While not a disease on its own, metabolic syndrome is a heavy indicator of pending heart issues. Here’s how to clean up your diet to get your body back to a healthful state.
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors that increase the chance of developing type 2 diabetes, stroke or heart disease. (1) According to the American Heart Association, metabolic syndrome affects 23 percent of adults. (2)
The good news is that this collection of risk factors responds well to dietary intervention and lifestyle changes, reducing the chances of developing chronic disease.
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What Is Metabolic Syndrome?
While not a disease in and of itself, metabolic syndrome is a grouping of symptoms that indicate a risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Three or more of these factors are necessary to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome:
- High blood pressure (greater than 130/85)
- Abdominal fat and obesity
- Elevated triglyceride levels
- High blood glucose levels and/or insulin resistance
- Low levels of HDL cholesterol
Other factors can increase the likelihood of meeting the diagnostic criteria for metabolic syndrome. Older age, family history, lack of exercise, and hormone imbalance conditions like PCOS make it more likely for people to develop the above risk factors.
Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed after lab testing and certain other measurements, including waist circumference and other body fat percentage considerations.
- Heart disease and hardening of the arteries
- Heart attack or stroke
- Type 2 diabetes
- Kidney disease
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Metabolic syndrome is a serious collection of risk factors that cannot be ignored. Conventional medical treatment will include exercise and weight loss recommendations, as well as prescription medications to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood glucose. Baby aspirin might also be recommended to reduce risk of heart attack and stroke. (7) These methods all treat the symptoms, however, and do not address underlying causes of why metabolic syndrome started.
Can Metabolic Syndrome Be Reversed?
Since metabolic syndrome is a set of risk factors and not a disease, it’s possible to entirely reverse a metabolic syndrome diagnosis. Typically, this needs to be done through a radical shift in lifestyle and diet. (8)
Metabolic syndrome is a sign that underlying processes within the body are unbalanced. These can include inflammation, poor gut health, and high stress.
Conventional medical advice recommends that patients with metabolic syndrome avoid saturated fat in order to lower cholesterol. However, research has proven that cholesterol is more indicative of systemic inflammation in the body, and is only problematic when it becomes oxidized. (9, 10)
When cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, glucose, and abdominal fat are out of balance, it means that basic cellular communication functions in the body aren’t functioning as they should. To reverse metabolic syndrome, inflammatory triggers need to be removed, gut health supported, and cellular health addressed.
While you should never disregard medical advice from your doctor, it’s crucial to work with a practitioner who is familiar with recent research and not prescribing outdated dietary advice. Fat doesn’t make you fat, and low-fat diets don’t reduce cardiovascular risk or reverse metabolic syndrome.
So, what will help?
7 Ways to Reverse Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome responds well to positive changes in activity level, dietary intake, and weight loss. (11) Here’s how to get started in reversing your metabolic syndrome diagnosis.
1. Avoid Trigger Foods
- Artificial, processed, and refined foods
- Fast foods and trans fats
- Sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Grains, especially white flour and white rice
Most people experience success during dietary changes when they strictly avoid all problem foods for an initial period of time. This leads to focused lifestyle and habit changes and can promote an initial drop in weight loss.
2. Eat Omega-3s
After eliminating trigger foods, it’s important to bulk up on foods that are rich in antioxidants and improve health on a cellular level.
There are plenty of foods that help reverse metabolic syndrome and provide balance within the body. Among these foods, omega-3 fatty acids are at the top of the list. These essential fatty acids fight inflammation as well as lower blood pressure, decrease risk of heart attack, and increase HDL cholesterol. (19)
The best omega-3 foods to eat on a regular basis include:
- Sardines and anchovies
- Grass-fed beef
- Chia seeds
3. Increase Veggie Intake
We all know that vegetables are healthy, but when it comes to metabolic syndrome, they need to be eaten abundantly. Vegetables are packed with phytonutrients that lower inflammation levels and help normalize lab markers associated with metabolic syndrome. (20) Vegetables are also excellent fiber sources, which can help to improve metabolic syndrome. (21)
Specific foods that are helpful for lowering inflammation and improving metabolic syndrome include:
- Leafy greens
- Broccoli, cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables
While all vegetables are beneficial, some are higher in carbs than others. When eating for metabolic syndrome, a lower-carb diet is vital for reducing glucose levels and battling systemic inflammation. Aim for seven to nine daily servings of vegetables.
4. Eat Low-Glycemic Fruits
While all fruits contain natural sources of vitamins and antioxidants, some are more nutrient dense than others. Even though fruits are vital for health, they should be eaten in moderation and specifically in lower ratios than vegetables.
The best low-glycemic fruits for metabolic syndrome are:
While you can eat other fruits higher on the glycemic chart, it’s best to keep them as occasional treats. Focus on getting two to three servings of fruit each day. And make sure you’re eating more vegetables and pairing your fruit with protein to minimize the blood sugar spike.
5. Eat Protein with Every Meal
Protein helps to maintain stable glucose levels and also provides amino acids to the body, which are the building blocks of cells and tissues. When you’re trying to reverse inflammatory damage from metabolic syndrome, protein is a vital component to restoring balance.
The best anti-inflammatory proteins to eat include:
- Grass-fed beef
- Pastured poultry and eggs
- Organ meats from grass-fed animals
- Wild-caught seafood
- Bone broth and collagen
Note: Don’t rely too heavily on protein from nuts and seeds, since these contain higher amounts of omega-6 fatty acids.
6. Boost Gut Health
Inflammation can often be rooted in gut health, particularly digestion and the microbiome. Optimizing how your body digests foods and building your supply of good gut bacteria helps to reverse inflammation.
Boosting digestion through digestive enzymes helps to alleviate the burden put on your stomach and small intestine. Eating fermented foods and taking probiotic supplements also boost the good bacteria in the gut, which can reduce inflammatory signaling in the body. (22)
7. Try Herbs and Supplements
While it’s always best to consult your practitioner before taking herbs, research shows that some can be beneficial when it comes to reversing the effects of metabolic syndrome.
Berberine, Ginseng, and Bitter Melon: These Chinese medicine herbs help to stabilize glucose levels and how lipids are used in the body. This helps promote weight loss, balanced blood sugar, and reduced inflammation. (23)
Curcumin: The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin is anti-inflammatory and rich in antioxidants. It also promotes heart health, fights cancer, and yes, works to restore balance in metabolic syndrome. (24)
Holy Basil: An adaptogenic herb that helps the body better cope with stress, holy basil also improves glucose and cholesterol balance in metabolic syndrome. (25)
Maca: A popular herb in the holistic world, maca is used for many things ranging from fertility boosting to boosting natural immunity. Maca is also good for balancing cholesterol, glucose, and insulin levels. (26)
Spirulina and Chlorophyll: These dark green supplements are oxygen-rich and potent antioxidant sources that help to reduce blood pressure and support natural cardiovascular health. They can also help to reverse dysfunction found in metabolic syndrome. (27)
(Read This Next: Nutrigenomics – Discovering What Your Genes Want to Eat)