Poor Diet, High Risk: Metabolic Syndrome & Dietary Choices

Metabolic syndrome involves the presence of multiple metabolic risk factors for both cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Metabolic syndrome strongly increases with age and its prevalence is on the rise worldwide. This is particularly concerning because metabolic syndrome also markedly increases mortality. Many of the determinants of metabolic syndrome are related to an unfavorable diet and low physical activity, with risk factors for type 2 diabetes being largely preventable by modifications to diet and physical activity. In light of this, the quality of the diets of individuals with metabolic syndrome — or those at risk for metabolic syndrome — becomes an important public health concern. Recently, a study examined the degree of adherence to nutritional guidelines among individuals with metabolic syndrome and at risk for metabolic syndrome in the Nordic countries of Finland, Iceland, Denmark, and Sweden.

Of the 175 individuals in this study, all but one had a larger waist size than recommended. Twenty-nine percent had high triglycerides, 33 percent had low HDL or “good” cholesterol, 57 percent had elevated blood pressure, and 61 percent had elevated blood glucose. Fifty-two percent were being treated for hypertension, and 23 percent were treated for blood lipid concentration. Individuals with type 2 diabetes were excluded from this study. Twenty-three percent of the men and 13 percent of women in the study reported having low energy. Asked to rate their own health, 55 percent rated their health as good and 44 percent rated their health as average, and only one person rated it as poor.

Looking at nutritional intake, only 20 percent of men and 30 percent of women met the recommended intake of dietary fiber suggested by the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR). Less than 20 percent of participants received less than 10 percent of their energy from saturated fat, as is recommended by the NNR. The recommended intake of polyunsaturated fat was only met by about a third of study participants. In terms of nutrients, vitamin D was the nutrient most frequently below the recommended intake, with 65 percent of men and 74 percent of women not meeting the recommended value. Folate was also below recommended values for 52 percent of men and 74 percent of women. Sodium levels were found to be higher than the recommended range for 83 percent of men and 65 percent of women.

The study concluded that the dietary intake of individuals in this study was unsatisfactory, and warrants the development of interventions to address this problem for groups at high risk for metabolic syndrome, as well as greater attention to this issue by health providers. A balanced diet with adequate nutrient and food intake is of specific interest to this risk group.


Jonsdottir SE, Brader L, Gunnarsdottir I, et al. Adherence to the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations in a Nordic population with metabolic syndrome: high salt consumption and low dietary fibre intake (The SYSDIET study). Food & Nutrition Research. (2103). DOI: 10.3402/fnr.v57i0.21391


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