A recent study concludes that higher intakes of dietary fiber—but not low intakes of saturated fat or cholesterol—are related to lower risk of metabolic syndrome in adolescents.

The authors suggest that to reduce metabolic syndrome—a collection of risk factors that include high blood pressure and a large waistline—it is more important to emphasize fiber-rich, nutrient-dense, plant-based foods than to focus on restricting foods high in cholesterol or saturated fat.

Lead author Joseph Carlson, PhD, RD, CSSD, of Michigan State University’s division of sports and cardiovascular nutrition, and colleagues suggest in the November 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association that a diet high in fiber—but not necessarily one low in saturated fat or cholesterol—-is tied to a lower risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes in teenagers. The research team found that as fiber intake increases, the risk for metabolic syndrome decreases. Therefore it may be more productive to focus on including high-fiber, nutrient-dense foods packed with heart-healthy vitamins, minerals and chemicals rather than excluding foods high in saturated fat.

As part of the cross-sectional study, Carlson and his team focused on data collected during the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999–2002. They analyzed the diets of more than 2,100 boys and girls aged 12–19, looking at whether the teens had three or more conditions considered risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

According to the abstract, there was a threefold difference in the incidence of metabolic syndrome between children consuming the least fiber and those consuming the most. There was not a significant relationship with either saturated fat or cholesterol intake.