WEDNESDAY, Dec. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Southerners living in the area of the United States known as the "stroke belt" eat twice as much fried fish as people living in other parts of the country do, according to a new study looking at regional and ethnic eating habits for clues about the region's high stroke rate.
The stroke belt, with more deaths from stroke than the rest of the country, includes North and South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Louisiana.
Consuming a lot of fried foods, especially when cooked in animal or trans fats, is a risk factor for poor cardiovascular health, according to health experts.
"We looked at fish consumption because we know that it is associated with a reduced risk of ischemic stroke, [which is] caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain," said study author Dr. Fadi Nahab, director of the Stroke Program at Emory University in Atlanta. "More and more data is building up that there is a nutritional benefit in fish, specifically the omega-3 fats, that protects people."
The study, published online and in the Jan. 11, 2011 issue of the journal Neurology, measured how much fried and non-fried fish people living inside and outside of the stroke belt ate, to gauge their intake of omega-3 fats contained in high amounts in fatty fish such as mackerel, herring and salmon.
In the study, "non-fried fish" was used as a marker for mackerel, herring and salmon.
Frying significantly reduces the omega-3 fats contained in fish. Unlike omega-3-rich fish, lean varieties like cod and haddock -- lower in omega-3 fats to start with -- are usually eaten fried.
People in the stroke belt were 17 percent less likely to eat two or more non-fried fish servings a week, and 32 percent more likely to have two or more servings of fried fish. The American Heart Association's guidelines call for two fish servin
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