Your doctor may never use the term metabolic syndrome, but you may still have this dangerous cluster of health problems.
Here’s a clue: Do you have three or more of these?
All these symptoms can be problematic on their own, but having three or more puts you at much greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other health serious health complications—including cancer. In fact, studies show that 90–95% of all cancer cases can be attributed to lifestyle (diet, smoking) and environment while only 5–10% are linked to genetic causes.
What is the best diet for metabolic syndrome?
“They get serious about their diet because they’re motivated to stay off medication,” Justine Chan, MHSc, RD, a certified diabetes educator and owner of YourDiabetesDietitian.com, tells Eat This, Not That!
That’s a good thing, because dietary changes can have a significant impact on stopping and even reversing many of those factors that define metabolic syndrome.
You may not be surprised to learn that the best nutritional plan for overcoming metabolic syndrome is the Mediterranean diet when you consider that research has linked that specific style of eating to improving every one of the five disorders that make up the metabolic syndrome.
Why a Mediterranean diet is easier to follow
One such study published in the journal Obesity demonstrated that improving one’s diet by following a Mediterranean-style diet resulted in significantly less visceral fat accumulation in the abdomen over six years. Visceral fat is the type of fat that surrounds your organs and releases inflammatory chemicals that increase risk of developing metabolic syndrome and its related diseases.
A more recent study in Frontiers in Nutrition suggested that people who followed a Mediterranean-style diet did not develop metabolic syndrome even though they remained obese. In the study of 2115 obese women, researchers measured abdominal visceral fat, subcutaneous fat, blood biomarkers and adherence to the Mediterranean diet. They found that following that style of eating regularly correlated with better metabolic health in postmenopausal women compared to overweight women who did not follow the diet.
Chan says her patients like the Mediterranean diet because it’s “not restrictive.” Sure, processed foods are omitted and red meats are minimized, but it’s a diet of abundance not sacrifice.
“The Mediterranean diet is focused on what you can eat more of, not less,” says Chan. “It’s more of an eating pattern versus a traditional diet that restricts this food or that food; the message is a positive one.”
As a refresher, here’s a menu of dietary changes to healthier eating, Mediterranean style:
“The key to healthy eating is focusing on plant-based foods,” says Chan. “Vegetables and fruits are full of unique anti-inflammatory compounds and antioxidants that impact metabolic health. The dietary fiber in plant foods reduces blood sugar levels and lowers cholesterol.”
To minimize meat, try to cut back your meat meals to three or four times a week versus seven. Eventually, you may find yourself eating meat just once or twice weekly, if at all.
To satisfy your hunger and keep up your consumption of muscle-repairing protein, make beans and legumes the stars of your meals. A meta-analysis of 36 studies in Circulation in 2019 found that substituting red meat with high-quality plant proteins like beans resulted in improved levels of cholesterol and other blood fats.