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These Eating Habits Can Increase Your Risk of Metabolic Syndrome, New Study Says

This can happen even if you don't have obesity, researchers suggest.

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and excess body fat around the waist. When combined, these significantly increase your risk of serious health threats like heart disease and stroke. That's why reducing unhealthy behaviors that boost metabolic syndrome is crucial, and a new study published in the journal Preventative Medicine provides insights on which of these bad habits to avoid.

Looking at about 47,000 people age 40 to 64 in Japan, researchers compared 11 lifestyle habits to the development of metabolic syndrome. They found that whether individuals had obesity or not, they still had higher risk with a fast eating speed, as well as greater amounts of alcohol consumption.

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Two other habits also made participants more susceptible to metabolic syndrome: smoking and slow walking speed. Risk factors unrelated to lifestyle included being male and older in age. Weight gain also played a role, as those who put on more than 22 pounds since their 20s were more likely to have metabolic issues.

Though what you eat certainly matters, this study joins previous research that highlights the importance of your eating pace, according to Paige Cunningham, Ph.D.(c), a nutrition researcher at Pennsylvania State University. In research she presented at the Nutrition 2021 Live online conference, Cunningham detailed how participants tended to eat larger portions and take larger bites when they ate quickly.

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Cunningham suggests this may be the result of what's called reduced oro-sensory exposure (OSE), which means you're less likely to feel food in your mouth as you're eating. Previous studies about OSE found that if you slow down your eating and put more awareness into the sensation of chewing, you tend to take smaller bites and eat less. Not only can that help with weight maintenance, but it may also aid digestion, Cunningham says.

In terms of alcohol, you don't need to give it up to avoid metabolic syndrome. In fact, a study in Diabetes Care found that mild to moderate consumption—defined as one drink for women and two for men daily—actually lowered risk of metabolic syndrome, with a favorable influence on cholesterol, waist circumference, and blood sugar. It's when you start to consume above that moderate amount that the risk starts going in the other direction.

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Elizabeth Millard
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer specializing in health, fitness, and nutrition. Read more about Elizabeth