Mediterranean Diet and Metabolic Syndrome

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that happen simultaneously to a person. These risks include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, high cholesterol levels (low good cholesterol HDL), and belly fat—all which increase a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

How common is Metabolic Syndrome?

Sad to say, it is VERY common! According to the American Heart Association, 47 million Americans have metabolic syndrome. That's almost a staggering 1 out of every 6 people! The good news is it can be controlled. People with metabolic syndrome are most often overweight or obese. The syndrome runs in families, and is more common among African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans.

Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome

Most of the metabolic syndrome risk factors don't have any symptoms. Often, the only outward sign is packing some extra weight in the belly, which usually results in a larger waist.
The only way to find out if you have metabolic syndrome is to meet with your doctor. He or she will check your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. It's another reason regular check-ups are the key to staying healthy.

What’s considered a large waist for a woman? 

Women with a waist measuring 35 inches or larger are at risk of metabolic syndrome.

What is considered a large waist for a man? 

Men with a waist measuring 40 inches or larger are at risk of metabolic syndrome.

Treatment of Metabolic Syndrome

Switching up your lifestyle is the preferred treatment of metabolic syndrome, particularly losing weight. Effective weight loss normally includes a specific, tailored program that includes diet and exercise.

There is now a trend toward the use of a Mediterranean diet for metabolic syndrome—one rich in "good" fats (olive oil) and a reasonable amount of carbohydrates and proteins (such as from fish and chicken).

How To Implement the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is palatable and easily sustained. Recent studies have shown when compared to a low fat diet, people on the Mediterranean diet have a greater decrease in body weight, and also had greater improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other markers of heart disease, all of which are important in evaluating and treating metabolic syndrome.

To be exact, there is not just one Mediterranean diet. What’s eaten varies significantly from one Mediterranean country to another. However, the shared features of the Mediterranean-style diet include the following:

  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables—a variety of plant foods should cover half your plate.  Include veggies and fruit at every meal, and eat them for snacks too.


  • Switch to whole grains—reduce your intake of white foods and choose more brown foods.


  • Add nuts, legumes, and seeds—a great source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats. 


  • Pass on the butter—replace it with olive oil, which is this diet’s key monounsaturated fat source.


  • Flavor foods by using herbs and spices instead of salt.


  • Choose low-fat dairy products—reduce your intake of ice cream, whole or 2% milk, and cheese.


  • Eat fish at least twice a week.


  • Very little red meat or processed meat is eaten—substitute with chicken (and fish).


  • Eggs are eaten zero to four times a week.


  • Wine is drunk in moderate (or low) amounts.


  • Eliminate refined carbohydrates—avoid “enriched” foods.

Bottom Line: The Mediterranean diet is shown to be an anti-inflammatory diet, which helps fight diseases related to chronic inflammation, including metabolic syndrome. 

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutriitonist for Healthy Goods



  1. American Heart Association:  Mediterranean Diet 
  2. Babio N, et al. Mediterranean diet and metabolic syndrome: the evidence. Public Health Nutr. 2009 Sep;12(9A): 1607-17.  


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