The band of fat around your waistline can make it harder to zip up your favorite pants. But that’s not the worst problem with it. Fat that surrounds your organs in the belly is linked to a greater risk for heart disease and other health problems.
This deep belly fat is called “visceral” fat. It is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, liver disease, and heart disease. Your body also has “subcutaneous” fat, which is the type of fat below your skin that you can pinch between your fingers. Found on your hips, upper thighs, and arms, this fat is much less harmful to your health.
Cells in belly fat pump out hormones and inflammatory substances that get into the bloodstream and promote disease. It may be more harmful than other types of fat because it’s closer to the body’s portal vein, which carries blood from the intestines to the liver. There they can affect cholesterol levels and other processes that cause disease.
To find out how much visceral fat you have, you can measure around your waist an inch or two above your hip bones. Women whose waists measure 35 inches or more and men with a waist measurement of 40 inches or more may have a dangerous amount of visceral fat.
Scientists have found that your shape matters, too. People who are pear-shaped usually have fewer problems with visceral fat than people shaped like apples. People who are shaped like apples have more belly fat.
Before menopause, women don’t have much problem with visceral fat. But after menopause, estrogen drops and causes more fat to collect in the belly. That increases women’s risk for heart disease and other problems.
In order to get rid of visceral fat, you need to lose weight. Eating less and exercising are both important to dropping pounds. Experts recommend activity like brisk walking for at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week. If your doctor says it’s OK for you, more intense exercise like running for at least 25 minutes, 3 times a week works too.
Eat a diet that includes lean protein like poultry and fish, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and include small amounts of olive oil. A recent study from Italy also shows that eating less processed foods can make a big difference in lowering belly fat. Researchers recently asked people either to eat local, non-processed foods or food from the supermarket for six months. After the study, those who ate unprocessed foods had less visceral fat and better blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Avoid added sugar in drinks and foods and keep portion sizes in check. Restaurant meals are often super-sized, so plan to take home half of your meal or share it with someone else.
Following these measures can help you keep your belly fat to a minimum—boosting both your health and your appearance!