The Importance of Your Diet for Metabolic Syndrome

Dr. Christopher McGowan
March 15, 2021

There are some diseases you can do very little about. Whether they come about by genetic factors or exposure to toxins and pathogens in your environment, some diseases and conditions are hard to avoid. 

There are other health conditions where you have almost total control over your risk, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Metabolic syndrome, the name given to a collection of risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and elevated blood glucose levels, is certainly in this latter category. In many cases, changes in lifestyle can lower or even eliminate your risk of metabolic syndrome.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a term used to describe a set of conditions that affect your health in several different areas. Unlike type 2 diabetes or high triglyceride levels that represent a specific condition, metabolic syndrome is a broad designation that points to a set of worrying indicators of your overall cardiovascular health. 

One of the primary components in this diagnosis is having a waist circumference that puts you in a high body mass index category. This measurement is important, as high levels of abdominal obesity are strongly correlated to a long list of diseases and conditions. In addition to being overweight, metabolic syndrome includes a range of cardiovascular risk factors, high blood sugar, blood lipid abnormalities, and even family history.

What are the Five Signs of Metabolic Syndrome?

Since it is not a specific condition, but rather a set of risk factors, a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome relies on meeting several criteria. The five signs generally used to diagnose metabolic syndrome are the following:

  • A triglyceride levels greater than 150 mg/dl
  • A waistline of at least 35 inches for women or 40 inches or larger for men
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 mm Hg or above, or being on blood pressure medications
  • A fasting blood sugar level higher than 100 mg/dl, or taking blood glucose-lowering medications
  • An HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein) level under 40 mg/dl in men or below 50 mg/dl in women

It is possible that you may not meet all of these requirements and still be at risk for diabetes or cardiovascular disease. It is also important to remember that the conditions listed as part of metabolic syndrome tend to feed off each other, so unhealthy numbers in one area may indicate elevated risks for other health conditions. Obesity, for example, has strong links to vascular diseases, insulin resistance, hypertension, and heart attacks. Abdominal obesity in particular is linked to higher risk of these and other diseases.

What is the Best Diet for Metabolic Syndrome?

If your doctor has given you the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, it is time to get serious about your diet. Even if you don’t meet the strict definition of the syndrome, maintaining a high level of body fat is putting increased stress on your body. Thankfully, dietary changes can help bring down your weight, as well as bring you down to a lower risk of developing high blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, atherosclerosis, and other conditions associated with metabolic syndrome. 

The mediterranean diet is touted as the go-to diet to help address a range of different health conditions, and metabolic syndrome is definitely on that list. The focus on fresh vegetables, healthy fats, small amounts of lean meat, and a wide range of nuts, fruits, and oils brings a wide range of tasty, nutritious food to the table. 

Whether the diet you adopt has a specific name or not, there will be some particulars you need to have in place. It may be tempting to think you will need to eat a low-fat diet, but healthy fatty acids from foods like olive oil, avocados, and nuts provide ​monounsaturated fats, which are an important part of a healthy diet for weight loss. This does not mean all fats are good, though. It is important to eliminate the trans fats found in things like fried food and packaged, processed treats. 

If you are going to get serious about reigning in your weight and blood sugar levels, you are going to have to cut down or eliminate cheap, processed carbs. This can be difficult for many people, especially if you are not used to cooking for yourself and eat a lot of packaged food or refined carbs. As easy as it is to grab a box of pasta and a can of sauce at the store, the amount of sugar and carbs from a simple dish of pasta might surprise you.

One of the areas where real gains can be made in losing weight is eliminating sugar. Adding vegetables and whole grains to your diet will help, but these changes will do little good if you are still eating large amounts of sugar and drinking sugary soft drinks. Even sodas made with artificial sweeteners have been linked to weight gain, which means that swapping out the original for a sugar-free version may not be enough. Eliminating sugary snacks, drinks, and treats like ice cream altogether is the best solution if you are serious about warding off the dangers of metabolic syndrome. 

Avoiding metabolic syndrome is not just about dropping pounds—it’s about ensuring you are taking steps to lower your blood pressure as well. This means removing foods that are high in sodium such as soy sauce, canned vegetables and soups, frozen dinners, and potato chips. Even many salad dressings and marinades can contain surprisingly high levels of both salt and sugar. 

If you have eliminated some of the most problematic foods from your diet, it is time to turn your attention to adding back in healthy ingredients. This is going to mean fiber-rich foods and blood-pressure regulating, potassium-rich fruits and vegetables. A few of the foods you will want to target include: 

  • cantaloupe
  • collard greens
  • potato with skin
  • couscous
  • black beans
  • lentils
  • tomatoes
  • mushrooms
  • brown rice
  • quinoa
  • edamame beans
  • bran
  • whole-grain pasta and bread

Getting Help With Weight Loss

Weight loss is important, but there is more to being healthy than the number on the scale. Making sure you are exercising regularly, lowering your stress levels when possible, avoiding smoking and eating a nutritious, healthy diet are all important, especially as you age. That said, if you have a high BMI, dropping pounds needs to be a priority. 

Obesity is linked to increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and even some types of cancer. Lifestyle changes should always be where a weight loss plan starts. For some people, though, this isn’t where the story ends. 

Not everyone can lose the weight they need through diet and exercise alone. For people who find it hard to maintain the level of physical activity necessary to keep the pounds off, or who still are not seeing a change in their body weight after making necessary dietary changes, it may be time to think about other options. 

At True You Weight Loss, we have a wealth of experience in helping people find the freedom they are looking for from excess body fat. This can mean working with our staff to establish a plan through our medical nutrition therapy program. It may also mean looking into more permanent solutions like an endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty. Whatever the solution you are considering, don’t wait. Request a consultation today to find out how True You can help you in your fight against metabolic syndrome.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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