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Western Diet Ups Heart, Diabetes Risk

Burger, Fries, and a Diet Soda Are Culprits in Metabolic Syndrome
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 22, 2008 -- Indulging in a typical Western diet of burgers, fries, and diet soda boosts your risk of getting heart disease and diabetes, a study shows.

And the amount of fast food the researchers linked to health problems may surprise you. Just two burger patties a day and one daily diet soda substantially boost the risk of getting metabolic syndrome, researcher Lyn M. Steffen, PhD, MPH, RD, tells WebMD.

Metabolic syndrome, in turn, increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes. For a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, three of five criteria must be present, including a large waistline, elevated blood pressure, elevated fasting blood sugar, elevated fasting triglycerides, or reduced levels of HDL "good" cholesterol.

Western Diet vs. 'Prudent' Diet

"The Western diet increased risk by about 18% overall of getting metabolic syndrome over nine years [of follow-up]," says Steffen, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, who followed more than 9,000 people for the research. She divided them into those who ate a Western diet with those who ate a more prudent diet.

Those who ate two or more servings of meat a day, or about two burger patties, boosted their risk by 26% compared with those who only ate meat twice a week, she found. "Diet soda, one can a day, increased risk by 34%," she says. Regular soda didn't significantly boost risk of getting metabolic syndrome in this study, but Steffen notes that another recent study has linked it to metabolic syndrome.

Fried foods also boosted the risk of getting metabolic syndrome, she says, with those eating the most fried foods at 25% higher risk of getting the syndrome than those eating the lowest amounts.

At the nine-year mark, about 40%, or nearly 4,000 participants, had three or more criteria for metabolic syndrome, although none was diagnosed with it at the study start.

Diet and Metabolic Syndrome: Study Details

Steffen and her colleagues evaluated the diet habits of the more than 9,500 men and women who were part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study by looking at a 66-item food questionnaire. Participants were 45 to 64 when the study started and were evaluated every three years over the nine-year follow-up.

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