Metabolic syndrome is the name given to a host of related health conditions including raised blood sugar levels, excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, and blood fat disorders such as high triglyceride levels, low levels of HDL cholesterol and high levels of LDL cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, over 50 million Americans have metabolic syndrome, defined as having at least three of the above mentioned conditions.
This latest research is important because it suggests the effectiveness of an entire dietary pattern for combating risk factors for chronic illness, rather than pinpointing individual dietary components.
The study, led by Dr. Tasnime Akbaraly of University College London, examined whether adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI) was effective for reversing metabolic syndrome over five years in a middle aged population.
The AHEI was developed by Harvard researchers as an alternative to the US Food Pyramid. It is characterized by prioritizing white meats and fish over red meat, whole grains over refined grains, and unsaturated fats over saturated ones.
Akbaraly and her colleagues looked at data on the health of 339 British office workers with metabolic syndrome participating in the Whitehall II study, a long-running study looking at social determinants of health among civil servants, one-third of whom are women.
After five years, nearly half no longer had metabolic syndrome, while those who adhered most closely to the AHEI were almost three times as likely to have reversed the condition, the researchers found.
“Our findings emphasize the potential benefits of adherence to the dietary recommendations of the AHEI in middle-aged individuals with MetS [metabolic syndrome], especially those with central obesity or high triglyceride levels,” they concluded.