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What is the best diet for Metabolic Syndrome?
My doctor suspects I might have metabolic syndrome. She advised me to lose weight, which I am in the process of doing: 11 pounds so far. Is there a particular diet that would be better for me, i.e., diabetic diet, Mediterranean diet? Are there any foods I ned to cut out forever? One article I read said not to eat corn, butter beans, beets, and anything white.

The Metabolic Syndrome
You might have read about the metabolic syndrome in the newspaper or heard it talked about on the news. The syndrome is not a single problem but a group of abnormal lab tests and body measurements that help identify whether you might be at a higher risk for health problems. Originally the metabolic syndrome was known as syndrome X and has also been called insulin resistance syndrome.

Coffee and Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic Syndrome is not a single condition, but rather a group of factors that, taken together, put you at higher risk for various health problems. These range from type 2 diabetes to heart disease and even Alzheimer's Disease. There are multiple definitions of the Syndrome depending on which health organization you listen to, but generally speaking the term describes those meeting three or more of the following criteria....


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The American Diet Leads to Metabolic Syndrome

I've written in the past about the Metabolic Syndrome, which is a group of risk factors associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and mortality in general. Among those risk factors are waist circumference, high blood pressure, fasting glucose levels, and poor cholesterol scores. While studies have linked diet to the individual risk factors, few studies have sought to link an overall dietary pattern with Metabolic Syndrome itself.

A recently-published study performed by researchers at the Universities of Minnesota and North Carolina made use of data collected for a long-term study performed between 1987 and 1998 (Circulation 2008;117(6):754-761). Over 9500 men and women over the age of 45 filled out a detailed dietary questionnaire, provided information about medication use, smoking, and exercise levels, and underwent blood tests for cholesterol and glucose levels.

The dietary questionnaire included 66 food items, and the participants could select their frequency of intake from a 9-level range, from never or less than one serving per month to six servings or more per day. The scientists then grouped most of the items into 5 major food groups: meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables, refined grains and whole grains. The other, specific items were: fried foods; sweetened beverages, including sugared soda and fruit drinks; diet soda; nuts; and coffee, both regular and decaffeinated.

The researchers had hypothesized that a more Western dietary pattern, consisting mostly of meat, refined grains, fried foods, and sweetened beverages would be associated with a greater risk of Metabolic Syndrome, while what they termed a "prudent" dietary pattern - fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products and coffee - would not.

They were right. At the conclusion of the study they found that those participants whose diet contained high intakes of refined grains, processed and red meat, and fried foods, were 18% more likely to develop Metabolic Syndrom than those whose diets were mostly vegetables and fruit, fish, and poultry. Most interestingly, however, they found also that consumption of specific foods were also associated with an increased risk of Metabolic Syndrome. Those who tended to eat more fried foods increased their risk by 25%, and drinking more diet soda increased a participant's risk by 34%. By contrast, those who consumed the most dairy products had a lower risk of developing Metabolic Syndrome.

What this means for you

What the scientists in this study termed a "prudent" dietary patterns sounds remarkably like the Mediterranean Diet; it's true. But the real take-away here is the increased risk associated with eating a lot of fried foods and drinking a lot of diet soda (or even regular soda). Make fried foods and sodas of all kinds an occasional indulgence, at best.

First posted: February 6, 2008