Belly fat goes deeper than the fact that your pants are perhaps too tight. Almost nine out of 10 people are not aware of the risks of carrying extra fat around their waistline and regardless of your overall weight, having a large amount of belly fat is not healthy. Body fat comes in two varieties:
Subcutaneous fat: This is the noticeable layer of fat that lies just below the skin in most of your body, it jiggles, dimples, and causes cellulite. It has been discovered subcutaneous fat can actually improve glucose metabolism and communicate with your organs to elicit beneficial effects.
Visceral fat: This is found deeper inside the abdomen, under your abdominal muscle and around the organs like the liver, pancreas and intestines. The danger of visceral fat is related to the release of proteins and hormones that can affect how your body breaks down sugars and fats and can cause inflammation, which in turn can damage arteries, leading to heart disease. The proximity of visceral fat to your liver boosts production of LDL (Bad) cholesterol, that collects in the arteries and forms plaque. Over time, plaque becomes inflamed, causing swelling that narrows the arteries, restricting the passage of blood. The narrowing passageways increase blood pressure, that strains the heart and potentially damages tiny capillaries. The inflammation further increases the risk of blood clots that cause stroke. In addition to heart disease and stroke, visceral fat is linked to Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, and other chronic diseases. Eric Jacobs, PhD, a researcher at the American Cancer Society, says that in recent years scientists have also uncovered links between belly fat and cancers of the colon, esophagus and pancreas.
Determining your belly size: So how do you know if you have too much belly fat? Measure your waist:
- Stand and place a tape measure around your bare stomach, just above your hipbone.
- Pull the tape measure until it fits snugly around you, but doesn’t push into your skin. Make sure the tape measure is level all the way around.
- Relax, exhale and measure your waist, resisting the urge to suck in your stomach.
For men, a waist measurement of more than 40 inches (102 centimeters) and for women, a waist measurement of more than 35 inches (88 centimeters) indicates an unhealthy concentration of belly fat and a greater risk of health problems.
Belly Fat Reduction/Prevention:
Include physical activity in your daily routine: For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, for at least 150 minutes a week or vigorous aerobic activity, such as jogging, biking, swimming, or anything that gets your heart rate up, for at least 75 minutes a week. A recent study from Duke found that jogging the equivalent of 12 miles a week will help you lose belly fat. In addition, strength training exercises are recommended at least twice a week. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you might need to exercise more.
Eat a healthy diet: Emphasize plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains and increase your soluble fiber intake by 10 grams a day (the equivalent of two small apples, one cup of green peas, and one half cup of pinto beans). Choose lean sources of protein such as fish and low-fat dairy products. Also limit processed meats. Choose moderate amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — found in fish, nuts and certain vegetable oils. Limit saturated fat, found in meat and high-fat dairy products, such as cheese and butter. Saturated fat packs on more visceral fat than polyunsaturated ones.
Avoid sugar: Soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, coffee drinks, cupcakes, cookies, muffins, doughnuts, granola bars, chocolate, ice cream, sweetened yogurt, cereal, candy. The list of sweet temptations is endless. The average American now consumes 22 to 28 teaspoons of added sugars a day—mostly high-fructose corn syrup and ordinary table sugar (sucrose). That’s 350 to 440 empty calories that few of us can afford. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 100 calories per day of added sugars for most women, and 150 calories per day for most men.
Sugar causes heart attacks, obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and dementia, and is the leading cause of liver failure in America. The biggest culprit are sugar-sweetened beverages including sodas, juices, sports drinks, teas and coffees. They are by far the single biggest source of sugar calories in our diet. Drinking sugary beverages appears to boost liver, muscle, and visceral fat. While excess fat anywhere in the body increases the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes, a fatty liver and visceral fat increases your risk of heart disease.
Reduce your overall sugar intake and try replacing sugary beverages with naturally calorie-free options such as water, tea or black coffee. Skip the diet soda, as a study published in 2015 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society noted that this type of soda may be associated with increases in waist circumference, and thus potentially visceral fat as well.
Alcohol: Drinking excess alcohol can cause you to gain belly fat — the beer belly. However, beer alone isn’t to blame. Drinking too much alcohol of any kind can increase belly fat, because alcohol contains calories. If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. The less you drink, the fewer calories you’ll consume and the less likely you’ll gain belly fat.
Sleep: Routinely squeaking by on five hours or less per night increases visceral fat levels, according to a 2010 Wake Forest University study. As you likely already know, 8 is the number to aim for and is ideal for losing belly fat.
Reduce stress: When the stress hormone cortisol goes through your body, fat deposits relocate to your belly area. Exercise and meditation can both be great ways to dial down your stress to nontoxic levels.
Your genetic makeup is responsible for some of the amount of visceral fat you carry. However, research shows that both your diet and your level of physical activity contribute to your level of visceral fat. People who consume large amounts of calories and people who perform little or no physical activity are likely to have high visceral fat stores.
Aging does play a role too. As you age, you lose muscle — especially if you’re not physically active. Loss of muscle mass decreases the rate at which your body uses calories, which can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, men in their 50s need about 200 fewer calories daily than they do in their 30s due to this muscle loss.