Metabolic syndromecan be managed or even reversed through a healthy dietand regular exercise.
- The best foods to eat on a metabolic syndrome diet are vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains.
- People with metabolic syndrome should avoid foods high in sugar, simple carbohydrates, and sodium.
However, you can reduce the progression of metabolic syndrome – and even reverse it – by following a healthy diet and getting physical activity on most days.
What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome refers to a cluster of five risk factors. To be diagnosed with the condition, you must have three or more of the following:
Several factors may cause the condition, including:
However, some lifestyle changes, including exercise and diet, can reverse these risk factors.
“The goal is to make sure these changes are something you can do for the rest of your life and not just short term,” says Jerlyn Jones, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Foods to eat if you have metabolic syndrome
The foods that we eat are directly responsible for insulin sensitivity and for elevated triglycerides, says Corinne Bush, CNS, director of nutrition science and education for the American Nutrition Association.
Here are some foods you should eat more to manage metabolic syndrome.
A 2008 study found dietary fiber reduces metabolic risk factors. Foods with lots of dietary fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains.
Whole grains are better than refined grains because “your body absorbs them more slowly, so they do not cause a rapid spike in insulin, which can trigger hunger and cravings,” Jones says.
Some of the best fiber-rich snacks include:
Omega-3 fatty acids
According to a small 2008 study, omega-3 fatty acids lowered blood pressure and cholesterol of people with metabolic syndrome.
Sources of omega-3s are mostly fatty fish or some plant-based oils. There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA, and ALA. The body is able to produce EPA and DHA through the consumption of ALA.
Foods high in these nutrients include:
According to Bush, most people don’t consume enough omega-3 so she recommends eating these foods or taking a high-quality fish oil supplement.
A 2016 review concluded adequate daily potassium intake can reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and obesity. “The more potassium you eat, the more sodium you lose through your urine,” which helps to lower blood pressure, Jones says.
Sources of potassium include:
Foods to avoid if you have metabolic syndrome
Some foods can worsen the risk factors underlying metabolic syndrome. Here are some to avoid or limit.
A large 2019 study of middle-aged Korean men found consuming 20% of calories from total sugar intake was significantly associated with metabolic syndrome. Another 2020 review found sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome.
Some examples of sugary foods to avoid include:
- Sweetened beverages, like soft drinks, sweetened teas, and sports drinks
A 2013 study found high sodium intake in adults aged 18 to 85 was associated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.
Some high-sodium foods to limit include:
- Potato chips and other salty snacks
- Cold cuts and cured meats
A 2019 review of obese patients with insulin resistance noted that intake of simple carbohydrates lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
Simple carbohydrates have less fiber and more sugar than complex carbohydrates, Jones says. Most of your carbohydrates should come from complex carbohydrates, like whole-wheat bread and other whole-grain foods.
Some sources of simple carbohydrates to cut back on include:
7-day sample meal plan for metabolic syndrome
Everyone’s nutritional needs and eating preferences are different, so one size does not fit all. The timing of when you eat can come into play, too, Bush says. So it’s best to work with a registered dietitian. Here is a sample meal plan from Jones:
Breakfast: Omelet with broccoli
Lunch: Cucumber and canned wild salmon wrap
Dinner: Whole wheat pasta with peas, cannellini beans, cherry tomatoes, and parmesan cheese
Breakfast: Oatmeal with flaxseeds, blueberries, and almond milk
Lunch: Lentil soup with whole wheat bread
Dinner: Polenta with cheese, pepper, and green beans
Breakfast: Scrambled tofu burrito
Lunch: Red beans and rice with chopped green peppers and a spinach salad
Dinner: Quinoa bowl with grilled chicken and green vegetables
Breakfast: Toasted oat cereal with low-fat milk, raspberries, and hard-boiled egg
Lunch: Salad with chicken, tomato, carrots, and cucumbers
Dinner: Grilled salmon, sweet potato, and brussels sprouts
Breakfast: Whole wheat pancakes, turkey sausage, and banana
Lunch: Canned wild salmon, brown rice, and edamame
Dinner: Black bean burrito with cheese, peppers, and plantains
Breakfast: Tomato and egg on an English muffin
Lunch: Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole-wheat bread
Dinner: Tuna casserole with green beans
Breakfast: Oatmeal with vanilla, almonds, and banana
Lunch: Lean roast beef, tomato, and lettuce sandwich
Dinner: Chili with beans and vegetables
A diet rich in fiber, healthy fats, and vegetables, can reduce several risk factors that contribute to metabolic syndrome. Along with adequate exercise, a heart-healthy, whole foods diet can help improve or even reverse metabolic syndrome. However, it’s best to work with a registered dietitian to find the right plan for you.