Why Southern Food is Linked to High Blood Pressure

Photo Courtesy of Mayo Clinic

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease. Blood pressure is determined both by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.

A traditional Southern diet – identified as fried foods, organ meats, processed meats, egg and egg dishes, sugar-sweetened beverages, and bread – play a large role in the prevalence of high blood pressure in the African-American population, according to a study. Researchers say along with diet, activity level, environmental and socio-economic conditions also can be factors.

Dr. Ivan Porter II, a nephrologist at Mayo Clinic, says the study helps to hone down on some dietary changes that people can make and have a pretty large impact on blood pressure. “Fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and sweet tea, those tend to play a larger role in the Southern diet, and we know that those are associated with high blood pressure,” says Dr. Porter.

That’s because Southern cooking tends to be high in saturated fats, salts and loaded with added sugar – all risk factors for hypertension. And these excesses are major risk factors for heart disease, stroke, vision problems and kidney disease – huge problems in the African American community, says Dr. Porter. “Forty-one percent of African-Americans can have high blood pressure, compared with 27 percent of their white counterparts or Caucasians.” Dr. Porter says it’s time to change that.

It doesn’t mean your favorite foods are off the menu. Everything must be in moderation. “If you can change the way that you approach your diet, you can certainly change the impact that high blood pressure can have on your health.” Dr. Porter tells his patients to start change by eliminating one high risk food at a time. “Look at the calories that they’re getting from sugar-sweetened beverages and try to eliminate that as a start.”

For more information on health care topics please visit Mayo Clinic Jacksonville mayoclinic.org.


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