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How to eat your favorite fast foods with half the fat!

Dec. 9, 2015|847 views
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There’s a hilarious country music video getting some attention online. It features a well-padded older gentleman, gustily singing the refrain: “I’m a deep-fried, double-wide version of the man I used to be…” The misery doesn’t end there for this good old boy. “It all happened kinda slow, but I guess I let myself go…I don’t look good naked anymore,” he adds (a tad redundantly, one might note, were one in an uncharitable mood). It’s amusing to watch his belly jiggle as he bemoans his long-lost sexual appeal. And there’s little doubt as to the source of his unfortunate transformation: all that delicious deep-fried Southern food is clearly to blame.

It’s all in good fun, but according to a serious new study, this “double-wide” fellow is on to something: traditional fried-everything Southern food was judged to be among the unhealthiest possible cuisines one can eat. That’s right. It’s not your imagination that all that fried catfish, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and green beans swimming in bacon fat is not great for your waistline or your cardiovascular health.

According to a report by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (it doesn’t get much deeper South than that, folks) regular consumption of the classic Southern diet of sugar-sweetened tea, deep-fried chicken, and bacon on everything, is a recipe for heart attack. "People who most often ate foods conforming to the Southern-style dietary pattern had a 56 percent higher risk of heart disease compared to those who ate it less frequently," said study lead author James M. Shikany, Dr.P.H., professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine, in a press release.

Among five dietary patterns—some of which sound less than healthful (examples include: “sweets”, “convenience,” and “alcohol plus salads”) only “Southern” was linked to significant increases in heart disease risk, when consumed regularly. "I'm not surprised regular consumption of a Southern-style diet impacts heart disease, but the magnitude of the increased risk for heart disease was surprising," Shikany said.

Rather than cutting out favorite Southern-style foods altogether, Shikany and colleagues recommend scaling back on your consumption. And don’t fail to recognize the contribution of all that sweet tea to the diet’s overall unhealthfulness. "If you're eating bacon every morning, maybe cut back to only two or three days per week, or if you're drinking four glasses of sweet tea or several sugar-sweetened soft drinks per day, maybe reduce that to one a day and replace those with non-sweetened beverages.” Going cold turkey usually fails, Shikany says, so gradually changing your habits may be a better approach to longterm success. Who knows, unlike our “deep-fried, double-wide” singer, you might even be able to see your toes again. (But, hopefully, not for the first time since the 1980s!)

Coat chicken, fish, onions or even pickles with the following ingredients for a healthier version of your fried foods:

  • 1 1/2 cups cornflakes
  • 1/2 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a food processor, pulse cornflakes and breadcrumbs until fine crumbs form, then transfer to a medium bowl. In another medium bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, flour, and cayenne and season with salt and pepper.

  2. Dip desired food choice in egg mixture (letting excess drip off) and dredge in cornflake mixture; place on a large plate. Place on parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Arrange food on sheet. Bake, turning once, until items are golden brown, about 16 minutes. Season with salt.          


James M. Shikany, Monika M. Safford, P.K. Newby, Raegan W. Durant, Todd M. Brown, and Suzanne E. Judd. Southern Dietary Pattern is Associated with Hazard of Acute Coronary Heart Disease in the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) Study. Circulation, August 2015 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.114.014421