Metabolic syndrome is a serious condition. It’s a collection of factors that put you at risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
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But you can change it by making some changes to your eating habits, says nutritionist Melissa Matteo, MS, RD, LD, CDE. “Dieting changes can make a real difference in controlling metabolic syndrome.”
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
According to the American Heart Association, a person has metabolic syndrome when three or more of these factors are present:
- High blood sugar.
- High blood pressure.
- High levels of triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood).
- Low HDL cholesterol level (called “good” cholesterol).
- Large waist or an “apple-shaped” body.
The good news: adopting healthier eating habits can affect any of these factors.
Metabolic Syndrome: Foods To Avoid
Overhauling your diet may sound intimidating. But you don’t have to get extreme. As a first step, Matteo recommends focusing on what unhelpful foods you can spill. These include:
- Refined carbohydrates like white flour, sugary snacks, and sugar-sweetened drinks that are low in fiber and nutrients. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they also cause blood sugar spikes and contribute to overeating and obesity.
- Saturated fats found in foods like red meat, whole milk dairy products, and many baked goods. They can raise your LDL cholesterol (“bad”) cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease.
- Sausages such as hot dogs, bacon, and sausages that have been linked to heart disease. They’re also high in sodium, which contributes to high blood pressure.
- Processed foods such as packaged items and fast food. These tend to combine the worst of the worst and often contain refined carbohydrates, added sugars, too much salt, and unhealthy saturated fats. Avoid processed foods whenever possible.
A Nutrition Plan For Metabolic Syndrome
Once you have deep sixed the processed material, you can begin preparing meals around heart-healthy alternatives. “There is no specific diet for metabolic syndrome,” says Matteo. “Focus on whole, plant-based foods.”
She suggests reviewing the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, seafood, and olive oil. Research has linked this diet to weight loss and a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes, and type 2 diabetes.
A healthy, balanced diet includes:
“Add more vegetables – especially non-starchy vegetables like lettuce, broccoli, and peppers,” says Matteo. If you go for starchy vegetables, opt for those that are higher in fiber, like beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
Fruits are a good source of vitamins and minerals. Yes, they contain sugar too, but that natural sugar is offset by the fiber found in whole fresh or frozen fruits. “Because of the fiber, the sugar in fruits digests more slowly,” says Matteo. Delicious, high-fiber fruits include raspberries, blackberries, and pears.
Unlike processed grains that have been stripped of nutrients, whole grains are good for heart health. Foods like whole grain bread, barley, and oats can help you avoid weight gain and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Omega-3 fatty acids
“Omega-3 fatty acids can help increase HDL (good cholesterol) and lower LDL (bad cholesterol),” says Matteo. You can find them in nuts, seeds, and oily fish like salmon and mackerel.
Keto Diets and Metabolic Syndrome
Some people wonder if the hip “keto diet” can help treat metabolic syndrome. The answer? It depends on.
The keto diet is a low-carbohydrate diet that focuses on eating fat at every meal. But research on its effectiveness in weight loss is mixed. Matteo says a major downside is that most people find it difficult to sustain this type of eating in the long run.
“Do you see yourself still eating like this in a year, five or ten? If the answer is no, I am not in favor of this method, ”she says. “If you plan to eat like this for the rest of your life, I would still recommend avoiding saturated fats and sausages.”
Can I drink diet soda if I have metabolic syndrome?
Eliminating sugar-sweetened beverages is a really important step if you have metabolic syndrome. But what about diet soda?
Some research has linked sugar substitutes in diet soda to weight gain and a variety of health problems. But the connection is not entirely clear.
“Diet soda gets a lot of bad media press, but it’s not that black and white,” Matteo says. “I definitely don’t recommend drinking a lot of it. But if it helps you wean yourself off sugar-sweetened beverages, I think it’s okay to drink in moderation … but water is still the drink of choice. “
Tips for changing your eating style
Changing your eating habits can be a challenge, but you don’t have to do it overnight. “Start with baby steps,” says Matteo. “First, identify one small positive change you can make.”
She gives these tips to get you started:
- Add before subtracting: Getting involved in all the foods to avoid is a downer. Instead, focus on what you can add to make your meals healthier. “What are your favorite fruits or vegetables? Can you only add a cup or half a cup a day? ”Says Matteo. “Think about where you can add healthier options, especially plant-based foods.”
- Drink water: Quenching your thirst with water can help reduce cravings for soda, juice, or other sugary beverages. Even better? “Drinking plenty of water is associated with little weight loss,” says Matteo.
- Get Help: If you’re not sure where to start, ask your doctor for a referral to a nutritionist. “People worry that dietitians are trying to take away all of their favorite goodies, but we’re all about realistic goals,” adds Matteo. “We’ll work with you to find manageable compromises that will help you achieve your health goals.”