There are a lot of discussions these days about visceral fat. Why? Because it’s a serious problem and many people are unaware of where they stand in terms of visceral fat and whether they have too much of this “active” form of fat. You might wonder whether this applies to you. Could you be carrying enough visceral fat to increase your risk of health problems?
What is Visceral Fat?
Visceral fat is also known as organ fat or intra-abdominal fat. Unlike superficial fat that jiggles and is pinchable, visceral fat is deep inside your abdominal cavity and wraps around your internal organs, such as your liver and kidneys.
Visceral fat tissue differs from subcutaneous/peripheral (underneath the skin) fat tissue because it has higher concentrations of inflammatory molecules called cytokines that boost inflammation throughout the body. Experts say that visceral fat is much like an endocrine organ because it produces factors that affect distant organs and tissues.
The endocrine component of visceral fat makes it the riskiest type from a health standpoint. That’s why there’s so much emphasis on reducing it and limiting the amount you have. There is a genetic component to visceral fat, but lifestyle is a bigger factor in determining how much visceral fat your carry in your body.
How Do You Measure Visceral Fat?
The gold standard for measuring visceral fat is an imaging study, like an MRI or CT scan, but that’s not practical for most people. Instead, you can use waist size as a proxy for how much visceral fat you have. A healthy person should have around 90% subcutaneous fat and 10% visceral fat. The easiest way to approximate visceral fat is with a tape measure. For men, aim for a waist circumference below 40 inches; for women, aim for a waist circumference below 35 inches.
Another way to determine whether you have too much visceral fat is to compare your waist size to your height. Your waist size should be no larger than half your height. If it is, you likely have unhealthy amounts of visceral fat and are at higher risk for health problems. Contrary to popular belief, body mass index (BMI) is not a good marker of visceral fat. You can have a normal BMI and have a visceral fat problem.
What Are the Risks of Too Much Visceral Fat?
Research links higher levels of visceral fat with a greater risk of many chronic health problems including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer. Some studies even correlate more visceral fat with cognitive decline and a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers point out that inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that visceral fat releases may explain why visceral fat is so harmful.
How to Reduce Visceral Fat
You won’t reduce visceral fat in a few weeks. It takes time and good lifestyle habits to reduce deep belly fat. One of the first steps is diet. Dietary changes to consider include:
- Consume more soluble fiber to stabilize your blood sugar and reduce appetite. Soluble fiber also has benefits for cardiovascular health and weight control.
- Choose the right types of fat. The best fats are monounsaturated fats from sources like nuts, olive oil, and avocados and omega-3 fats from fatty fish, and plant-based sources like chia seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts.
- Eliminate refined carbohydrates and ultra-processed foods from your diet and replace them with whole fruits and vegetables.
- Reduce your sugar intake, especially from sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juice since these drinks lack the fiber to reduce the blood sugar response.
- Choose lean sources of protein for added satiety.
- Eliminate sugar-sweetened beverages and fruit juice from your diet. Enjoy whole pieces of fruit instead. The fiber moderates the blood sugar response.
Exercise is part of the equation too. Aerobic exercise and strength training both help reduce visceral fat if you’re consistent with your efforts. Getting adequate sleep and stress management lessens your body’s visceral fat burden too by lowering the stress hormone cortisol. This stress hormone can cause major changes in body composition by reducing muscle mass and increasing visceral fat build-up.
One study of young adults found that getting less than 5 hours of sleep per night was linked with a rise in body mass index and visceral fat accumulation. Sleep matters, so make it a priority.
If you’re ready to take back control of your health and reduce visceral fat, you can do it by making consistent lifestyle changes. It takes time and patience to achieve a healthier body composition. Not only is visceral fat the most harmful, but it’s also the hardest to get rid of. So, start making changes to all aspects of your lifestyle – diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management – to get the most visceral fat reduction benefits.
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