"We looked to see whether certain patterns of eating correlated with increased risk of death among kidney patients," he said. "We wanted to put the spotlight on what people are actually eating, rather than salt intake or fat intake."
The researchers identified nearly 4,000 people with chronic kidney disease who had not started dialysis, and analyzed the way those folks regularly ate.
The researchers found that those who primarily ate processed and fried foods, organ meats and sweetened beverages -- all items popular in Southern diets -- had slightly more than a 50 percent increase in their risk of death during the approximately 6-year follow-up period.
The Southern diet is rich in nutrients that aren't recommended for kidney patients, Gutierrez said. For example, processed foods tend to contain lots of salt and phosphorus, which kidney patients have a hard time filtering from their bloodstream and can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
The same goes for the sugar loaded into sweet tea and soft drinks, which increases risk of diabetes, and the heavy doses of fats contained in fried foods.
These harmful substances may be why the southern region got its less-than-flattering nickname -- the "Stroke Belt," said Thomas Manley, director of scientific activities for the National Kidney Foundation.
"The vast majority of death from kidney disease is related to heart disease," Manley said. "If you develop kidney disease, you're much more likely to die from heart disease -- heart attacks, heart failure, stroke -- than someone who doesn't have kidney disease."
Because kidney patients who ate a plant-based diet appeared to have an improved survival rate, it stands to reason that changing your diet might help even if you already have kidney disease, Gutierrez said.
"Even though these individuals had kidney disease already, they seemed to have better outcomes over time compared to their peers," he said.
All rights reserved