Metabolic health and eating healthier
Optimize your metabolic health through what you eat.
This post is written by Pendulum Dietitian Kristin Neusel. She is a registered dietitian with Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Human Nutrition and Dietetics.
Many people want to be “healthier”, and oftentimes ask me what they can eat to be “healthy”.
The term "healthy" means something different to each person. One person could want to lose weight, others could want to manage their cholesterol or blood pressure. At the end of the day, there are many things that we look at to identify and measure one’s overall health, or, as some call it: metabolic health. The term has several definitions, depending on which research study or website you are looking at. The most common definition of metabolic health is having ideal levels of:
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
- Blood sugar
- Blood pressure
- Waist circumference
All without using medications. In a study published in the journal Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill evaluated some data from over 8000 adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2009 to 2016. They found that just 1 in 8 adults in the United States have optimal metabolic health- and that’s a real problem for many reasons. Having good metabolic health can decrease your risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that happen together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. These conditions include:
- Abnormal cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels
- Excess blood sugar
- Increased blood pressure
- Excess body fat around the waist
Seeing a pattern here? The term metabolic health likely comes from the term metabolic syndrome. A lot of times when I talk about metabolic health, clients think I am only talking about metabolism. But we need to look at metabolic health beyond just someone’s weight. Losing weight can definitely help with improving those measurements above, but by looking beyond weight and what that excess weight may be impacting -- like cholesterol and blood sugar -- we can identify whether someone is metabolically healthy or if they need to make some dietary and lifestyle changes to improve their metabolic health.
How to be metabolically healthy
So, what can you do to be metabolically healthy? Here are some tips:
- Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity at least 5 days a week (this can be broken down into smaller sessions if you’re super busy- like 2 15-minute walks)
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains (we’re talking fiber here!)
- Limiting saturated & trans fat and salt in your diet
- Not smoking
What to eat for metabolic health
In terms of diet, the westernized diet contains a lot of highly processed, high-fat, high-sugar food products. By swapping those out for whole, minimally processed foods full of fiber, healthy fats, and lower sugar, you’ll be consuming foods that are healthier for you. You should aim for at least 25 grams of fiber in a day (sounds like a lot, but easy to do by eating fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain food items). Let’s take a look at that metabolic syndrome list again and I’ll add how fiber can help:
- Abnormal cholesterol and/or triglyceride levels → Fiber has actually been proven to help lower cholesterol
- Excess blood sugar → Fiber helps slow the absorption of blood glucose, which helps manage your blood sugars
- Increased blood pressure → Fiber may lower blood pressure, further research needed
- Excess body fat around the waist → Fiber helps you feel full longer, which can prevent you from overeating and can lead to helping manage your weight
Check out the my fiber blog post for easy tips and tricks on adding fiber to your diet! Additionally, fiber helps feed the gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome's impact on metabolic health
In recent research, it has been shown that the gut microbiome plays a huge role in several different bodily functions. It is important to have a diverse gut microbiome (this means having lots of different bacterial strains) to ensure all of the proper functions are being performed. Taking a probiotic like Pendulum Glucose Control helps replenish bacterial strains you may be missing or lacking functionality, which can be caused from a variety of reasons (diet, environment, and naturally as we age). There are studies where the fecal material from a skinny mouse has been transplanted to an obese mouse, and the obese mouse became skinny. Fascinating science proves that having a healthy gut microbiome can help all sorts of factors contributing to your metabolic health!