Delicious but bad for your health: What makes the Southern Diet so unhealthy?

Southern-style cooking is one of the most popular cuisines around the world. However, a diet exclusively filled with mouthwatering foods from the South – collard greens with ham, deep-fried chicken, mac-and-cheese, and sweetened ice tea come to mind – can cause severe harm to your heart over the years.

“The so-called Southern-style diet includes lots of fried foods, organs and processed meats, bread, dairy and beverages sweetened with sugar,” warned Dr. Thomas Stoughton, a heart health expert at McLeod Health in South Carolina. “As a cardiologist, it’s sad to see patients who would otherwise be healthy, except for the food they love to eat.”

The Southern diet came from a time when the lack of access to food forced people to cook and eat whatever was at hand to avoid starvation. As a result of the available ingredients and methods of cooking, the diet contains significant concentrations of unhealthy nitrates, salts, sugars, and trans fats.

A large-scale study by the University of Alabama (UA) evaluated the dietary habits of people over 45 years of age who had not yet experienced heart disease. The 2015 study found that African Americans preferred the Southern diet over others. The researchers theorized that the dietary pattern could contribute to the higher blood pressure and greater risk of cardiovascular illnesses among African Americans. (Related: 11 Delicious Key Ingredients that Make The Mediterranean Diet So Nutritious.)

Other diets that are as unhealthy as Southern cuisine

In addition to Southern foods, the UA study also identified several eating patterns that could lead to various health problems. These unhealthy diets increase blood pressure and place a severe strain on the heart.


The convenience diet is made up of take-out foods that are prepared at a restaurant but taken elsewhere for consumption. It includes Chinese, Mexican, and Italian foods, with the contributions of the latter predominated by pasta and pizza.

Next is the alcohol/salads diet. While this diet has plenty of green leafy vegetables and other healthy plant-based food, it also uses large amounts of salad dressing made from processed ingredients. It also includes excessive amounts of liquor, such as beer and wine.

Last but not least comes the sweets diet. Not limited to candies and chocolate, it also includes heavily processed breakfast cereals and large servings of similarly processed sugar.

Switch to healthier diets that support the heart and vascular system

Fortunately, it is possible to mitigate the harmful effects of these diets on cardiovascular health. People who want to avoid high blood pressure and heart disease should reduce their consumption of unhealthy foods included in alcohol, convenience, Southern, and sweets diets.

Instead, they should eat more plant-based foods. Beans, fruits, and green leafy vegetables are highly recommended. Healthy food products derived from animal sources include fish, poultry, and probiotic-rich yogurt.

The South Beach diet is one of the healthier substitutes for the Southern diet. It is a low-carb diet that has lots of lean meats, unsaturated fats, and low-glycemic-index carbohydrates. The diet is perfect for diabetic, overweight, and prediabetic patients who want to lose weight while also avoiding the risk of heart disease.

Partly derived from the Atkins diet, the South Beach diet improves upon the earlier weight loss program. It significantly reduces the intake of unhealthy saturated fat that increases the risk of heart disease. Furthermore, it also increases the amount of fruit, whole grains, and other foods that contain plenty of dietary fiber and “good carbs.”

One of the few drawbacks of the South Beach diet is that it allows processed vegetable oils. Instead, consumers can choose unprocessed products like avocado oil, macadamia oil, and extra virgin olive oil.

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