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Dr Marcus Laux
Waist Not, Want Not: Burn Belly Fat To Fight Blood-Sugar DisordersPDFPrintE-mail

Metabolic syndrome is a term that has been used in medical research since the early 1960s to refer to a cluster of conditions that can either lead to, or are symptoms of, such chronic conditions as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. In a recent study examining the prevalence of metabolic syndrome among patients in the family practice in Canada, the study showed one in every 3 patients between 40 and 60 years old met the criteria for the syndrome. (1)

I believe that number will continue to rise in coming years as the long-term effects our fat and sugar-laden Canadian diet begin to “weigh in” with more and more Zoomers.

Insulin Resistance: The Root of All Evil

One of the primary processes of metabolism is the breakdown of foods into glucose. Your body uses glucose for energy, and you take it in by eating sugar, sweeteners, and other carbohydrates. When your body tastes something sweet or senses glucose in the bloodstream, it releases insulin. Insulin helps the glucose enter your cells, which then use the glucose as fuel. When your body doesn’t produce enough insulin to facilitate this process, the cells begin to starve. Cells can also starve if they become insulin resistant—which means they don’t respond to the insulin even though your body is producing it.

Insulin resistance is the central component of metabolic syndrome. It also contributes to being overweight—which in turn contributes to a variety of diseases, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and several types of cancer. In this sense, metabolic syndrome is a vicious circle that revolves around what we eat.

Before jumping into my dietary recommendations, though, I’d like to remind you about some of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome, including an even more insidious problem that’s often linked to it (and one that you may already have): excess abdominal fat.

Apple or Pear: Your Risk Depends on It

Research has shown that women with a waist measurement of more than 35 inches, and men whose waists check in at more than 40 inches, are at high risk for the cluster of disorders that fall under the umbrella of metabolic syndrome. So, please take a moment to check your belly fat. Place a tape measure around your waist right at your belly button. How did you do? If you or someone close to you exceeds the limits I identified, then the information in this special issue of Health & Zwellness is especially important for you. Excessive belly fat accumulates in a sheet of fat called the omentum, which lies beneath the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity and covers most of the abdominal organs. Too much of this visceral fat increases both your appetite and your blood pressure, and impairs your body’s ability to control blood sugar. This is the medical reason for why having an apple-shaped body (fat in the belly) is worse than having a pear-shaped body (fat in the hips). If you have an apple-shaped body, it’s critically important that you work on ways to reduce your belly fat. If, in addition to belly fat, you have two or more of the following health conditions, you are likely heading toward metabolic syndrome:

  • Insulin resistance or glucose intolerance (100mg/dL or more while fasting).
  • A poor blood lipid profile, including high blood triglycerides (150 mg/dL or more), and low HDL “good” cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women).
  • High blood pressure (130/85 mm Hg or more).
  • Prothrombosis (the tendency to develop dangerous clots).
  • Inflammation, as shown by a blood test for C-reactive protein levels.

Obesity is our nation’s Number One health concern, and our unhealthy attitude toward making long-term changes may be its biggest health challenge. Studies show that Canadians like quick fixes and are the least likely people in the world to stick with long-term health changes. This trend has to change for us to right our lifestyle wrongs.

Reverse Blood-Sugar Disorders Through Diet

Abdominal fat, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome can be addressed by simply reversing the eating habits that threw your body out of balance to begin with, and then adding a few new—and healthier—dietary choices. Start by limiting the amount of carbohydrates you eat and increasing your intake of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates (from vegetables). You’ll notice a positive change in how you feel almost immediately. To help you get off to a solid start with your new diet, here are my Top Three eating tips that will help you control your blood sugar and shed fat:

Tip #1: Balance, Balance, Balance

At every meal and snack, include equal percentages of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Together, these foods slow digestion, improve nutrient absorption, and blunt the meal’s glycemic index (a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar). Following this simple rule will help you feel full for longer periods of time so you’ll be less inclined to eat between meals. Also, because of the slower and steadier digestive process, the level of glucose in your blood—and therefore the level of insulin—is controlled.

Tip #2: Think Globally, Eat Locally

We can learn a lot by emulating the diets of people who live in Korea, Japan, and other countries on the far side of the Pacific Rim. They are masters at eating a variety of healthy foods in one meal and keeping portion sizes small. Do everything you can to mimic their habits! At every meal in those cultures, the traditional diet includes soup, a variety of vegetables (bok choy and spinach are popular, along with sprouts, carrots, onions, and broccoli) and protein from sources such as fish, beef, chicken, tofu, and egg. Small portions of meat are mixed with seasoning or sauce, along with noodles or rice with seasoned oil. You might also see sesame seeds, bamboo shoots, nuts, bean paste, mushrooms, and many varieties of sea vegetables. What you won’t see is a “super-sized” slab of beef or a huge helping of starchy carbohydrates (such as potatoes and white bread)! If Asian flavours aren’t your thing, apply the healthy food–small portion rule to diets closer to home. The South Beach and Mediterranean diets offer balanced food choices with high levels of fibre and phytonutrients. The Mediterranean style of eating is particularly rich in fruits, legumes, whole grains, fish, and olive oil, and has been linked to less heart disease, protection against some cancers, and longer life. A growing body of evidence from France, the Czech Republic, and the United States indicates that fatty fish along with omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help prevent or reverse metabolic syndrome when combined with exercise and a Mediterranean-style diet rich in beans and colourful vegetables. A recent study, published in the December 2006 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, found that DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)—one of the two essential omega-3 fatty acids in fish—disrupts the process that leads to the formation of fat cells. In other words, eating fatty cold-water fish such as wild salmon and sardines once or twice a week, and taking a high-quality fish-oil supplement can lead to leaner bellies and lower risk for obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Tip #3: Eat Less More Often

For some people, the concept of “three square meals a day” needs to go out the window along with enormous portion sizes. Instead, you should eat several smaller meals more often—perhaps five to eight small meals a day of only 200 to 300 calories each. A handful of almonds, a slice of cheese with a few sardines, or a sliver of peppered salmon with lettuce on a whole grain cracker with a carrot or celery stick are all good small-meal choices. Go for quality, not quantity!



(1)     Can Fam Physician. 2006 August 10; 52(8): 983.


Re-printed with permission from January 2007 edition of Naturally Well Today, Vol 4 No. 7


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Laboratory tests show that Krill Oil has 48x the antioxidant power of regular fish oil! Learn about the many anti-inflammatory benefits of this amazing omega-3. Read More...


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In this century, the world will have more people living into their 80s and 90s than ever before, with the number of people 80+ set to quadruple between 2000 and 2050.


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