What Is Visceral Fat, and Is It Riskier Than Other Body Fat?
No one likes excess body fat, but a specific type of fat may come with extra risks worth paying attention to. A recent study found that fat around your middle is particularly dangerous to your health, and increases your risk of potentially fatal conditions.
Most people don’t know that the location of body fat deposits can determine your risk for obesity-related problems. Belly fat, aka visceral fat, comes with a higher risk than body fat anywhere else on your body.
What is Visceral Fat?
Belly fat or visceral fat isn’t the fat you can grab between your fingers and pinch – that’s subcutaneous fat, or fat just below the skin’s surface. Fat in your belly, however, has the name visceral fat because it grows between your body’s viscera (organs).
Think of your stomach, intestines, and liver – the fat that grows in between these structures is visceral fat. You can’t grab it with your hands and sometimes you don’t even know it’s there, depending on your body’s shape.
Why is Belly Fat so Dangerous?
Visceral fat is associated with diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease markers, even if you’re not necessarily overweight. It changes hormone levels, which in turn affect the surrounding organs. For example, visceral fat releases cytokines of various types, which are essentially markers of inflammation. Excess inflammation is at the root of a lot of problems, including heart disease, atherosclerosis, and certain cancers.
Since belly fat is deep within your body and near the portal vein, the toxins can leave your abdominal area and enter other areas, including the liver. This is why belly fat puts you at a much higher risk for high bad cholesterol and low good cholesterol, as well as insulin issues.
Risks of Belly Fat
One of the biggest problems with visceral fat is it’s not always obvious that it’s there. It’s one thing if your waistline isn’t what it used to be. You might want to do something about it, or it may not bother you much.
The thing is, not everyone shows visceral fat as obviously as others, but the risks are the same. You don’t have to be overweight to carry a troubling amount of visceral fat.
If you’re unsure if you’re at risk, measure your waist. Women should have a waist measurement of 35 inches or less and men 40 inches or less.
If your measurements are larger, you may be at risk of:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart attack or stroke
- High cholesterol
- Certain types of cancer, especially colon and pancreatic cancer
- High blood pressure
- Sleep apnea
What can you do about Visceral Fat?
Fortunately, you don’t need any special procedures or techniques to eliminate belly fat. Diet and exercise are still the key components to eliminating it.
To target visceral fat, ditch the processed junk and focus your diet on whole foods. Some people do well adopting a lower-carb diet short-term to reduce visceral fat quickly. The majority of your diet should consist of plenty of vegetables and lean proteins.
Avoid processed foods and foods with low-quality fats. Limit dairy products, which can be inflammatory, and avoid processed meat completely. Consume ‘good fats’ from fish, olive oil, and nuts. The best thing you can do is avoid foods with added sugar.
Great abs start in the kitchen, but you have to move your body too. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity, such as walking or biking, or 75 minutes a week of heavy aerobic exercise, such as running.
If you’re fighting belly fat, though, you may want to include weight training, body resistance, and work in some cardio. If you think you don’t have time, a few minutes is better than nothing. Take a walk on your lunch hour, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park in the last spot in the parking lot to help your body burn more calories and melt belly fat.
Address Your Visceral Fat Today
If you’re thicker around the middle, you might want to address visceral fat. It will take time to burn away, but with consistent effort in the kitchen and moving your body, you can decrease your risk of certain serious health conditions and put yourself in overall better health.
If you’re unsure if you have high visceral fat levels, talk with your doctor and find ways you can eliminate it, giving yourself a second chance at a healthy life.