Central Obesity, Diet and Metabolic Syndrome

male with a large waistAlthough there have been some recent reports that it is not fat distribution that poses increased health risk but total body fat percentage, there has still been a lot of research into the impact of central obesity on health, which suggests that visceral fat (internal) is a greater health risk that subcutaneous fat (below the skin).

Metabolic Syndrome is a condition that actually describes set of conditions that together greatly increase the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. One recent paper, published in February 2011, looked at Metabolic Syndrome and central obesity, and found that following a Mediterranean Diet can help reduce the symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome.

Metabolic Syndrome Conditions

The “disturbances” that lead to an increase risk of heart disease and diabetes are:

  • Dyslipidemias – excessive fats in the blood
  • Hypertension – high blood pressure
  • Hyperglycemia – high blood sugar (glucose levels) in the blood
  • Central obesity – more commonly known as stomach fat, also known as visceral fat / central adiposity
  • Insulin resistance – when the body stops responding to insulin and cannot lower blood sugar levels
  • Low grade inflammation – when the internal organs suffer inflammation in response to immune problems.

It is estimated that metabolic syndrome affects 34% of the US population. This syndrome increase the chances of developing heart disease by 2 and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 5. So 34% of Americans are now 5 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than healthy people.

Causes of Metabolic Syndrome

The key causes for the development of Metabolic Syndrome are:

  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor dietary habits
  • Low socioeconomic status

However, there has been some evidence that a healthy diet can effectively reverse the condition, or at least minimize the risk of it developing. And it is not just about losing weight, although central obesity is certainly an issue still. The answer seems to be the Mediterranean Diet.

The Mediterranean Diet and Metabolic Syndrome

There has already been some research to suggest that obesity alone is not the root cause of
Metabolic Syndrome. It seems that is just happens that generally those that follow a poor diet that leads to
Metabolic Syndrome are also most likely to suffer from central obesity.

The real problem is specifically diet, and not the level of fat deposits in the body. The latest research looked at the role of the Mediterranean Diet and levels of Metabolic Syndrome and found that;

“Adherence to the Mediterranean diet (high intake of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish, low-fat dairy products, and moderate wine consumption) has been associated with lower prevalence of MetS”

In one part of the study, 180 people suffering from Metabolic Syndrome were randomly split into two groups, one followed the Mediterranean diet and the other followed the Prudent Diet (generally low fat and low levels of refined carbohydrate. From the 90 people on the Med Diet, 78 people were cured of all symptoms of having Metabolic Syndrome.

Some of the parts of the Med Diet that are thought to reduce Metabolic Syndrome are:

  • N-3 fatty acids or fish consumption
  • Olive oil
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Low glycemic index and increased protein intake
  • Moderate wine consumption
  • Whole grains
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Nuts

All of these foods make up a healthy and mostly natural diet.

What the research really shows is that following a healthy diet can very quickly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Once diabetes is set in it is very hard to control it. There are many serious health problems associated with type 2 diabetes, from blindness and limb amputations to increase risk of heart disease and nerve damage, impotence and kidney damage.

The key once again is to consume a well balanced and healthy diet while also getting regular exercise.

For advice and help with dealing with diabetes, visit Diabetes Help.

Eating Nuts Every Day Is Good For Your Health

A study published in December 2008 carried out by the University of Rovira i Virgili in Spain, has shown that consuming more nuts is recommended for people suffering from various metabolic syndromes, such as high blood pressure, obesity and cholesterol problems.

The Spanish study examined a Mediterranean diet which consisted of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and a selection of nuts every day. The study concluded that this diet improved the health of over 12% of the at-risk volunteers.

People with metabolic syndrome have a much higher risk of heart disease. In the study group, the volunteers were split in to groups and some taught about low fat diets, some about the Mediterranean diet, and some were just given a 30g bag of mixed nuts every day.

The study lasted for one full year, after which the volunteers had a medical. Approximately 2% of the group who were told about low-fat diets had improved to the extent that they were no longer classed as having
metabolic syndrome. Among those following a Mediterranean diet including olive oil, the figure rose to 6.7%. Finally, 13.7% of those eating their daily bag of nuts as well as the Mediterranean diet had improved.

Even though none of the participants weight had dropped significantly over the year, waist circumferences had diminished in the nut-eating group, and cholesterol and blood pressure levels had dropped. This means that nuts can help to lose stomach fat.

“The results of the study show that a non-energy restricted traditional Mediterranean diet enriched with nuts, which is high in fat, high in unsaturated fat and palatable, is a useful tool in managing metabolic syndrome.” Dr Jordi Salas-Salvado, lead researcher

The research was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet – Arthritis and Alzheimer’s Diet

An anti-inflammatory diet is thought to help prevent the likelihood of developing both arthritis and Alzeimers Disease, maybe cancer too. Essentially this is a diet that specifically attempts to treat inflammation caused by Metabolic Syndrome.

The diet is based on the belief that many long term health problems and serious illnesses are caused by chronic inflammation, which is caused by an over active immune system. IBS, for instance, one of the most common digestive / bowel complaints, is often associated with bloating, inflammation and excess mucous.

The medical community is generally in agreement that diet will help to reduce long term health problems. It is worth mentioning here that this is not a diet designed to help you lose weight – although following this diet may provide a more balanced diet, which in turn will reduce your sugar cravings meaning that you do eat less.

The medical backing for this diet is due to an understanding of how an over-active immune system affects the body. An over-active immune system literally attacks the body, which results in tissue damage. The damaged tissue releases chemical, which in turn cause inflammation. As there is no pain, people are unaware that the process is occurring, and by the time the symptoms of the disease are showing, the damage is done.

In a recent article in the British Journal Of Nutrition, a research team from the University of Southampton reviewed data on ant-inflammatory diets and the incidence of disease, and found a correlation between diet and several different diseases.

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Plan:

Eat plenty of the following foods, which are known to help reduce inflammation:

  • Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines and pilchards – omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables – antioxidants to reduce free radicals
  • Legumes – a variety of peas and beans
  • Certain Spices – e.g. turmeric
  • Plenty of fibre
  • Garlic

Avoid Eating the Following Foods:

These foods are known to lead to inflammation, so should be avoided:

  • All trans fats – these are the manufactured fats
  • Saturated fats (red meat and diary)
  • Processed foods – usually high in salts and chemicals
  • Refined carbohydrates – white bread, sugars white rice, pasta
  • Omega 6 fatty acids – often in fast food

What is interesting is that this diet starts to sound much like some of the diets that we have already discussed here. In The Bruce Lee Diet, refined carbs are to be avoided completely, as is most dairy. The Mediterranean Diet recommends eating plenty of oily fish, fruit and vegetables. The Atkins diet also avoids sugar to prevent blood sugar spikes, which also lead to inflammation.

“What seems to happen is that these nutrients dampen the production of the chemicals that trigger inflammatory processes. It is certainly not a miracle cure, but it is one factor, along with genetic predisposition and other lifestyle habits such as smoking, that can affect inflammation and the likelihood of getting related diseases or at least make living with them more bearable. Inflammation reduces in people who lose weight, so following this diet can only be a good thing,” Professor Calder, University of Southampton.

In other studies the anti-inflammatory effect of drugs such as ibuprofen have been shown to have a relationship with a reduction in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, research from Columbia University in New York has shown that eating more fish oil and vegetables reduced the chances of people that already suffered from mild memory loss from developing dementia.

Other studies have shown some anti-inflammatory painkillers help prevent tumours in people with inherited colorectal cancer. Getting the right amounts of omega fats in the diet is considered crucial to any anti-inflammatory diet.


Metabolic Syndrome and the Components of the Mediterranean Diet” by Maria Luz Fernandez. Published in Functional Foods in Health and Disease, 2011, 2:25-37. An Open Access paper.

Inflammatory Disease Processes and Interactions with Nutrition” by P. C. Calder et al. British Journal of Nutrition. 2009 May;101 Suppl 1:S1-45. Abstract on www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19586558

Effect of a Mediterranean Diet Supplemented With Nuts on Metabolic Syndrome Status” (pdf) by Jordi Salas-Salvado´, MD, PhD et al. ARCH INTERN MED/ VOL 168 (NO. 22), DEC 8/22, 2008

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *