Everyone, even those with six-pack abs, has belly fat, which is normal. Too much belly fat is evident when you start noticing spare tyres appearing.
However, it is the visceral fat, or deep belly fat, of which too much may cause serious health issues, e.g., type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, heart disease, certain cancers and dementia.
Your vital organs, i.e., your heart, lungs, liver and other internal organs are covered with a protective cushioning of visceral fat.
It is difficult to estimate how much visceral fat you have, without going for an MRI or having waist measurements taken. However, a large waist and protruding belly are signs of too much visceral fat.
Is visceral fat harmful?
Other than storing excess energy, fat cells also have the ability to produce hormones and inflammatory substances. Visceral fat cells are very active and produce inflammatory markers (IL-6, IL-1β, PAI-I and TNF-α), whereby elevated levels of these markers indicate the health issues mentioned in paragraph 3 above.
Over time these markers increase the risk of chronic disease, an example of which is heart disease. The effects of continuous inflammation can cause plaque build-up in the arteries which can eventually rupture and cause a heart arrest.
Inflammatory markers released by visceral fat can travel through the blood via the portal vein to the liver. The portal vein carries blood from other organs, i.e., intestines, spleen and pancreas, to the liver. The inflammatory markers will eventually cause fat build up in the liver leading to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Tips on lowering visceral fat:
- Low-Carb Diet
An effective way to lower visceral fat is by going on a low-carb diet, as shown in many studies. Do note that we are talking about a low-carb diet which is different from a low-fat diet.
An 8-week study showed that those who followed a low-carb diet lost 10 per cent more visceral fat and 4.4 percent more overall fat than those who followed a low-fat diet.
A ketogenic diet which is a very low-carb diet, was also found to reduce visceral fat. However, do note the downside of a keto diet is it may cause low blood pressure, constipation, nutrient deficiencies and heart disease.
- Cut out trans fats from your diet
Trans fats are artificial fats made by combining vegetable oils with hydrogen. They are known to increase visceral fat and have been linked to numerous health issues.
Trans fats are mainly found in baked products and potato chips.
- Add more soluble fibre to your diet
Soluble fibre mixes with water and forms a gel-like substance which helps slow down delivery of digested food from the stomach to the intestines. This may help suppress your appetite, as soluble fibre reduces the levels of ghrelin, which is known as the hunger hormone.
Try to include sweet potatoes, flaxseed, legumes, grains or a soluble fibre supplement into your diet.
- Up your protein intake
As protein is an important nutrient for fat loss, eating more of it will increase the levels of GLP-1, PYY and cholecystokinin, or fullness hormones.
Protein improves your metabolism, promotes weight loss and visceral fat loss. A recent study on 23,800 adults showed higher protein intake resulted in higher HDL levels, lower BMI, and a smaller waist circumference which is a marker for visceral fat.
Good sources of protein are fish, eggs, meat, dairy, legumes and whey protein which can be found as a supplement as well.
- Include a probiotic
Live bacteria in your gut that can benefit digestion are called probiotics. They are usually found in supplements or in fermented foods like yoghurt, kimchi or natto.
Certain probiotics can help lose weight and visceral fat by reducing fat absorption in the gut and sending it out of your system via excretion.
- Reduce your sugar intake
Sugar does not provide your body minerals or vitamins; it only provides weight gain. Large amounts of fructose, a simple sugar, can turn into fat by the liver, which can increase visceral fat storage.
Consume sugar in its natural state in fruits, vegetables, lean meat and fish.
- Reduce your stress and improve your sleep
Stress and anxiety increase your cortisol or stress hormone. Excess cortisol can increase visceral fat storage.
Two great ways to reduce your stress to get a better night’s sleep are meditation or yoga.
Too little sleep may increase visceral fat gain, while increasing sleep may reduce it.
Regular cardio exercise or aerobic exercise sheds visceral fat while burning lots of calories. Research has shown that moderate and high intensity aerobic exercise can help lose the visceral fat without the need to diet. That said, a good combination of regular aerobic exercise and a healthy diet will reduce visceral fat faster.
- Cut down the alcohol
It has been concluded in a Korean study that drinking too much alcohol may increase visceral fat, so do cut down the alcohol to a safe level.
Visceral fat is indeed harmful as it increases the risk of chronic diseases. Some suggestions on how you can reduce visceral fat are listed above.
Do check with your medical practitioner beforehand if you have existing medical conditions but wish to try any of the above suggestions.
4th June 19:05