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Calorie Count Blog

About Visceral Fat

By Mary_RD on Sep 24, 2009 12:00 PM in Dieting & You
Edited By +Rachel Berman

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. 

Your thoughts....

Do you know someone who has too much visceral fat?
Do you know someone who has gotten rid of it?


I am apple shaped, so I find this information useful as I am trying to lose weight.

Note: In Canada, doctors and RD recommend a waist circumference of less than 32 inches for women.

thank you so much for this info.. i am going to share with my husband and others. i am also on a diet and this is very useful to me.

I find that in spite of my high veggie, low fat diet and walking every day, a glass or two of wine at night can give me a "visceral" gut. It is most annoying!! Thanks for the information. P H

Thank you, that was very helpful.  I have lost the weight, but I believe that I still have too much visceral fat, although before now I did not know what that meant.  You have reinforced my determination to walk 30-45 minutes daily to reduce what I now know to be visceral fat.

It appears the high unnatural amounts of fructose (esp. the unnatural levels found in High Fructose Corn Syrop) is a huge contributor to this unnatural fat accumulation. Fructose is also only metabolized in the liver and is a huge contributor to fatty liver syndrome (remember the pathway that fructose uses for metabolism in the human is part of the same pathway used during ethanol catabolism) ... Controlling this type of fat can very much be helped by eating *enough* of the right types of fat. There's a growing body of evidence that the modern low-fat high carb (by proportion) diets - especially when liberally containing artificial sugars, as all processed foods to in high high quantities - is causing this abdominal fat epidemic. Remember that the obesity epidemic in the western world started with everyone lowering their total fat intake, reducing sharply saturated fat intake and increasing to huge abnormal levels the fructose intake (as well as elevating glucose too).

Before I started trying to lose weight I was building up quite a gut, so I must have had a lot of visceral fat. It was the first thing to go once I started eating better and exercising; it seemed to drop off really quickly compared to fat on my hips or limbs. Maybe this was because I was doing a lot of cardio exercise and eating fewer simple carbs.

Who took a picture of me and used it without my permission?

My husband has a belly that looks like he is 9 months pregnant! He was drinking on average 20 Mountain Dews a day and every night after supper, he would eat a family size bag of regular potato chips. I am not kidding. His belly is rock hard, and he is not fat any where else. At his last check up 2 weeks ago, the doctor told him that he has got to quit the pop and chips as it is beginning to affect his pancreas and that he will be a full blown diabetic if he doesn't change his ways soon. His triglucerides were 3000+!!!!! his cholesterol has been 600 - 650. He claims that he has not had a pop now since that appointment, and has lost about 5 lbs. I really don't know how his visceral organs have managed to function these last few years, and I am positive that if he doesn't change his ways, that he will not live long.


"Who took a picture of me and used it without my permission?"

I agree with you sourmena... I noticed that change too. Now if only there was one magical exercise that took care of it all... I credit any weight loss I've had so far to changing up my diet and modeling the Mediterranean Diet type of food and calorie counting.

If only I could keep myself exercising regularly!Yell

HFCS is a product that major food company scientists discovered decades ago: they found out that feeding warm blooded creatures HFCS blocked their ability to sense when they were full, or satiated (research Leptin). It spikes triglycerides and lowers HDL.

Armed with this knowledge they went about developing HFCS even though at the time it was much more difficult to produce than sugar beets for example ( HFCS is cheaper now)because all of these food companies know that when people do not know they are full they eat more. When people eat more they buy more food which puts money in shareholders pockets.

Corn is provided federal welfare through farm subsidies for corn and tax credits for corn.

These companies are worse than cigarette companies because they have known about it for decades.

There does not need to be any more "research"; the proof is in the corn sweetened pudding that has increased in sales much faster that the population increase.

It is indeed a conspiracy of untold proportions. You think big oil owns you? WRONG! Big food does and they are destroying our health in the pursuit of profit! THEY KILL PEOPLE IN THE NAME OF PROFITS!

Most of Europe does not even allow this chemical in food products.

The leaders of these companies should be tried for sedition and crimes against humanity and sentenced to severe punishment!



I saw an article in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat the other week about visceral fat.  There is a doctor who prefers to measure the height of the belly when flat on a table.  He finds that greater than 12 inches for men or 10 inches for women (as I recall)  is highly correlated with heart disease, more so than waist circumference.  It is certainly easy enough to measure!

A very useful article.

I look forward to more pieces like this that include scientific information and practical recommendations. Kudos!

Great article. Thank you for posting this.

I had a bit of a big belly last year and my BP was starting to go up. And I was eating poorly. Had a 42" waist.  I decided to do something about it. So I started eating better and wiping out trans fats, snacks, and cut saturated fat to about 20mg/day. I also started walking alot and fast. A year later my BP is down, weight is down, waist is 35" and I feel 56 years old. Best decision I ever made.

I find HFCS in everything. I have had a weight problem my whole adult life and I am finally waking up to eating healthy and exercising. I take care of my two year old grand daughter and I find it difficult to find prepared food products that are free of sugars but especially HFCS, any ideas?

I really like the break down between Subcutaneous and visceral fat. I am taking a patho-physiology class on heart disease and they didn't break it down this well. 

to ibjules2

Go organic with your prepared foods.  HFCS is not organic therefore you won't find it in organic foods.  Just look for prepared organic foods with a sugar content of less than 9g per serving.

I recently took the Dean Ornish's about eating healthy, losing weight, and stress.  According to Dr. Ornish, the Dr. that hosted the class and the dietician they said that high fructose corn syrup is not any worse than sugar....mind you sugar is not the best thing in the world for a person.  If you are going to be afraid of high fructose corn syrup, then be afraid of sugar too.  The best thing is to try to cut sugars and anything processed out of your diet.  Eat whole grains, not enriched products and watch portion sizes.

It's true that many dietitians don't differentiate HFCS and sugar in a diet; both are terrible when over-eaten, but cutting sugar completely out of your diet is very unrealistic. Cutting HFCS out is easy and not only are you cutting out a large source of simple sugars, you're also cutting out a chemical with questionable effects on your appetite, and a product that is a cause and by-product of the over-production of corn in the US. As for prepared foods without HFCS, yes, go organic. You won't find it in Kashi, Annie's or Amy's products or many other health-food brands.

Now I tend to have a bit of a belly, but I don't really eat any unhealthy carbohydrates.  I recently started exercising more frequently and at a higher intensity, but the weight just won't drop.  With regards to the stomach fat, would it be caused by 1-4 pieces of whole wheat bread everyday and 4-6 servings of fruit? Those are the only carbohydrates in my diet aside from vegetables of which I eat A LOT (spinach and onion omelette, stir-fry chicken with mixed vegetables, chicken salads etc.).  I'm worried that it will just never go away =[

Original Post by: malinrmt


"Who took a picture of me and used it without my permission?"


I believe the 32 inches for women refers to women of Chinese or South Asian decent only. 

ALL others 35 is it.

Dn't Look at me, I didn't done do it Money mouth

i agree with the article  exercise 6 days a week mostly power walking between 80-90 minutes each session and my belly is still there. i do not eat junk food and i am very concerned about my status. My weight is 90 kilos height 5-6 and feel great but just concerned about my drinking habits would be around 3 bottle of red wine a week and hardly any beer.also after each session i will do 80 sit ups and waist is around 36 inches.i have been active in sport all my life first playing football then running marathons and know about hard training but now feel i will start to damage knees if i go back road running. do you have any ideas what I am doing wrong ? maybe it is old age as i am almost 58? desperate for answers.frank

I have been hospitalized this past February because of the fat I was carrying.

I weighed in at 267 lbs. and had a 48 inch middle line. The photo above looks quite a bit like I did. That stuff will kill you.

Now with some exercise and with the help of Calorie Count , I have dropped to 247 and a 44" mid line.  If I can drop another 17 lbs. and get to a 41 " midline by the end of the year I will begin to make some big progress.

My blood pressure has been high for as long as I can remember and now it has been under 120 over 80 many times with no meds.

Thank God for this web site.

Thanks pinkloriann for the tip. I shop organic a lot now and didn't think to look at prepared foods. I will try them. 


A while ago before I started with Calorie count I went to my local doctor for a checkup and he took my weight. It had not gone up but my stomach was noticably larger than it was a few months ago. I asked why and he had me go for some scans on my tummy. The result was that I had a fatty liver. This also is a reason for a beerbelly look. So my advice to those who have not put on weight but have grown a beerbelly go get it checked out. A fatty liver by the way is nothing to worry about but it could be the reason for your big gut. You can get rid of it however by eating less fat and doing this program has helped mine a lot so far.

In the uk the recommended limits are:

  • 31.5 inches for women (80cm)
  • 35 inches for Asian men
  • 37 inches for other men

I noticed the difference between these recommendations and the US recommendations some months ago and read some of the research behind it. The UK limits seem to correspond to the boundary between low and moderate risk and the US limit is between moderate and high risk! For my body shape it looks as though I'll need a BMI of about 21 to lower my risk of diabetes further.



The measurements are concerning to me because while I am at a healthy weight, I am a woman, but my measurements are larger than "suggested". :( However, I have a naturally large frame and a wide rib cage.

This is me. Should I be worried?

i have polycystic ovary syndrome that leads to insulin resistance and in most cases weight gain of the kind described here.  I started a low GI diet 5 months ago and have lost  over 3 stone. my doctor suggested in the plainest terms no simple carbs, fill up on fruit and veg and protein and only eat complex carbs like brown rice and wholemeal pasta, with excercise 3 times a week the weight has fallen off!!!

Nikki_lynn you look great to me. You look like you have perfect proportions for a woman, and the waist to hip portion looks normal. If I were you, I would not be concerned, unless you eat too many high fructose foods, alcohol, and sweets and worry about that.

I really believe in the principles of Mediterranean Diet,  with the exception of the daily wine. I don't drink wine or any alcohol at all. Any alcohol seems to subvert weight loss, so it's not worth it. It's not even the calories, and reading about visceral fat, it makes more sense now why alcohol, corn sweeteners and other simple carbs accumulate as instantly converted fat stores, and why I feel strongly that a commitment to healthy eating is essential. I am more determined to to eating whole foods, eschewing as much processed product as possible,  and maintaining this  for life.

There is also a waist:hip ratio. Divide the waist by the hip. I think women are supposed to be under 0.8 and men under 0.9.  The waist measurement, ratio, triglycerides over 150, HDL under 50, fasting glucose over 100, BP more than 130/85 are all indicators for metabolic syndrome which is a precursor to diabetes, stroke and other problems. Even if you are on meds for the lipids, the BP or glucose you are still at risk because it means your body is not functioning as well as it could on its own. Your sex, race and age are factors you can not control but also play into these diseases. Scary isn't it? Don't belive me? Check out WebMD or he Mayo Clinic website.

My dad has that big blly, and I'm really concernd about his health since he allready has high blood presure, I'll make him read this article, and hope he realizes how dangerous can be this lifestyle for him... thx for the info and the help.....

My husband had the Mt. Dew thing going on too...there must be something addicting in there!  He also eats a very unhealthy diet.  He just went through a battery of tests..he had temporary memory loss and the diagnosis was atypic migraine.  The doctors said that his bloodwork, mri, mra (for the arteries) were all good.  They said he has a less than 1% chance of stroke or heart attack (thank goodness).   I think a lot of it has to do with the individual.  All I have to do is smell something that is bad for me and my cholesterol goes up and I gain 10 lbs.  He's 58 this month.  I'm 55.

I am post-partum, and am hoping that the waist measurement could be attributed to that.  If anyone can say for sure, I'd appreciate it.

"My husband had the Mt. Dew thing going on too...there must be something addicting in there!"

I must agree -- a lot of my co-workers are completely hooked on the Dew.  Most of them drink Diet, though. 

It might be the caffiene -- the amount of caffiene in Mountain Dew is either the highest or among the highest in conventional soft drinks (by which I mean, drinks that aren't marketed as 'energy drinks'). 

Caffiene is definitely an addictive substance, and the stronger your genetic inclination towards addiction, the more likely addiction becomes.  Add to that the rate at which 'tolerance' sets in (especially relative to the dose: the higher the regular dose, the quicker one develops tolerance), and an upward consuption spiral is almost guaranteed.

Rachelhall -- your waist circumference could, possibly, be related to your post-partum status, depending on how long ago you delivered.  It takes a while for the abdominal muscles to get back to their previous shape.  If you're really worried about it, though, you might want to ask your doc (assuming you have insurance and a regular doc you can see without having to wait 6 months).

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Foods have to be processed in order to contain high fructose corn syrup and it will be included as an ingredient on the package.

All fruits and vegetables, natural cheese, unprocessed meats, flour, eggs, oatmeal, maple syrup and even granulated sugar are completely free of HCFS.

As a general rule, avoid sweet drinks, many bottled fruit juices, processed breakfast cereals and commercially prepared desserts including ice cream. Food manufacturers like to use HFCS because it dissolves very easily and is cheap.

Thanks dixiepanana for the succinct info. I appreciate all the help I can get on avoiding HFCS. I truly believe for my generation (50 somethings) HFCS is partly responsible for the excess weight epidemic.

"A fatty liver by the way is nothing to worry about but it could be the reason for your big gut."

A fatty liver is indeed something to worry about. It can damage the liver and cause cirrhosis, which can lead to liver failure.

The postpartum abdomen should not be measured for probably 6 months or so to allow for complete healing.

My issue is that I have a separation of the abdominis rectus muscles (the ones that go vertically from the pubic bone to the diaphragm) and I have a 2-3 inch gap at my ribs and about 1-1/2 at my belly button, so I have to take this into the measurements. I also have, and this is gross, my stomach that literally protrudes through the separation after I eat. I can do all sorts of abdominal work but they only do so much. The only real way to fix this condition, called diastasis rectus, is surgery to repair the muscles anatomic normalcy. I measure my waist lying down with the muscles flexed. It is the only way I can get an accurate measurement.

I need help! I have PCOS and I don't know which diet is best for this, low cal or low carb.  I just don't know how to get rid of this stomach- sometimes people ask me when my baby is due!  I already have twins that will be 13 and to hear that is so depressing...anybody have advice?

What is PCOS?

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Can we talk about the "waist measurement" here? There are so many conflicting reports about /where/ to measure the waist line. If you measured my waist /at/ my navel, you'd get 38".  And that's definitely *not* my natural waist line. If you measure my natural waist line (where my hip bones stop, at the narrowest part of my torso), it's 32.5", which is 6" less than what it was when I started here. The widest part of my hips? 43".

I mean, I'm 27 woman, I weigh 178lbs and I'm 5'7" tall. I eat in line with the Mediterranean diet and I walk 30-45 at least 5 days a week.  I have excellent blood pressure and cholesterol.

So, what's the deal?  I think this needs some serious clarification. If you're suggesting that people go grab a measuring tape, there might be a lot of people freaking out right now (especially if they're pear-shaped). 

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what  dose hfcs stand for?

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I thought my last bit of belly would never go away after having my baby and considered liposuction.  I had to fly to Australia with in six weeks of the lipo and so was convinced by family to wait until after the trip. With in that six weeks the last bit of belly went by my going to the gym four times a week and zipping up my core muscles during all exercise. Clearly I had reached a plateau and then broke through it. The belly fat has taken 16 years to come back, so I know what I have to do to loose it again. 

I noticed how much versicle fat I managed to put on over the last 4 years by not eating right and not exercising.  I felt awful and started to have the symptoms of diabetes.  I felt tired all the time with no energy.  I started to eat healthier by eating more vegetables and fruits.  I started looking at labels and found out the high fructose corn syrup is in almost everything that is packaged, even wheat bread.  I also started exercising again and have put back some muscle that I lost.  I feel somewhat better now that I have lost 10 lbs.  I want to loose more especially the bad fat around my tummy. 

I decided that the mediteranian diet would be best for me because, I like fruit, vegetables, beans, and meat. 

The other day I shared some ice cream with my hubby and felt awful the next day.  When I eat pizza, I notice that I am so bloated the next day. My weeding ring is so tight.

I have decided to not eat these things anymore.  I have been drinking soy milk with my coffee and getting bread that does not contain HFCS. 

My husband and daughter told me that they could see that my waist had definitely lost inches. 

I have been at a plateau for the month of Feb.  I am experimenting with The Mediterranean Diet to see if I can break through the plateau.

Been exercising 4-5 days doing circuit traing. 

Diet is the only way to lose belly fat.

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