A Growing Threat to Health

Metabolic syndrome might be the most under appreciated threat to American health. There’s a good chance you’ve never even heard of it. If you have heard of metabolic syndrome, you probably don’t know exactly what it means.

Metabolic syndrome is defined by the presence of several heart disease and diabetes risk factors. Metabolic syndrome risk factors include:

High blood pressure
High triglycerides (fat in the blood)
Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol
Insulin resistance or high blood sugar
Carrying excess weight around the belly and upper body (central obesity)
We know metabolic syndrome greatly increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. New research suggests it increases cancer risk too. People with metabolic syndrome have up to two and a half times the risk of dying of cancer compared with healthy adults.

Up to 25% of US adults have metabolic syndrome. This is no rare condition. Put all of this together, and you have the makings of a lot of illness and suffering.

Blood Sugar Blues

One feature of metabolic syndrome is insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that allows sugar (glucose) to move from our blood into our cells. Inside our cells, sugar can be used for energy. With metabolic syndrome, the body is unable to properly use insulin.

This leads to sugar building up in the blood. High blood sugar is very damaging to the body. Chronic high blood sugar can lead to kidney failure, blindness, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, nerve damage, chronic pain, dental problems, amputations, and premature death. It also means that our cells cannot get the energy they need.

Finding Your Map for Health

One way to better manage blood sugar is to pay attention to carbohydrates in the diet. Unfortunately, most people believe that all carbohydrates are created equal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The American Diabetes Association promotes counting carbs to control blood sugar and better manage diabetes. This approach is fine for a start. However, you need to dig a little deeper to understand how different carbs affect our bodies.

Without these details, it’s like looking at a map that doesn’t show the street names. You can get a general idea of where you are, but you’ll have trouble reaching your destination!

Carb Confusion

The latest research on carbohydrates and metabolic syndrome supports what we’ve been saying all along. If you want the best health that nutrition can offer, you need to turn to the plant kingdom.

The study authors looked at how different sources of calories affect the risk of metabolic syndrome. Calories in the diet come from three major sources: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. We might get a few calories here and there from alcohol too. Hopefully, those aren’t a significant part of your intake.

At first look, the results seem confusing. The more fiber a person ate, the lower his or her risk of metabolic syndrome. On the other hand, the more carbohydrates a person ate, the higher his or her risk of metabolic syndrome. How could that be?

The only place you can find fiber is carbohydrates. Protein foods, such as meat, chicken, or fish do not contain fiber. Fats, such as olive oil and butter don’t provide fiber either. The only place you can find fiber is in foods that also contain carbohydrates.

Good Carbs, Bad Carbs

The explanation for these confusing results can be found in the type of carbohydrate. By eating the right type of carbohydrates, you can get plenty of fiber, but only a moderate amount of total carbs.

Which carbs are the good ones? Think plants. If the food looks very similar to how it looked when it came off the tree or vine, or out of the ground, it’s the right type of carb. These carbohydrates take the form of apples and carrots, oats and broccoli, kale and blueberries…pretty much anything that looks like, well, food!

Plants give us carbohydrates. More importantly, they give us fiber. Fiber is what can help keep metabolic syndrome at bay.

Steer clear of refined carbohydrates. This includes nearly everything that comes in a plastic wrapper or contains more than 3 or 4 ingredients. If you see the word “enriched” in the ingredient list, that’s another tip off that this is the wrong type of carbohydrate.

Fabulous Fats

One final note about the research: the right type of fat is important too. Polyunsaturated fats also lowered risk of metabolic syndrome in the study.

The healthiest polyunsaturated fats are found in nuts, flaxseeds, other seeds, olive oil, and other plant oils.

Grab the Right Carbs

The following tips will help you make the most of your carbs. Remember, complex carbohydrates – the ones that are loaded with healthy fiber – are the goal.

Rely on frozen vegetables and fruit for convenience. In most cases, they are as nutritious as fresh. In some cases, they are more nutritious than fresh.
Add a handful of frozen blueberries, strawberries, or blackberries to your oatmeal or cereal.

Eat oatmeal or a high-fiber, whole grain cereal for breakfast. The cereal should have at least 8 grams of fiber per serving.

Pack your favorite omelet with tomatoes, onions, garlic, and fresh or frozen spinach.

Snack on baby carrots, fresh red peppers, and any other vegetable dipped in hummus. It’s a double-good-carb-snack: vegetables and beans!
Whip up a big pot of bean soup or chili over the weekend. Pack this for lunch during the week.

Try whole grain pasta instead of white pasta.

Stuff a sweet potato with tomatoes, green or red peppers, broccoli or cauliflower, and onions. Don’t forget to eat the skin, a fiber-packed part of the potato.
Get acquainted with leafy greens. Add a few leaves of kale, spinach, or any other green leafy food to your regular salad.

Make sure that your plate at every snack or meal is covered by three-fourths, minimally processed, fiber-rich, plant foods.

For more information, visit http://www.appleboost.com/newsletters/2010/03/02/issue-13-the-real-deal-...

Author's Bio: 

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, is an internationally recognized expert in nutrition, chronic disease, cancer, health and wellness as well as the Executive Editor of Nutrition Intelligence Report, a free natural health and nutrition newsletter. For more information, past issues or to sign up for a free subscription, visit http://www.appleboost.com/.