Don’t worry, we’re not going to talk about hundreds of abs, and we’re not making empty promises by guaranteeing, for example, that you’ll have a six-pack before summer. We’re going to talk about a form of belly fat that you can’t actually even see: visceral fat, the type of fat that settles deep in the abdomen and is associated with an increased risk of certain diseases. What exactly does visceral fat mean for the body — and how can you reduce it? Read on for expert answers to all your questions about this common type of fat.
What types of belly fat are there?
As indicated above, there are several types of belly fat: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. “Subcutaneous fat is the ‘squeezable’ type of fat that sits between your skin and your (abs) muscles,” explains Amy Kimberlain, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The fat that you can see and feel in other parts of your body, such as your thighs, is also subcutaneous. Subcutaneous fat stores energy, acts as a cushion for your muscles and bones and protects your body from the cold.
Visceral fat, on the other hand, is located deep in the abdomen — it’s invisible from the outside and you can’t squeeze it. It ensures that the organs do not touch each other. Anatomically, it serves as a shock absorber for the pancreas, liver, stomach and intestines. However, in excessive amounts, visceral fat is associated with an increased risk of certain diseases.
How does visceral fat affect health?
Although all types of fat make hormones and other molecules, studies have shown that visceral fat is the only one that produces a hormone that causes inflammation. 1“Inflammation is a reaction of the immune system that sees something as a threat and starts a number of bodily processes against it, usually to fight an infection or heal an injury. Chronic inflammation can increase levels of triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood, increasing the risk of a heart attack or infarction,” says Dr. Robert Eckel, endocrinologist, and lecturer at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Visceral fat also makes a protein that increases the body’s resistance to the hormone insulin; In the long run, this can lead to type 2 diabetes. People with a large amount of visceral fat also run a higher risk of breast and prostate cancer. 2.3
What causes excess visceral fat?
Several factors can play into the amount of visceral fat in the body. A first factor is higher body weight — this can be an indication of excess fat in general, including deep in the abdomen. However, a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology shows that people with lower body weight can also have high levels of visceral fat. 4 According to research, some people may have a hereditary predisposition to increased abdominal fat. 5 Lifestyle — including diet, sleep, and stress — can also affect the amount of visceral fat.
How is visceral fat measured?
“The most accurate way to measure visceral fat would be a CT or MRI scan, but such studies are expensive and usually unnecessary,” says Amy Kimberlain. “Most doctors simply measure the waist circumference. While this traditional method does not differentiate between subcutaneous and visceral fat and does not indicate the exact amount of visceral fat, most health professionals consider it a reliable indicator of a person’s general condition,” said Amy Kimberlain. (And a big plus: unlike imaging tests, you can also do this yourself.) A waist circumference, measured at the height of the navel, of more than 89 cm for women and 101.5 cm for men indicates a large amount of visceral fat . 6
How can you reduce visceral fat?
“By studying the problem, specialists have also discovered simple solutions to reduce visceral fat and improve health,” said Tammy Lakatos Shames, a registered dietitian and nutritionist. It’s also interesting to know that these strategies can also support healthy weight management! Below are some actions to consider.
- Exercise the way you like In 2015, a small study showed that just about any regular exercise that gets your heart pumping can help keep visceral fat in check. 7 Whether you prefer to keep your cardio training short and intense or take it longer and slower. These conclusions are based on a study that linked aerobic exercise in general to lower amounts of visceral fat. 8
“Resistance training can also help,” adds Tammy Lakatos Shames. “Strength training builds muscle tissue; this increases the metabolic rate so you burn more calories,” she explains. Of course, getting rid of belly fat may not be your only goal. If you’re just starting out, take a moment to determine how many and what types of exercises are right for you.
- Eat enough protein Foods rich in protein such as fish, poultry, and legumes may also have a positive effect on visceral fat. According to one study, subjects on a high-protein diet typically had less visceral fat than those who simply ate the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein. 9
According to Tammy Lakatos Shames, one possible explanation for this is that protein helps reduce a hunger hormone called ghrelin and increases the hormones that promote satiety. So a double effect, which can limit the total intake of calories. Proteins are also important for building the previously mentioned muscle tissue. The RDA for protein — in other words, the amount needed for our bodies to function normally — is 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight. In the above study, a high-protein diet indicated 1.0 to 1.5 g of protein per kilogram of body weight. For a 75-pound person, this represents 45 to 67 g of protein per day — roughly what you’d get from eating two eggs (12 g), ½ cup cooked lentils (9 g), and a piece of skinless chicken breast (26 g).
Note: Consult a doctor or licensed dietitian before making any major dietary changes, especially if you have an illness.
- Limit soda and alcohol In some cases, belly fat can reflect drink intake. In one study, subjects who drank daily sodas with added sugars had more visceral fat after six years than those who drank little or no sugary soda. 10 Wine, beer, and cocktails should also be handled with care. The way you drink them is especially important. One study found that moderate drinkers who had four alcoholic drinks a week in one day were more likely to have excess visceral fat than people who spread the same number of drinks over several days. 11 Do you want to reduce the amount of alcohol and soft drinks you drink? It can then be useful to determine in advance when and how much you want to drink
- Good night’s sleep “In general, it’s not too difficult to recover from a single bad night, but it quickly becomes more difficult when bad nights are regular,” says Tammy Lakatos Shames. According to one study, the subjects who usually sleep six hours or less per night were more likely to have a larger abdominal circumference than those who got more sleep. 12 Although there is no ideal number of hours of sleep that applies to everyone, most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function optimally. To overcome sleeping problems, you often have to try several methods, but some general methodswere shown to be useful in any case. These include maintaining a consistent bedtime schedule, phasing out your activities, with a relaxing activity starting 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, and avoiding digital devices right before the lights go out.
- Try to manage stress Stress affects everyone differently, and in some people the body’s reactions can promote the increase in visceral fat. Research has shown that there is a link between higher levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — and a larger waist circumference. 13 Stress can also affect dietary patterns in ways that promote weight gain. 14 For most people, taking a deep breath is not enough to efficiently manage our stress. Recognizing stress patterns, establishing calming routines, and addressing yourself in a way that empowers — not overwhelms you — are some steps that may help.
Conclusion: reducing belly fat is possible!
For many people, simple lifestyle changes — including getting more exercise, promoting better sleep, and finding healthy ways to deal with stress — can help get rid of visceral belly fat. Reducing this type of fat is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems. These measures can also help you feel better in your everyday life — a win-win situation for your health!