes for special occasions. You also can reduce the amount of salt in your food by using herbs to flavor food as an alternative.

The study is online at heart.org.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN