Participants' dietary preferences were categorized as either "Western-pattern" or "prudent-pattern," depending on the overall responses.
The Western diet consisted of more refined grains, processed meat, fried food, red meat, eggs and soda, and less fish, fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
The prudent diet was heavy on cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage; carotenoid vegetables (carrots, pumpkins); fruit; fish and seafood; poultry; whole grains; and low-fat dairy.
The association involving metabolic syndrome with certain specific food items -- such as fried foods, regular and diet soda, fruit drinks, nuts and coffee -- was also explored.
People with the highest scores in the "Western-pattern" diet had an 18 percent increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, compared with those with the lowest scores in this group.
Individuals with the highest consumption of meat had a 26 percent greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome, compared with those who ate the least amount of meat. Hamburgers, hot dogs and processed meats seemed to accelerate the effect.
On the other hand, eating dairy was found to be protective: Individuals consuming the most dairy had a 13 percent lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, compared to those who consumed the least.
Fried foods -- i.e., fast foods -- and diet soda were also associated with metabolic syndrome, while sweetened beverages -- soda and fruit drinks -- as well as coffee and nuts were not.
The diet soda findings echo those from a previous trial, the study authors said.
"The first time this came up, we didn't believe it," Steinbaum said. "Take two, and it's now part of another large study."
"We did not expect to find that," added study co-author Lyn Steffen, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. "I do
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