The study defined metabolic health as having a healthy waist circumference and normal levels of triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure without the help of medications. People with poor metabolic health are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other chronic health problems.
To determine how many American adults are at low and high risk for chronic illness, researchers from the University of North Carolina looked at the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from more than 8,000 people in the U.S. Based on their findings, the researchers found that only 12 percent of Americans or about 27.3 million are metabolically healthy. This means that the remaining 88 percent suffer from a variety of metabolic disorders, which puts them at great risk of developing serious chronic degenerative diseases.
The researchers also found that body mass index (BMI) plays the most important role in metabolic health. In the study, they found that less than one percent of obese adults were metabolically healthy. In contrast, people who were physically active had better metabolic health. Other factors that inclined people towards poor metabolic health include having lower educational attainment, living a sedentary life, and smoking tobacco. The data showed that individuals who tend to be metabolically healthy are physically active, highly educated females who do not smoke.
One of the ways to achieve optimal metabolic health is to follow the Mediterranean diet. This type of diet is particularly effective in fighting metabolic syndrome and chronic illnesses like Type 2 diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and heart disease. In addition, following the Mediterranean diet can promote weight loss better than following a conventional low-fat diet according to a study published in The American Journal of Medicine.
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating healthy amounts of fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, lentils, and beans, as well as nuts, avocados, and olive oil which are good sources of healthy fats. It also includes getting high-quality proteins from foods like fatty cold-water fish and polyphenols from spices like rosemary and oregano. (Related: Five powerful green foods to boost your metabolic health.)
Taking herbal and nutritional supplements can also help in achieving optimal metabolic health. For example, herbs like dandelion greens and milk thistle are great for detoxifying and cleansing the liver. Taking fish oil supplements can help lower harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while taking CoQ10 supplements keeps the heart healthy.
Another way to achieve optimal metabolic health is to engage in regular physical activity. Experts recommend getting 30 or more minutes of moderate-intensity exercises like brisk walking every day. If you exercise regularly, you will start to lose weight, and this will also help reduce risk factors for metabolic syndrome. Even losing as little as seven to 10 percent of your weight can significantly improve your blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol levels. In addition, studies show that people who engage in some form of exercise are less likely to have metabolic syndrome.
Lastly, managing stress helps. People with high levels of stress are more likely to suffer from health problems, both physically and mentally. Acupuncture, biofeedback, guided meditation, and yoga are some of the things that help reduce stress.