March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Metabolic syndrome is a complex metabolic disorder that occurs when a person has a combination of three of the following conditions at the same time: high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, body fat around the waist or abnormal HDL cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Having just one of these conditions increases the risk for serious heart disease; with multiple conditions, there is a heightened risk for stroke and diabetes as well.
If you have metabolic syndrome or any of its conditions, you can take action. Aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or prevent serious health problems from developing.
The following is a list of metabolic syndrome conditions. If a person has three or more, they may have metabolic syndrome:
- Obesity: Body fat concentrated around the waist measuring 40 inches or more in circumference for men and 35 inches or more for women.
- Increased blood pressure: A systolic (top number) blood pressure of 130 mm Hg or more, or a diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure of 85 mm Hg or more.
- High blood sugar level: A fasting glucose test result of 100 mg/dL or more.
- High lipids: Triglyceride levels that measure 150 mg/dL or more, and a high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level is less than 40 mg/dL for men or 50 mg/dL for women.
A variety of lifestyle habits contribute to developing metabolic syndrome, including physical inactivity, weight gain and overeating. The result is a symptom known as "insulin resistance" where the body cannot respond normally to insulin — which is needed in order for the body to use blood sugar. If the body doesn't use insulin properly, then the level of blood sugar starts to rise, eventually leading to Type 2 diabetes.
Lose Weight, Get Physical and Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
There are numerous ways to prevent or control metabolic syndrome. The first is losing weight. It's nothing new, but experts agree that a healthy diet combined with increased physical activity can promote weight loss, which is needed to reduce risk factors for metabolic syndrome. No matter what level (light, moderate or vigorous), studies show that metabolic syndrome occurs less often in people who engage in some form of physical activity. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity at a moderate-intensity level on most, preferably all, days of the week.
Eating a heart-healthy diet is also essential. In addition to eating fewer calories, experts recommend a diet high in fruits, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy, seafood and whole grains, along with moderate amounts of lean meat, poultry and oils such as canola or olive. Limit foods with added sugars, saturated fat, trans fat, salt and alcohol. This type of diet will aid in weight loss and other improvements in metabolic syndrome risk factors.
Losing 7 to 10 percent of your body weight (18 to 25 pounds for a 250-pound person) can significantly improve health conditions such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high blood cholesterol.