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Plant-Based Diets Increase Metabolic Syndrome Risk

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Written By: Kelley Herring

In my previous article, I shared with you how a diet rich in animal protein is associated with healthy longevity.

Animal foods are deeply nourishing, thanks to their high nutrient density. They are also devoid of anti-nutrients, seed oils and refined carbohydrates, known to promote blood sugar imbalances, inflammation and ultimately disease processes in the body.

And while a “plant-based diet” has been proffered as a cure-all for modern ails… the research paints a different picture. In fact, there is compelling evidence that plant-based diets can actually be a key driver of chronic disease.

Bad Fats and Carbohydrates: The Recipe for Metabolic Syndrome

Unfortunately, the foundation of modern “vegetarian” diets is based around two of the most harmful dietary components we should avoid:

Vegetable Oils & Seed Oils: The composition of fats in the diet has changed significantly in the 20th century with the development of industrially-processed omega-6 rich oils, like soybean oil, canola oil, corn, peanut and other “vegetable” oils, which took the place of traditional cooking fats like tallow, butter and lard.[1]

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This shift tipped the balance toward a higher ratio of omega-6 fatty acids in the modern diet, leading to increased systemic inflammation and paving the way for chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and even vision loss.[2][3] Packaged “plant-based” food products and vegetarian recipes rely heavily on oils like canola, sunflower, safflower and soybean, further tipping that balance in favor of inflammatory omega-6 fats.

Refined Carbohydrates:  The consumption of refined carbohydrates has also increased exponentially in the American diet, thanks to modern processed foods and the industrialization of our food supply. As we remove healthy fats and protein from the diet, they are replaced by refined grains and sugars, which are associated with an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and weight gain.[4][5][6]

Vegetarian diets are also lacking in the healthy fats and assimilable protein we need for healthy longevity.


Plant Based Diets Increase Metabolic Syndrome Risk by 50%?

A recent study, conducted in South Korea aimed to determine how different types of plant-based diets impact cardiometabolic disease risk, citing that all plant-based diets are not created equal.

The researchers followed 5,646 South Koreans for eight years and up to 14 years.

What they found was that the study participants who consumed diets high in “less healthy plant foods” (refined grains, sugars, salty foods), and low in “healthy plant foods” (including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, tea and coffee) and also low in animal foods (animal fats, dairy, eggs, seafood) had a 50% higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.[7]

The truth is that this way of eating is all too common among “vegetarians”. And in this study, it was associated with 4 out of 5 components of metabolic syndrome, including abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL and high blood pressure.

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Reduce the Risk of Metabolic Syndrome with a Low-Carb Animal-Based Diet

A low-carb diet, rich in healthy animal proteins and fats, is the best way to stabilize blood sugar, reduce inflammation, promote a healthy lipid profile and prevent diseases, like metabolic syndrome.[8][9][10][11]

Here are some quick and easy meal ideas to get you started:

  • Pastured Eggs with Canadian Bacon & Avocado
  • Grilled Wild Salmon with Pesto
  • Pan-Seared Grass-Fed Steak with Easy Bearnaise Sauce

For more health and wellness articles from Kelley Herring, see our Discover Blog.



kelley herring

Kelley Herring

Love comfort foods, but not the carbs? Check out Kelley’s FREE new book – Carb Lover’s Keto – with 100 recipes for all of your favorite comfort foods. From Chicken Parmigiana and Coconut Shrimp to Buffalo Wings and Pizza. Discover how you can indulge – 100% guilt free!


[1] Blasbalg TL, Hibbeln JR, Ramsden CE, Majchrzak SF, Rawlings RR. Changes in consumption of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the United States during the 20th century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 May;93(5):950-62. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.006643. Epub 2011 Mar 2. PMID: 21367944; PMCID: PMC3076650.

[2] Simopoulos AP. Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: The epidemiological evidence. Environ Health Prev Med. 2002 Jan;6(4):203-9. doi: 10.1007/BF02897971. PMID: 21432336; PMCID: PMC2723470.

[3] Schnebelen C, Viau S, Grégoire S, Joffre C, Creuzot-Garcher CP, Bron AM, Bretillon L, Acar N. Nutrition for the eye: different susceptibility of the retina and the lacrimal gland to dietary omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid incorporation. Ophthalmic Res. 2009;41(4):216-24. Epub 2009 May 15.

[4] Cust AE, Slimani N, Kaaks R, et al. Dietary carbohydrates, glycemic index, glycemic load, and endometrial cancer risk within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort. Am J Epidemiol. 2007;166:912–923.

[5] Malik VS, Popkin BM, Bray GA, et al. Sugar-sweetened beverages and risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2010;33:2477–2483.

[6] Drake I, Sonestedt E, Gullberg B, et al. Dietary intakes of carbohydrates in relation to prostate cancer risk: a prospective study in the Malmö diet and cancer cohort. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96:1409–1418.

[7] Kim H, Lee K, Rebholz CM, Kim J. Plant-based diets and incident metabolic syndrome: Results from a South Korean prospective cohort study. PLoS Med. 2020 Nov 18;17(11):e1003371. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003371. PMID: 33206633; PMCID: PMC7673569.

[8] Westerterp-Plantenga MS, Lemmens SG, Westerterp KR. Dietary protein – its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health. Br J Nutr. 2012 Aug;108 Suppl 2:S105-12. doi: 10.1017/S0007114512002589. PMID: 23107521.

[9] Ruth MR, Port AM, Shah M, Bourland AC, Istfan NW, Nelson KP, Gokce N, Apovian CM. Consuming a hypocaloric high fat low carbohydrate diet for 12 weeks lowers C-reactive protein, and raises serum adiponectin and high density lipoprotein-cholesterol in obese subjects. Metabolism. 2013 Dec;62(12):1779-87. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2013.07.006. Epub 2013 Sep 26. Erratum in: Metabolism. 2014 Mar;63(3):e1. PMID: 24075505; PMCID: PMC3845365.

[10] Yamada Y, Uchida J, Izumi H, Tsukamoto Y, Inoue G, Watanabe Y, Irie J, Yamada S. A non-calorie-restricted low-carbohydrate diet is effective as an alternative therapy for patients with type 2 diabetes. Intern Med. 2014;53(1):13-9. doi: 10.2169/internalmedicine.53.0861. PMID: 24390522.

[11] Gardner CD, Trepanowski JF, Del Gobbo LC, Hauser ME, Rigdon J, Ioannidis JPA, Desai M, King AC. Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion: The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2018 Feb 20;319(7):667-679. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.0245. Erratum in: JAMA. 2018 Apr 3;319(13):1386. Erratum in: JAMA. 2018 Apr 24;319(16):1728. PMID: 29466592; PMCID: PMC5839290.