About Visceral Fat
Visceral fat [vis-er-uhl] is the official name for the fat inside a big “beer belly”. It is not the same as subcutaneous fat [suhb-kyoo-tey-nee-uhs] found under the skin. Visceral fat and subcutaneous fat may, or not, appear together. Subcutaneous fat is stored in the hips, thighs, butt, back, and back of the arms. Most of the body's fat is subcutaneous, especially in women.
But visceral fat, stored in the belly, is a real trouble maker. It causes metabolic syndrome and chronic inflammation that leads to heart disease and diabetes. Visceral fat literally encrusts the vital organs: the kidneys, liver, stomach, and others. The abdominal cavity that houses the organs is called the “viscera” and those are the “visceral organs" - buried in “visceral fat".
Visceral fat contributes to high blood pressure by squeezing the kidneys, over-working them and wearing them out. It also drains directly into the liver where it infiltrates, replacing functional tissue with fat. Research in a large urban center in the United States found "fatty liver" in one-third of the adults surveyed. Fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis, a fatal disease.
From Whence It Came
Visceral fat is related to eating too many easily digested carbohydrates - simple sugars and processed starches - and then by not burning off the glucose they supply. Visceral fat is biochemically programmed to take up extra glucose and turn it into even more visceral fat. Visceral fat uptakes surplus carbohydrates when the liver stores are full. Saturated fat (animal fat) increases visceral fat, but unsaturated fat (plant fat) does not. And when it comes to beer (as in a "beer belly",) a study of alcohol showed that drinking large amounts of any alcohol all at once (binge drinking) creates visceral fat, but daily drinking of small amounts of alcohol does not.
A Measure of Health
Visceral fat is a predictor of health risk, but it cannot be measured by the bathroom scale, or by special scales that measures body-fat, or by the BMI chart. The best way to measure visceral fat is by CT scan or MRI, but they are too expensive for routine use.
To measure visceral fat, use a tape measure. Waist circumference is the proxy measure for visceral fat. To measure the waist, use a flexible tape, stand up straight, and breathe naturally. Place the flat tape around the bare abdomen in line with the navel. Do not compress the skin.
A waist circumference of 35 inches (88 cm) or more for a woman, and 40 inches (102 cm) or more for a man, is a sign of too much visceral fat.
Note: Waist circumference is an important measure of visceral fat in men, although in women, a larger waist has more to do with subcutaneous fat. A BMI over 35 negates the usefulness of waist circumference for both sexes.
Melt Visceral Fat
To shed visceral fat, stop the cycle of eating too many calories, carbohydrates and fats, and then burn the visceral fat for energy to fuel physical activity. Cardio-type exercise has been shown to melt away visceral fat. Even modest exercise, like walking 30-45 minutes five days a week, can make a big difference.
Research shows the Mediterranean Diet eaten within a calorie budget does a good job of reducing visceral fat. Mediterranean food is primarily plants – vegetables and fruit, beans, whole grains, and olives and nuts - along with fish and a bit of red meat.
Do you know someone who has too much visceral fat?
Do you know someone who has gotten rid of it?