Belly fat can have serious health effects. Abdominal overweight, increased cholesterol, high blood sugar and inflammation are part of a condition called metabolic syndrome. When an individual appears to have metabolic syndrome, he has an increased risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and stroke. Controlling the diet is one of the treatments for addressing metabolic syndrome, and wheat has come under some scrutiny for its role in weight management.

The American Heart Association website explains that metabolic syndrome is actually a group of conditions that can increase an individual’s health risks. These conditions include increased blood triglycerides, higher LDL “bad” cholesterol, lower HDL “good” cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, abdominal obesity, insulin resistance, glucose insensitivity, elevated C-reactive protein, and increased fibrinogen plasminogen activator inhibitor in the blood. When these conditions exist, health risks for developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, vascular disease, and diabetes increase. The American Heart Association website reports that 50 million Americans are believed to have metabolic syndrome.

The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide links obesity with increased blood triglycerides and cholesterol. Excess body weight increases your risk for various health conditions in addition to metabolic syndrome, including fatty liver, osteoarthritis, cancer and depression. When excess weight is carried around your abdominal, your health risks increase even more. Fat that gathers on top of your abdominal muscles behaves like fat on the rest of your body, but fat that accumulates between your organs inside the abdomen can be problematic. This fat increases the load of free fatty acids on the liver, and the fatty acids can accumulate in the pancreas and around the heart. This can cause organ problems, including heart dysfunctions. Treatment for this type of belly fat includes weight loss and changes to the diet.

Researchers at the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation discovered that there is a positive correlation between refined grain consumption and the occurrence of conditions of metabolic syndrome. They found that higher intake of refined carbohydrates was associated with increased insulin resistance. This could lead to the development of pre-diabetes and diabetes, a condition of insulin resistance or insensitivity. Refined carbohydrates are often derived from wheat-based products, such as refined flour, white bread, cookies, cakes, and snacks. By this study, it would seem that wheat plays a role in the occurrence of metabolic syndrome.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans show that carbohydrates provide 45 to 65 percent of your daily caloric intake in a healthy diet. Wheat is a primary source of carbohydrates, an important nutrient used by the body to obtain glucose. While wheat is not directly responsible for overweight and obesity, the amount and type of wheat you eat affects your weight. You should choose wheat in its most whole-grain form, where the whole wheat kernel has been preserved during processing. Whole grain wheat provides vitamins and minerals that are commonly removed during the refining process, because they occur in the germ of the wheat kernel. Refined grains are required to be fortified with the nutrients removed, but they still offer less nutritional benefit than a whole grain.

Researchers in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a diet that emphasized whole grains and low calories decreased the risk of metabolic syndrome more than a diet that simply encouraged low caloric intake. They explained that body weight, abdominal circumference, and body fat composition decreased significantly in the study group eating whole grains. C-reactive protein decreased in the whole grain group, but it was unchanged in the refined grain group. Additionally, dietary magnesium and fiber were increased in the whole grain group. As a result, risk of cardiovascular disease decreased by following a low-calorie diet, but the benefits improved when the diet was comprised of whole-grains.


American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Katcher, et al: Effects of a whole-grain enriched hypocaloric diet…

American Heart Association: Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolism: Radhika, et al: Refined grain consumption

Harved Medical School Family Health Guide: Abdominal obesity and your health

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005: Adequate nutrients within calorie needs: Table 2 Comparison of selected nutrients