Obesity, elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol or triglyceride levels — any one of these conditions on its own is cause for concern. But a whopping 34% of U.S. adults have at least three of them (up from 25% two decades ago), a perfect storm of health problems, called metabolic syndrome, that doubles the risk for type 2 diabetes and bumps up the odds of heart disease fivefold. Whether you have some or all of the hallmarks of metabolic syndrome, here are four steps to help you get to a healthier place.
Scale back your body weight.
A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that obese and overweight people who shed at least 15% of their body weight — and kept it off for a year — had a 37% lower risk of metabolic syndrome. Even a 5% drop can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce belly fat (another risk factor).
Eat good fats.
Your avocado obsession is probably a good thing. People who eat, on average, half an avocado a day have lower body weight, BMI and waist circumference, cutting their odds of developing metabolic syndrome by half, according to a study published in Nutrition Journal. Granted, avocado eaters may have an overall healthier diet, but a review of 31 studies published in Phytotherapy Research suggests that the buttery fruit itself can improve cholesterol levels. Thank avocado’s healthy monounsaturated fats, which help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and boost HDL (the good kind).
Strike a (yoga) pose.
Physical activity is key for countering metabolic syndrome and, good news: yoga counts. Obese and overweight dieters — who either had metabolic syndrome or were at risk for it — saw their waistlines shrink about an inch after two weeks of daily yoga sessions. Their LDL cholesterol and BMI also dropped. Plus, other research shows that getting bendy for an hour, three times a week, reduces inflammation in people who have metabolic syndrome, helping to alleviate conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
Eat resistant starch.
As if you needed a reason to enjoy carbs, a study published in Scientific Reports suggests that a special type called resistant starch may help. People with metabolic syndrome who ate about 10 grams of the stuff daily improved their cholesterol in 12 weeks. These perks may come from the carb’s prebiotic effects: this starch resists digestion until it gets to the large intestine, where it feeds certain good gut bacteria that convert cholesterol into a form that can be excreted from the body. Get your fix from white beans (4 grams resistant starch per 1/2 cup), green bananas (4 g per medium fruit) or cooked, cooled potatoes (the process turns starch into the resistant kind, 10 g per medium spud).
What to know about metabolic syndrome:
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of at least 3 of these measures:
35 inches (women)
40 inches (men)
50 mg/dL (women)
40 mg/dL (men)
Fasting blood sugar