Metabolic health has been on a decline for decades. A recent study, which followed 55,000 Americans between 1999 and 2018, reveals that things are worse than we thought: only 6.8% of American adults have good metabolic health. That means just about every adult in the U.S. does not meet the threshold to be considered metabolically healthy.
Metabolic health is determined by blood glucose, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and waist circumference. If you have healthy levels across all categories, congrats! But if you’re like the other 93% of Americans, those numbers aren’t where they should be. Having unhealthy numbers on these metrics puts you at increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which affects about 1 in 3 adults.
So with metabolic syndrome being so common, is there any possibility it can be reversed? The answer is yes, but it’s going to require a different approach to diet and exercise than is typically taught.
The culprit lurking behind poor metabolic health
We’ve all had days that go something like this:
Sugary cereal for breakfast
Hours spent sitting, whether you’re working on a computer or watching something on TV
Quick, convenient meals for lunch and dinner, which could be anything from fast food and takeout to pre-packaged meals you throw in the microwave minutes before you sit down to eat
Snacks and drinks to keep us going throughout the day
Chores, family activities, chauffeuring duties, and other responsibilities that leave little time for anything else
We’re busier than we’ve ever been. It’s also easier than it’s ever been to neglect our health, thanks to the many conveniences we enjoy (and rely on!). But a sedentary lifestyle combined with poor diet catches up to all of us eventually; it’s not a matter of if, but when.
Metabolic health comes down to insulin and the body’s tendency to become resistant to it. Eat a lot of carbs and processed foods and your pancreas will produce more insulin. Snack all day and your glucose levels will stay elevated. Neglect to prioritize exercise and it’s harder to keep insulin at healthy levels.
Insulin resistance affects more than our ability to maintain or lose weight, which is why our first line of defense for any needed adjustment usually involves changing our diet.
Changing the narrative
For years our focus has been eating low-fat foods. Many count calories as a way of managing their weight. And who hasn’t justified eating that extra donut because they had a good workout that morning?
But in reality, calorie counting has little to do with metabolic health. Exercising more doesn’t make up for eating lots of sugary and processed foods. And a well-balanced diet will do us more good than a low-fat one.
5 principles to combat metabolic syndrome
So where does this leave us? What lifestyle choices actually support metabolic health?
The phrase “work smarter, not harder” applies here. Once we understand nutritional principles that support metabolic health, we can make better choices that support our health long term.
1. Prioritize protein. Protein is about more than building muscles that impress your friends. It keeps you feeling full—which helps us avoid snacking all day—and has little to no insulin response.
2. Control carbohydrates. As one of the body’s main energy sources, carbs should be part of a well-balanced diet. But our focus should be on complex carbs, not simple carbs. Think whole grains, leafy greens, and nuts. Pass on anything with added sugars, like soda, baked desserts, and fruit juices.
3. Fuel with fat. Believe it or not, fat in your diet is actually a good thing! It’s an essential macronutrient that helps the body absorb vitamins and support heart and brain health. It’s also a good source of energy that has no insulin response, and, like protein, keeps you feeling full for longer because it takes longer to digest. Just be sure you’re getting the right kind of fat—focus on unsaturated fats and avoid trans fats as much as possible.
4. Practice intermittent fasting. Food makes our insulin levels fluctuate. To keep insulin levels more stable, it’s a good idea to go longer periods of time without eating. This allows the body to burn off carbohydrates and tap into fat burning for energy. Unicity’s Feel Great program is an effective way to incorporate intermittent fasting into any lifestyle without having to rely on willpower or an extreme diet and exercise regimen to succeed long term.
5. Live a healthy lifestyle. While diet has the biggest effect on metabolic health, anything you do to live a healthy lifestyle will help you out. Exercise regularly. Move more throughout the day. Eat more whole grains and vegetables. Sleep more. Stress less.
Remember that there are five factors involved in metabolic health: blood glucose, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and waist circumference. It’s possible you may have a healthy waistline, but have shortcomings in other areas, so it’s always a good idea to have regular checkups!
Taking back control
Poor metabolic health may be the norm in our society, but that doesn’t mean it has to be our fate. Unicity has developed products and programs to make our metabolic health goals more attainable. Visit unicity.com to learn more.