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Back to Symposium 2007

Diet and Glucose Metabolism

Catherine Freeze, MEd, RD, CDE

Chronic Disease Prevention Analyst, Prince Edward Island

Metabolic syndrome represents a complex interaction between genetic, metabolic, environmental and lifestyle factors, of which diet and physical activity are a key part. Nutrition therapy can play an integral role in the treatment of metabolic syndrome and patient self-management, particularly when counselling focuses on lifestyle changes and behaviour modification strategies that are relevant to an individual’s risk factors.

Obesity, especially abdominal obesity, is particularly relevant in the metabolic syndrome. Therefore, education and nutritional strategies aimed at helping people to make positive changes in their food habits and activity levels to promote weight reduction may be particularly beneficial. Research suggests that relatively small changes in body weight can have positive benefits on the treatment of metabolic syndrome, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and other co-morbid conditions. For example, in the Diabetes Prevention Program, for every kilogram of weight loss there was a 16% reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Positive changes were also seen in participants of the Framingham Heart Study, where a 10-pound weight loss was associated with decreases in cholesterol, blood pressure and glucose levels.

Studies have been conducted on the role of various nutrients in the metabolic syndrome. For example, magnesium has shown some promise in decreasing the risk of metabolic syndrome. Whole grains, legumes, nuts and green vegetables are all good sources of magnesium.
Epidemiological studies suggest that consumption of dairy products may play a role in reducing the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Although the exact mechanism for these effects remains unclear, dairy consumption may favourably affect several aspects of the metabolic syndrome including insulin sensitivity, blood pressure and lipid levels. Numerous studies have demonstrated that subjects who tend to consume a healthier diet, high in vegetables and fruit, also seem to have higher intakes of dairy products. Therefore, it may be worthwhile to identify whether it is a single nutrient, interaction between nutrients or a pattern of eating that is most beneficial.

Though no single nutrition intervention exists for the treatment of metabolic syndrome, an overall healthy diet coupled with specific interventions to address an individual’s metabolic risk factors appears to be a useful approach. Observational studies, while not designed to identify cause and effect relationships between specific foods and the metabolic syndrome, have identified patterns of food choices that may reduce the risk and/or treat metabolic syndrome. These include: reduced dietary energy intake to promote weight loss, increased consumption of whole grain foods, milk products, vegetables and fruit, an overall low fat and low saturated fat intake, avoidance of processed meats, infrequent use of soft drinks, and light to moderate alcohol intake.


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