The American Diet 
of Sugar, Fat & Salt is Causing Metabolic Syndrome: This Is Why

The American Diet and Syndrome X

What is Metabolic Syndrome or Syndrome X?

Metabolic Syndrome and Syndrome X are two names for the same problem. It is a disorder that involves a combination of three or more of the following health problems:

  • excess body fat around the waist
  • high blood sugar
  • high triglyceride levels
  • high blood pressure
  • high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol

Metabolic Syndrome increases the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. It is increasingly common, and up to one-third of U.S. adults have it. “Metabolic” refers to the biochemical processes that maintain the body’s normal functioning. A body with Metabolic Syndrome is suffering from serious malfunction that can lead to chronic diseases and death if left untreated.

What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic Syndrome is caused by genetic factors and unhealthy lifestyle choices, including a diet that is high in saturated fats, high in salt and sugar, and that is processed and artificially sweetened. Unfortunately, this describes the typical American Diet.

The typical American Diet is also low in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, which are the very foods that counteract the problems caused by excess salt, sugar, and saturated fats in the diet. We are a convenience culture that eats on the go, which often leads to processed rather than fresh food. In addition, the average American doesn’t vary the foods they eat, instead repeating the same foods and meals day after day. This repetition can significantly limit vitamins and nutrients, even when the foods are relatively healthy. And Americans are passing these eating habits on to their children.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Empty calories from added sugars and solid fats contribute to 40% of total daily calories for 2–18 year olds and half of these empty calories come from six sources: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza, and whole milk.” “Empty calories” are calories without any nutritional value.

The Way We Eat Is Killing Us

Here’s how:

Sugar is one culprit. The typical American diet is high in sugar. Americans often add sugar to everything: coffee, tea, bread, packaged fruits, juices, sodas, frozen meals, and many pre-packaged “health” foods. All this sugar causes insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps sugar, known as glucose, leave the blood and enter cells to be used as fuel and or bodily functions.

With insulin resistance, glucose can’t enter the cells as easily. As a result, blood sugar levels rise even though the body is creating more and more insulin in an attempt to move the sugar out of the blood and into the cells. This causes high blood sugar, one of the conditions that gives rise to Metabolic Syndrome.

Salt is another culprit. The typical American diet is also high in salt, known as sodium. Salt is added to most processed foods to improve the taste since they aren’t fresh. Manufacturers add salt to canned vegetables and beans, frozen foods, and even desserts. Our bodies need about 500 mg of sodium a day to function, yet the typical American eats about 3400 mg each day.

At that level, the kidneys have trouble filtering the excess sodium from the blood, causing the body to hold onto water to dilute the sodium. This water-retention increases the volume of blood in the bloodstream, which means more work for the heart and more pressure on the blood vessels. Over time, the extra work and pressure causes high blood pressure, another condition that gives rise to Metabolic Syndrome.

For tips on how to eat healthier, read:

Eat This, Not That: Tips for a Healthy High Fiber Diet

Healthy Eating on the Run

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Jamie J. Spannhake

Jamie Spannhake is a lawyer, mediator and certified health coach, and the author of "The Lawyer, the Lion, & the Laundry: Three Hours to Finding Your Calm in the Chaos." She is a partner at Berlandi Nussbaum & Reitzas LLP and writes and speaks on issues of interest to lawyers, including time and stress management, health and wellness, work-life balance, and effective legal writing. Learn more at and follow her on Twitter @IdealYear.

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