According to the American Heart Association, 47 million Americans have something called metabolic syndrome. That’s almost one out of every six people. Metabolic syndrome, also known as syndrome X, increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Here’s how you get it and what you can do about it.
Do You Have Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is characterized by a cluster of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors that increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. You have metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of these measurements.
- Large waistline: Greater than 40″ (men); greater than 35″ (women)
- High triglycerides: Greater than 150 mg/dL
- Low HDL (“good cholesterol”) level: Less than 40 mg/dL (men); less than 50 mg/dL (women)
- High blood pressure: 130/85 mm/Hg and higher
- High fasting blood sugar: 100 mg/dL and higher
Metabolic Syndrome Health Effects
Compared to someone without metabolic syndrome, a person with metabolic syndrome is:
- Twice as likely to develop heart disease.
- Five times as likely to develop diabetes. If your waistline is over 40″, your risk is 12 times higher for diabetes.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a calorie-controlled diet rich in whole grains reduced cardiovascular risk factors. They studied two groups — one group ate whole grains and the other ate refined grains.
Refined grains have a high glycemic load which means they’re rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream. Examples of refined grains include: white pasta/noodles, white rice, white bread/rolls/tortillas, enriched wheat bread/bagels, and corn flakes.
Whole-Grain Diet Results
Weight loss and cholesterol levels decreased similarly in both whole-grain and refined-grain groups, BUT the whole grain group had the following results:
- 38% decrease in inflammation. C-reactive protein (CRP) levels decreased. CRP is an inflammatory biomarker and an emerging risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). It is a predictor of cardiac events in persons with and without CVD.
- Significantly greater decreases in the percentage of abdominal fat.
Why Whole-Grains Reduce Inflammation
The reduction in inflammation could be due to:
- Lower blood glucose concentrations throughout the day. This is the result of increased fiber in the whole grains.
- The antioxidants in the whole grains which have anti-inflammatory properties.
- The release of inflammatory compounds from the loss of abdominal fat. Abdominal fat (visceral fat) is highly inflammatory. Eating whole grains decreased belly fat substantially.
The Whole Grain Daily Diet
The participants in the study reduced their daily energy needs by 500 calories and ate the following foods daily for 12 weeks and lost 12-14 pounds:
- 4 to 7 whole-grain servings/day* (amount was based on individual energy needs)
- 5 servings of fruits and vegetables
- 3 servings of low-fat dairy
- 2 servings of lean meat, fish or poultry
*Grain servings are defined as 1/2 cup cooked.
Upgrade to Intact Grains (The True Whole Grains)
Focus on “intact grains” vs processed whole grains. Intact grains are grains in their original form and still have their bran and germ layers — they are the true whole grains. You can actually see the grain seed vs. the grain after it’s been pulverized into a flour and used in bread, pasta, pastries, or ready-to-eat cereals. Remember… if it looks like a Cheerio, chip, or chocolate chip cookie, then it’s NOT an intact grain even if they’re made with “whole-grain” products.
Processing grains raises the glycemic load because the starchy surface area is more available to digestive enzymes. The grains are quickly converted into blood sugar (glucose) causing a spike in blood sugar and insulin.
Try these intact grains as a healthy side, breakfast porridge, or in soups, stews, salads, and stuffings:
- Amaranth (a complete protein)
- Barley, hulled (“pearl barley” is NOT an intact grain because its hull and bran have been removed)
- Buckwheat groats (soba noodles, although made with buckwheat, is a processed form of buckwheat and is NOT an intact grain)
- Cracked wheat
- Kamut® berries (a variety of wheat)
- Oat groats and steel-cut, old-fashioned, quick-cooking oats (steel-cut is the least processed of the three)
- Quinoa (a complete protein; pronounced “keen-whah”)
- Rice, brown, black, red, wild (white rice is NOT an intact grain because its bran and germ layers have been removed)
- Spelt (a cousin of wheat)
- Wheat berries
Karen’s Fit Tip: Focus on foods with more fiber. They won’t be digested and enter your bloodstream as quickly, and you’ll consume more antioxidants. Include exercise. The participants in the study also engaged moderate physical activity three or more days per week for 30 minutes per session.