NEW PARMA / march-april 2011


The importance of a healthy diet in treating the metabolic syndrome

In the previous articles we described the physiological bases of the metabolic syndrome, and how to treat it through physical exercise. It is now important to face the topic of “diet”, which is fundamental for this pathology. First, though, I would like to point out that the metabolic syndrome is characterised by at least three of the following parameters: blood pressure over 130/85, triglycerides over 150, HDL cholesterol (the good one) below 40 in men and below 50 in women, waistline over 94 cm in men and 80 cm in women and glycaemia value over 110 on an empty stomach. However, the most important element proving metabolic deficit is the so-called “paunch”. We can reasonably say that anybody developing a paunch is affected by a metabolic problem.

For the first time in the history of our planet the number of obese people has outnumbered the one of starving people. The excessive intake of refined sugars, the lack of physical exercise, the concurrence of polluted environment and unfavourable life styles all contribute to the development of the metabolic syndrome.

The diet approach aiming at loss-weight is often based on the restriction on carbohydrates and calories. If the restriction on carbohydrates in the short period seems to be an effective and healthy method, in the long period it loses it effectiveness, becoming less healthy and above all creating a compliance issue. Therefore, in almost all cases, when people have not acquired bearable dietary habits they tend to go back to their bad habits.

On the contrary, the use of the glycemic index allows to avoid restrictions in calories and carbohydrates. It guides people towards the choice of food preventing from excessive glycemic response, which is typical of the metabolic syndrome. In short, the glycemic index is a way to describe the power of different kinds of food in causing a post-prandial glycemic rise.

Food rich in simple sugars cause a quick and high rise in glycaemia. As a consequence, this excessively stimulates insulin, a hormone which favours weight-gain. Instead, food with a low glycemic index – thanks to its low carbohydrate content or to its high amount of fibres slackening its absorption – leads to a lower rise in glycaemia, as well as to a lower stimulation of insulin, thus allowing the body to use fats for energetic purposes (insulin stops lipolysis).

It is clearly shown by many scientific data that a low glycemic index diet promotes weight-loss more effectively than other diets. Food with high glycemic index (over 70) like sugars, refined flour, rice, white bread, potatoes all favour fat deposit apart from calories. On the contrary, food with low glycemic index (below 55) provide the body with a constant level of energy and promote weight-loss protecting the muscular mass and stimulating basal metabolism. It is very important not to mistake a low glycemic-index diet for a low-in-carbohydrates diet. The low glycemic-index carbohydrates which can be consumed are wholemeal grain (moderate GI), legumes, oats, sweet potatoes and also some fruits such as apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit. Obviously, high protein low-fat food (meat, fish, eggs, skimmed dairy products) and food rich in unsaturated fats (vegetable oils, dried fruit, salmon) are healthy food with a low glycemic index (see chart on the website: www.massimospattini.it/lindiceglicemico.htm).

A low-calorie diet generally reduces metabolism by 15%, predisposing the body to a subsequent recovery of weight-gain with interest. A diet which is not low in calories but with a low glycemic index, combined with regular physical exercise, will not have negative metabolic consequences. Instead, it will enhance insulin resistance and it will also decrease blood pressure, triglycerides as well as increasing the level of HDL cholesterol.

It is essential to become aware of the importance of a diet based on natural and organic food, avoiding refined food. Would you put agriculture oil or waste oil in your car? Then how can you daily carelessly eat junk food? It is necessary to read food labels and avoid food containing sugar, fructose syrup, hydrogenated fats, trans fatty acids, colouring agents and possibly additives.

People should avoid keeping at home sweets, fatty food and snacks. These should be replaced by easy-to reach fresh fruit, dried fruit and vegetables which can be useful and healthy snacks.

Some nutritional factors can help treating the metabolic syndrome. They are nutrients, integrators, herbs. Here are the ones which are commonly used:

Soluble fibres: they reduce post-prandial glycaemia, lower cholesterol, promote a feeling of satiety and work as prebiotics (prebiotics stimulate the growth of favourable intestinal bacteria made of probiotics- milk enzymes).

Omega 3 fatty acids: contained above all in fish oils, they improve insulin sensitivity, have anti-inflammatory effects and favour lipolysis.

Alpha-lipoic acid: it is a very powerful antioxidant which protects from glycation damages caused by high levels of glycaemia. It also improves insulin sensitivity working as a hypoglycaemic.

Chromium: it decreases cholesterol and improves insulin sensitivity.

Cinnamon: it works as a hypoglycaemic insulin-mimetic.

Soy proteins: they reduce cholesterol.

Green tea: it is a great antioxidant provided with many positive effects such as the effect on the glucose metabolism.