There are a variety of diets for metabolic syndrome. Maybe you’ve been searching online and feel confused about the best way to eat to prevent your metabolic syndrome from progressing.
In this article, I’ll walk you through what’s happening in your body and what the science says about best diets for metabolic syndrome.
Spoiler alert: there isn’t just one way of eating that can help. But there are some key ways you can tweak your diet in order to improve your labs, without having to eat the same thing everyday.
Want to jump straight to getting help with your eating to lower your risks? Check out my program, Nourish your Health.
About metabolic syndrome
What is metabolic syndrome
About 1 in 5 Canadians have the risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. Unfortunately, many people are unaware.
This might be because metabolic syndrome isn’t as widely talked about as other related conditions like heart disease, prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
This syndrome is actually a group of health problems that are common for both heart disease and diabetes. It can also be called MetS, Syndrome X or insulin resistance syndrome.
Without a proactive approach, metabolic syndrome can progress and raise your risk of having a stroke, heart attack or being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Think of metabolic syndrome as your body’s call for help. The ‘check engine’ light going off. Red alert.
As a syndrome, this is not exactly a disease on it’s own with an exact cause and treatment. Instead, its a cluster of specific signs that your metabolic system is not working well.
So what is your metabolic system? In short, it’s the many moving parts that turn the food you eat into fuel or the building blocks your body needs. This fuel, or energy, is either used or stored for later, which may also impact your weight.
When the system isn’t working well, your body isn’t handling the energy and building blocks in a good way. This can lead to oxidation, inflammation and harmful by-products being created which can then lead to further damage and disorder.
Symptoms of metabolic syndrome
The road toward metabolic syndrome might include being told by your doctor that you have obesity … high blood pressure … dyslipidemia or that your blood sugar levels are increasing. It could be in no particular order, might add up over the years, or be diagnosed all at once.
You may not feel any specific symptoms if you have, or are developing, metabolic syndrome. The answers will be in your bloodwork … another reason to have regular medical check-ups, monitor your risks and get screened.
If you’re over the age of 45, you should be speaking with your doctor about your risk factors for metabolic syndrome, especially if your weight has been creeping up over the past few years.
Without screening, the majority of people with metabolic syndrome or related risk factors will be unaware of their condition.
Understand your risks means starting your proactive journey toward prevention of future complications.
Metabolic syndrome risk factors
Your doctor might diagnose metabolic syndrome if you have 3 or more of the following risk factors:
Waist circumference (weight carried around your middle) – 102cm/ 40” or more for men; 88cm/ 35” or more for women. This number can vary based on your ethnic background.
High triglycerides or being on medication for – 1.7 mmol/L or more
Low HDL-cholesterol or being on medication for – less than 1.0 mmol/L for males; less than 1.3 mmol/L for females
High fasting blood glucose or being on medication for – 5.6 mmol/L or higher. If your fasting blood sugars or hemoglobin A1c labs are higher, you may need to have further blood sugar testing to find out if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes.
High blood pressure or being on medication for – 135/80 mm Hg or higher
Even if you have less than 3 of these risk factors, you might consider ways to reduce future risks and prevent progression. These red flags could be your opportunity to get it under control at the earliest stage possible.
Nutrition might be something to start paying more attention to. All of these 5 risk factors can be related to your eating patterns and daily habits.
Just more reason to learn about diets for metabolic syndrome and make proactive changes in your eating!
What causes metabolic syndrome
First off, if you’ve been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, know that your eating habits alone have not caused it.
At this point, there’s no one specific reason that metabolic syndrome starts.
If you’ve also gained weight, especially around your waist, it might be a sign that your body is having a harder time using insulin, also known as insulin resistance. This is a common thread to many of these risk factors (more on this in the next sections).
You might be at increased risk for developing metabolic syndrome with the following:
- Insulin resistance – may show up as weight gain around your middle, having a hard time losing weight, and/or increasing blood sugar levels
- Having had diabetes in pregnancy (gestational diabetes)
- Family history of type 2 diabetes
- Genetics – people with African, Hispanic, First Nations, Asian, and Pacific Islander backgrounds are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes and therefore also metabolic syndrome
- Age – chances go up with getting older however rates are different between women and men of different age ranges
- Being a smoker or a past smoker
- Carrying extra weight around your waist – this weight alone may not be a problem, but if you have extra weight in combination with abnormal lab values it can be a sign that your metabolic system isn’t working well
- Having a hormone disorder, such as PCOS (Polycystic ovarian syndrome)
Is metabolic syndrome the same as prediabetes
The short answer is no, they are not the same condition. However it’s a situation where we don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg?
It seems that metabolic syndrome is the issue under it all. The processes that keep your body functioning are not working as they used to, leading to insulin resistance.
Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas. When you eat and digest carbs or sugar, insulin helps to move the sugar from your blood into your muscles to be used as fuel.
When insulin isn’t working as it should be, the sugars hang around in your blood and causes a number of problems over time. Your doctor can order specific blood sugar-related labs to determine if you have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
It’s certainly a tangled web between prediabetes and metabolic syndrome though, as they share many of the same abnormal labs and may develop beside each other.
For example, insulin resistance is a hallmark of both. And it’s linked with hardening of the arteries (leading to high blood pressure and stroke), extra weight in the midsection and changed cholesterol levels.
We can look at prediabetes or type 2 diabetes as a symptom of a larger disorder underneath it all, including metabolic syndrome.
Having said that, it’s possible to have metabolic syndrome without prediabetes (and vice versa) … though they do often develop together. Having metabolic syndrome can also be a prediction about your chance of having type 2 diabetes in the future.
Weight and metabolic syndrome
There are many factors that contribute to your body’s weight, including genetics, muscle mass, age, life stage, etc … as well as where your weight sits on your body.
With metabolic syndrome, it’s this weight specifically around your midsection that can be the problem. Just another example of why the number on the scale doesn’t give us the whole picture of your health.
Your doctor might measure your waist. This is called your waist circumference and is one of those 5 risk factors we talked about earlier.
Another way is to look at your body’s shape – Are you are rounder in the middle, like an apple, with more of your weight above your waist? Or are you shaped more like a pear with your weight lower on your body, below your waist.
If you’d call yourself an apple-shape, you’re at higher risk of metabolic syndrome.
Waist circumference and weight may also relate to age.
In Canadians who have metabolic syndrome, we see that rates in men rise steadily after the age of 40, likely due to weight gains once they’re over 45.
For women, there are steady increases of metabolic syndrome and overweight until the age of 65, but level off after that.
Can I reverse metabolic syndrome
Your overall risk level will guide the changes, and the intensity, you choose for managing metabolic syndrome.
Lifestyle changes are usually the first step and include
- adjusting your eating habits
- having weight loss (10% in 1 year)
- moving your body more
- and stopping smoking
Some people can have a reversal of metabolic syndrome with different treatment options including intensive lifestyle habit changes, medications or bariatric surgery.
But even if you choose to use medications or surgery, building and maintaining healthful eating habits is still important.
Diets for metabolic syndrome
While there is no specific diet to lower your chance of developing metabolic syndrome, there are a couple of eating patterns that can help you take control of the risk factors.
Sometimes people will tell me they feel confused about what they can actually eat – because they have to do this for their cholesterol, this for their diabetes and this for X, Y or Z condition.
Good news – since these are related issues, we can focus in on some foundational changes you can make that benefit your whole health.
If you haven’t already downloaded my free guide, 3 Quick-Win Ways to Eat for Heart Health and Better Blood Sugars, this is a great resource to get you started with foundational (and sustainable!) tweaks to your eating.
Eating patterns that help improve heart health, waist circumference and blood sugar levels can help lower those risk factors for metabolic syndrome.
One thing they have in common is that they lower inflammation – an important part of protecting your metabolic system against further damage.
The best diets for metabolic syndrome could be any of the following:
- Mediterranean diet
- Lower carb (not the same as low or very low carb eating!)
- Low Glycemic Index
- DASH diet
- Portfolio diet
… or a combination of these
As I said at the beginning, there is no one best way to eat for metabolic syndrome.
Your choice between these diets for metabolic syndrome will depend on the risk factors you have and what your health priorities are. For example if blood pressure is your biggest concern, you may choose to follow the DASH diet.
At the end of the day, whichever eating pattern you choose needs to be something sustainable.
After all, metabolic syndrome and it’s risk factors are chronic conditions – they didn’t happen overnight and your healthful habits need to be something you can live with for the rest of your life.
This may mean combining different diets to get the most benefits and a plan you’ll stick with for the long-run.
This is exactly what I help people with in my program, Nourish your Health.
From choosing your best ‘bang-for-your-buck’ way of eating to building habits that support your choices … along with the accountability to keep going, even through the holidays, events and celebrations.
Join The Nourish your Health Program now to get instant access to all the tools you need to take control of your health before your health controls your life.
Finding the support you need to move forward
Whether you’re concerned about metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, diabetes or heart health in general … there are a number of effective ways you can work on your eating to improve your labs, reduce your risks and avoid further health problems.
As you begin this journey, I encourage you to think about what might help you the most.
Do you think you need information you can trust?
Are you looking for guidance in your personal situation (because you can ask Dr. Google any question possible … except how to manage your combination of health concerns & preferences!).
Or have you tried dieting before and really just need accountability to stick with your plan?
By understanding what you need, what’s keeping you stuck and what’s getting in your way of succeeding, you’ll be better able to find the person or team or method to help you get the results you’re looking for.
Metabolic syndrome is something that can be stopped in its tracks. Your health doesn’t have to spiral out of your control.
It’s time to take your health into your own hands.
If you need help with this or want to better understand your best next step, I’m happy to connect! Contact Angela