Anyone trying to lose weight knows its all about burning off the unhealthy excess fat. But as it turns out, not all fat is created equal—and not all people who need to lose fat even know about it.
Almost nine out of 10 people are not aware of the risks of carrying extra fat around their waistline.
The danger of visceral fat is related to the release of proteins and hormones that can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries and enter your liver, and affect how your body breaks down sugars and fats. Body fat comes in two varieties:
Subcutaneous fat: The noticeable layer of fat that lies just below the skin that jiggles, dimples, and causes cellulite.
Visceral fat: Found deeper inside the abdomen, under your abdominal muscle and around the organs like the liver, pancreas and intestines.Visceral fat is linked to heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, strokes and other chronic diseases.
Not All Body Fat is Bad
You may think all body fat is the enemy, but the fact is, fat cells are an active and intelligent part of the body, and they produce hormones that impact your brain, liver, immune system and your fertility. Research shows that the subcutaneous fat found just under your skin is different from visceral fat in a number of ways. It has been discovered subcutaneous fat can actually improve glucose metabolism and communicate with your organs to elicit beneficial effects.
Visceral fat can go completely unnoticed because it’s not visible to the naked eye. One effective way researchers locate visceral fat is by taking an (MRI), or a picture of the inside of the abdomen. Researchers can then use the picture to estimate how much visceral fat a person is carrying.
What Causes Visceral Fat?
Your genetic makeup is responsible for some of the amount of visceral fat you carry. However, research shows that both your diet and your level of physical activity contribute to your level of visceral fat. People who consume large amounts of calories and people who perform little or no physical activity are likely to have high visceral fat stores.
Health Risks Of Visceral Fat
Because visceral fat accumulates deep within the abdomen, and surrounds organs like the liver and insulin-generating pancreas, it poses certain dangers to health. Although men are more likely to be at risk than women of developing certain diseases, both should be aware of the increased risks of the following health conditions:
- Type 2 Diabetes:
- Heart Disease
- Breast Cancer
- Colorectal Cancer
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- High Blood Pressure
- High Cholesterol
- Coronary Artery Disease
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Sleep Apnea: Increased visceral fat has been associated with the occurrence of obstructive sleep apnea, since deep abdominal fat can restrict the movement of the diaphragm and limit lung expansion.
Visceral Fat In Men & Women
Again Men usually have More Visceral fat then women, but women still get it and need to take precautions.
According to a study published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, visceral fat may have a greater impact on the cardiovascular health of older women, than overall obesity. Danish researchers also found that women with excessive belly fat have a greater risk of atherosclerosis than those who store fat mostly in their hips, thighs, and buttocks.
- The proximity of visceral fat to your liver boosts production of LDL (Bad) cholesterol, that collects in the arteries and forms plaque.
- Over time, plaque becomes inflamed, causing swelling that narrows the arteries, restricting the passage of blood.
- The narrowing passageways increase blood pressure, that strains the heart and potentially damages tiny capillaries.
- The inflammation further increases the risk of blood clots that cause stroke.
The health risks associated with extra abdominal fat increase with:
- Over 45 years in men
- Over 55 years in women
…as well as Family History.
Behaviors like cigarette smoking and lack of physical activity also contribute to poor overall health. Some of these risks factors can be altered with modifications in diet and lifestyle.
Test For Visceral Fat
Short of talking to a physician into performing an MRI on your abdomen, how do you know how much of this unhealthy fat you have? Check your waistline. A trim waistline is a good indicator that you don’t have a large build-up of visceral fat. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has set the following cutoff points to identify people who are at high risk of developing obesity-related diseases:
||Greater than 88 centimeters (35 inches)
||Greater than 102 centimeter (40 inches)
If your measurements fall above these cutoff points, there is a good chance that you are carrying a dangerous amount of visceral fat. Even if your waist circumference does not exceed the cutoff value, making an effort to reduce your waistline can still significantly improve your health.
Foods That Fight Visceral Fat
If you’re looking to lose visceral fat, reduce your calorie intake below your daily burn rate, and make sure that he calories you do eat should come from fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins, such as white fish, chicken breast, tofu, beans and flank steak. Increasing your protein intake slightly, to about 30% of your total daily calories.
Research shows that people whose diets contain polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats have less visceral fat. Polyunsaturated fats are found in:
- Plant oils
- Flaxseed Oil (the richest source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats),
- Dry & Roasted Nuts (walnuts, almonds, macadamia, pecans, cashews, hazel nuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, pine nuts and peanuts)
- Soybean Oil
- Fatty Fish (salmon, trout, herring, mackerel, black cod & sardines)
- Sunflower Oil & Seeds (ground flaxseed, poppy, hemp & chia seeds
Using healthy oils in place of saturated oils is another way to get more monounsaturated fats in your diet. You can use monounsaturated oils for making marinades, drizzling over salads in place of traditional salad dressing and brushing over meat and fish prior to grilling or baking. These Nut oils and seed oils provide a good source of monounsaturated fats:
- Olive oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Roasted Almond oil
- Roasted Peanut oil
- Roasted Cashew oil
Food Rich In Good Fats
Many foods contain a mixture of several types of fats. In addition to nuts, seeds and oils, a few other foods contain monounsaturated fats. These foods include:
- Veal, Pork, Lamb, Eggs & Beef (choose lean cuts such as loin and sirloin, since certain cuts contain high amounts of saturated fat)
- Dark Chocolate/Cacao
Enjoy dark chocolate in moderation. A 1-ounce serving of dark chocolate contains about 5 grams of saturated fat and is a concentrated source of calories.
A 2010 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that people who ate three or more daily servings of whole grains had 10% less visceral fat than those who ate hardly any or none at all. These results held true even after researchers adjusted for other lifestyle and diet factors. Choose foods such as:
Foods To Avoid
While fructose is a natural sugar and that’s a positive, too much of a good thing quickly turns to a negative. Georgia Health Sciences University published a study on adolescents that showed those who consumed the most fructose had about 20% MORE visceral fat than those who ate the least. Avoid items like:
- Soda, Energy & Sports drinks and many juice blends
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup
- Table Sugar
DO NOT STOP EATING NATURAL WHOLE FRUIT! The fiber and other nutrients in the fruit blunt absorption of the fructose, making it less likely to cause belly fat gain.
Avoid Trans Fats
Trans fat has a very powerful association with weight gain, even more than other types of fat. Diets rich in trans fat cause a redistribution of fat tissue into the abdomen and lead to a higher body weight even when calories are controlled. Researchers at Wake Forest University found that trans fats increase the amount of fat around the belly. Trans fats do this not just by adding new fat, but also by moving fat from other areas to the belly.
Foods that are likely to contain trans fats are:
- Stick margarines & shortenings
- Packaged Foods
- Bakery Items (pies, crackers, cookies, cakes)
- Potato chips, corn chips, store bought popcorn
- Fried fast foods (fried chicken, fried fish, French fries, doughnuts)
- Hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs
Avoid Refined Grains
These refined, white-flour products contribute to belly fat, as a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010 found that adults who consumed a higher amount of whole grains in lieu of refined grains also had lower visceral fat in their abdomens. People who reported consuming more refined grains also had larger waist size measurements. Refined-grain products to avoid include:
- White Flour (white bagels, cookies, cakes & white bread)
- White Pastas
- White Rice
Other Methods Of Prevention
Get Plenty Of Sleep
The right amount of sleep is key in preventing visceral fat as well. A study published in Sleep showed that people who averaged 6 to 7 hours a night of sleep had the lowest levels of visceral fat. Above and below this window were both associated with more visceral fat. Those who slept less than 5 hours had even more visceral fat! Over a 5-year period, this group also put on visceral fat about 5 times faster than the healthy group.
If your days are full of stress, a flatter midsection will continue to elude you, because fat in the abdominal area functions differently than fat elsewhere in the body. Experts do know that high cortisol levels contribute to abnormal accumulation of abdominal fat, as research from the University of California, San Francisco, shows that people with diseases associated with extreme exposure to cortisol (secrete more cortisol in response to stress), such as severe recurrent depression and Cushing’s disease have more central fat, regardless of body weight.
Incorporate Cardio Into Your Workouts
Just exercising moderately by walking, swimming, or playing tennis for 30-60 minutes on most days of the week will help prevent visceral fat from accumulating. What’s even better is that doing regular bouts of vigorous exercise can reduce the amount of visceral fat you already have.
Duke University found that people who trained on common pieces of cardiovascular equipment such as elliptical machines, stationary bikes, and treadmills for 8 months lost about 8% of their visceral fat. Those who performed equally intense resistance-type workouts saw NO change in visceral fat. Cardio wins over weights in this aspect.
Another study showed that the more people exercised, and the higher their intensity, the faster they lost their excess visceral fat, and added that jogging 17 to 20 miles a week was a good average to shoot for.
At A Glance Guide Of How To Lose Visceral Fat