What if just one diet modification could improve metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions including increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels)?

Well, this might be a possibility according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study compared the very complicated American Heart Association recommended diet with a high-fiber diet and found that maybe all of the calorie counting required by the AHA isn’t absolutely necessary.

Comparing the diets

The 240 obese adults with metabolic syndrome in the study were randomly assigned to one of two diets. The first diet was the American Heart Association diet suggested for reducing metabolic syndrome. The AHA diet guidelines are to:

  • consume vegetables and fruits
  • eat whole grains and high-fiber foods
  • eat fish twice weekly, consume lean animal and vegetable proteins
  • reduce intake of sugary beverages
  • minimize sugar and sodium intake
  • maintain moderate to no alcohol intake
  • consume 50% to 55% of calories from carbohydrates
  • consume 15% to 20% of calories from protein
  • consume 30% to 35% of calories from fat
  • limit saturated fat to less than 7% of energy
  • limit trans fat to less than 1% of energy
  • limit cholesterol to less than 300 mg/d

Participants on the AHA diet were also asked to reduce their calories intake by 500–1000 calories per day.

The second diet was a high-fiber diet where study participants were only advised to focus on increasing fiber intake.

Diet results

Over the course of the year that the study included, both groups lost weight, though a small amount for a year’s time. On average those on the AHA diet lost six pounds and those on the high-fiber diet lost five pounds. Even if the weight changes were not significant, there was little weight rebound, meaning that weight that was lost did not get regained.

Even though the AHA diet was specifically designed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels were not affected by diet in either of the two diet groups. However, for both groups, saturated fat intake decreased.

Because there was no clear difference in the results for the AHA diet group or the high-fiber diet group, there may be no reason why a complex diet focused on very specific calorie counting and calorie intake is necessary over a much simpler high-fiber diet that would be easier to monitor and one that would be easier for the average person to stick to on a daily basis.