Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Lauren M.

Metabolic Syndrome is a medical disorder characterized by abdominal obesity, high fasting blood sugar levels, high triglycerides and high blood pressure – the so-called “deadly quartet”. Metabolic syndrome is estimated to afflict a quarter of the American population, and puts those suffering from it increased risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

What are the risk factors for Metabolic Syndrome?

There are many factors that may play a role in the development and maintenance of metabolic syndrome. Vegetarians have the lowest risk for metabolic syndrome, followed by semi-vegetarians, and then non-vegetarians, after controlling for lifestyle factors such as smoking and exercise.

Animal protein consumption is tied to metabolic syndrome, possibly due to the increase of inflammatory markers present in the blood, heme iron acting as a pro-oxidant, and environmental pollutants that are present in animal products. For example, fish consumption increases blood sugar levels, and in individuals who eat two or more servings per week of fish, the insulin producing cells in the pancreas show decreased functioning.  Persistent organic pollutants, which are found in animal products, are linked to metabolic disease and may also cause endocrine disruption. In addition, the American Heart Association advises restricted egg consumption in adults for preventing cardiometabolic disease.

Consumption of artificial sweeteners such as saccharin is also related to metabolic syndrome. These products are not fully digested until the large intestine, where they impact the gut microbiome and induce glucose intolerance.

The Role of Fiber and Diet

Low dietary fiber intake has been linked to metabolic syndrome, heart disease, stroke, cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, and high blood sugar. Dietary fiber helps to get rid of excess bile, reduce inflammation, feed good gut bacteria, as well as control body weight, blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Some fiber-rich foods such as beans and lentils, produces the “second meal effect”. Essentially, gut bacteria feed on the fiber, produce beneficial compounds such as propionate which slow gastric emptying, thereby blunting the increase in blood sugar following a meal.

One of the best ways to treat metabolic syndrome, and prevent prediabetes from turning into full-blown diabetes may be to reduce abdominal fat. Traditional weight loss strategies have focused on caloric restriction, but these approaches do not tend to work long-term. In one study, participants were either instructed to include 5 cups of beans into their diet per week, or to cut their calorie intake by 500 calories per week. The group that ate beans saw reductions in prediabetes risk factors that were as good as, if not better than, the calorie restriction group.

Aside from eating beans, there are other dietary changes that may help with metabolic syndrome. Switching from white rice to brown may help as well, as white rice produces a decrease in arterial function in prediabetics and those with metabolic syndrome.

For substantiation of any statements of fact from the peer-reviewed medical literature, please see the associated videos below.

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