Mind and Body

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.

Photo of a family around an outdoor grill

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.

Diet and blood pressure

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.

Dietary patterns

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.

Other trends

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.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Stroke Association - About Stroke

CDC - Stroke

National Stroke Association - Warning Signs of Stroke

May 2012

Reduce Your Risk

You can't change some risk factors for stroke, such as age or gender, but you can change others. Here's how:

  • Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure increases your risk for stroke by as much as six times. Because high blood pressure has no symptoms, you can't gauge your pressure by the way you feel. You must have it checked and treated with medication, if necessary.

  • Don't smoke. Smokers are twice as likely as nonsmokers to suffer a stroke, because of the effects of nicotine and carbon monoxide. Smoking and using oral contraceptives increases the risk for stroke even more.

  • Limit how much alcohol you drink. Too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure, which increases your risk for stroke. Alcohol also can lead to obesity and raise triglyceride levels. Men should have no more than two drinks a day; women, one.

  • Eat a healthy diet. Limit how many high-fat and high-cholesterol foods you eat. Too much cholesterol in your bloodstream can cause a buildup of plaque in your blood vessels that can block blood flow to your brain, causing a stroke. It also can put you at risk for heart disease, a strong risk factor for stroke.

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Adding these to your daily diet can reduce your risk.

  • Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days. This can help lower your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease, both of which are risk factors for stroke.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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