When it comes to diet and numbers, people often get hung up on counting calories. But while it certainly is important not to overeat, the ratio of macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, and protein) that you consume is also important. This is particularly true for people who have metabolic syndrome, a condition characterized by the presence of at least three of the following risk factors: belly fat, high triglycerides, low HDL (healthy) cholesterol, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar.
When people struggle with being overweight in particular, their inclination is often to cut back on dietary fat. After all, it seems to make sense that eating fat would contribute to weight gain. But the American Heart Association cites research indicating that this isn't actually the case. A moderate-fat diet may actually be the best choice for people with metabolic syndrome. I've been saying this for years. And now a new study confirms it — again.
According to this study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington, making a simple adjustment to your macronutrient ratio can have quite a positive impact on your health. For the study, the researchers divided a group of 71 people suffering from metabolic syndrome into two groups. The first group ate a diet that was 40% fat, 45% carbohydrates, and 15% protein. The other group ate a diet that was 20% fat, 65% carbs, and 15% protein. The two groups had similar levels of saturated fat (about 8%) and fiber intake as well.
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Cholesterol levels dropped in both groups — but in the moderate-fat group, it was LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol that fell significantly. The low-fat group lost a lot more HDL cholesterol. Triglycerides actually went up by 11.1 mg/dL in the low-fat group, but the moderate-fat group enjoyed a drop of 28.6 mg/dL.
The key to the diet's success may lie not so much in adding fat, but in cutting back on carbohydrate consumption. Carbs, as you may know, cause an elevation in blood sugar and a spike in insulin. The rise in insulin leads to higher blood fats and a reduced ability of the body to break down and metabolize fats. Reducing carbohydrate intake increases fat burning, helps keep blood sugar stable, and decreases appetite (which curbs overeating that contributes to weight gain).
If you're struggling with metabolic syndrome or just want to make sure you're protecting your heart health, consider the quality of your calories in addition to the quantity. The point is that despite what the so-called experts have been telling you for years, you don't need to be afraid of having fat in your diet. Instead, focus on reducing your carbohydrate load so that it makes up a smaller portion of your food intake. And when you do eat carbs, make sure they come from healthy sources too — think fruit and beans, not bread and birthday cake.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD