Dietary Preferences Tied to Age, Race, and Location
Researchers trying to tease out dietary reasons for stroke risk have found that Americans follow one of five distinct dietary patterns, based on age, race, and where they live.
They discovered that African-Americans living in the Southeast had the strongest link between diet and risk for stroke. This is mainly because of a "Southern" diet, which includes plenty of fried foods, processed meats, and sweetened beverages.
"Nobody has defined dietary patterns in a population like this," says study co-author Suzanne Judd, Ph.D., at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The Southern diet probably emerged as a clear trend because the study included so many people from the Southeast, she says.
Previous research suggests that one of the major culprits for increased stroke risk among African-Americans is high blood pressure. The Southern diet typically contains a lot of salt/sodium, which increases the risk for high blood pressure, which in turn drives up stroke risk. A high-salt diet may also raise the risk for obesity.
"Not maintaining a healthy weight leads to so many problems in terms of how well blood vessels function," Dr. Judd says.
To determine diet patterns, the researchers gave food questionnaires to nearly 22,000 adults representing a range of income and education levels. All were 45 or older, either white or African-American, and lived in the continental U.S. More than half were in the Southeast.
Researchers then studied the questionnaires, grouping similar foods into categories. They looked at how those food groups were eaten. Participants were scored by how closely their diet resembled each pattern.
Besides the "Southern" diet, four other eating patterns were defined:
- "Traditional," a mixed diet of takeout and prepared foods
- "Healthy," mostly fruits, vegetables, and grains
- "Sweets" diet, mostly sweet snacks and desserts
- "Alcohol" pattern, which included salads, proteins, and alcohol
The alcohol eating pattern was more common in younger participants with higher incomes.
Among the trends identified by researchers, people ages 45 to 54 were more likely than older adults to follow a traditional diet. African-American participants most often ate a Southern diet, and white participants were more likely to follow a traditional or sweet diet.
These diet differences could not be explained by income and education alone. Dr. Judd says that culture and upbringing probably played a big part in defining a person's dietary patterns.
The next step is to look at the relationship between these dietary patterns and health, in particular stroke risk. "I'll be surprised if we don't see an association," she says.
The study results were presented at a recent meeting of the American Heart Association.
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