Metabolic syndrome is a collection of risk factors which together increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when you have three or more of the following risk factors:

  • Excess weight around the middle (a waist circumference of more than 88cm for women and more than 102cm for men of Caucasian background, but these may vary for those from different ethnic backgrounds–your doctor can advise you on your individual targets)
  • High triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood
  • Low levels of HDL (‘good’) cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes

While each of these are risk factors on their own, their combined risks are even greater. If you have metabolic syndrome, your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes are much greater than in those who don’t have the condition.

While genetics and age both play a part, lifestyle modification is the key to preventing and managing metabolic syndrome. Following are the dietary and lifestyle changes that can help.

  • Eating a Mediterranean-style diet. This is an eating plan rich in minimally processed wholegrains (such as traditional rolled or steel-cut oats, barley, quinoa, freekeh, burghul, brown rice, wholemeal or wholegrain pasta, dense wholegrain breads), vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes (lentils, chickpeas and dried/canned beans), olive oil and fish but relatively low in red meat and dairy products. Refined grains, added sugars, sugar-sweetened  drinks and ultraprocessed foods are best avoided or kept for special occasions. Use fresh or dried herbs and spices rather than salt to flavour foods.
  • Exercising regularly, increasing incidental activity and reducing sedentary time and/or breaking up your sitting time regularly.
  • Losing weight, particularly around the middle, by combining a healthy eating plan with being more active.
  • Quitting smoking, if you smoke. If you need help to do this, speak with your doctor or call the Quitline on 13 7848.
  • Getting adequate sleep and managing stress levels.

Dietary and lifestyle changes are recommended as the first line of treatment. However, some people also need medications to manage individual risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and elevated blood glucose levels.

For more information:


Castro-Barquero S, Ruiz-León AM, Sierra-Pérez M, Estruch R, Casas R. Dietary Strategies for Metabolic Syndrome: A Comprehensive Review. Nutrients. 2020 Sep 29;12(10):2983. doi: 10.3390/nu12102983. PMID: 33003472; PMCID: PMC7600579.

Fahed G, Aoun L, Bou Zerdan M, Allam S, Bou Zerdan M, Bouferraa Y, Assi HI. Metabolic Syndrome: Updates on Pathophysiology and Management in 2021. Int J Mol Sci. 2022 Jan 12;23(2):786. doi: 10.3390/ijms23020786. PMID: 35054972; PMCID: PMC8775991.

Zhang et al. Leisure-time physical activity and incident metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies. Metabolism. 2017 Oct;75:36-44.

Lane MM, Davis JA, Beattie S, Gómez-Donoso C, Loughman A, O’Neil A, Jacka F, Berk M, Page R, Marx W, Rocks T. Ultraprocessed food and chronic noncommunicable diseases: A systematic review and meta-analysis of 43 observational studies. Obes Rev. 2021 Mar;22(3):e13146. doi: 10.1111/obr.13146. Epub 2020 Nov 9. PMID: 33167080.

Papadaki A, Nolen-Doerr E, Mantzoros CS. The Effect of the Mediterranean Diet on Metabolic Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Controlled Trials in Adults. Nutrients. 2020 Oct 30;12(11):3342. doi: 10.3390/nu12113342. PMID: 33143083; PMCID: PMC7692768.


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