We all strive to find that exercise and diet formula that keeps our body fat at a minimum and our performance at its best. While losing extra fat off your sides can be a challenge, fat deposits around your belly may be more harmful to your health than a skin fold test will tell you.
When it comes to body fat, the location counts, in particular the fat lying deep within your stomach or abdomen is different and much more dangerous than the fat you can pinch with your fingers.
Visceral vs subcutaneous fat
Our body has two types of fat that it stores, and despite the unhealthy image of fat, it’s not all bad news.
Subcutaneous fat is the type of fat our body is typically designed to store, located just between the skin and the outer abdominal wall. It’s the kind of fat that you can measure in a skin folds test. Subcutaneous fat is known to promote health by producing substances that can act systemically to improve your glucose metabolism.
Visceral fat, otherwise known as belly fat, lies in the spaces between abdominal organs within a thin layer of tissue that wraps around the all the contents of your mid-section. These fat cells are biologically active and not in a good way.
Belly fat cells are associated with the production of signalling proteins called cytokines, which can trigger inflammation in the body; a risk factor for heart disease and other chronic conditions. They have also been found to produce chemicals that cause blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to rise.
It’s this distinction between subcutaneous fat and belly fat that should keep us mindful of not only how much fat we have, but also what type of fat we have. Belly fat is like an active endocrine organ secreting harmful hormones and inflammatory factors that contribute to insulin resistance, metabolic dysfunction and vascular disease.
How Sugar Triggers Your Belly Fat Switch
Sugars are found naturally in fruits as well as table sugar, which is formed of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. While glucose is metabolized by every cell in the body, fructose is solely metabolized in the liver.
The liver acts to convert fructose into glycogen, however, once it is already full of glycogen (which is common unless you’re performing strenuous exercise), the fructose will be turned into fat. The metabolism of fructose by your liver creates a long list of waste products and toxins, including a large amount of uric acid, which drives up blood pressure and is known to cause gout. Fructose is turned into free fatty acids (FFAs), VLDL ( the damaging form of cholesterol), and triglycerides, which get stored as visceral fat.
In the modern diet, over consumption of fructose is one of the main dietary reasons that people store too much belly fat.
Strategies to lose your belly fat
Exercise can help reduce your waist circumference. Even if you don’t lose weight, you lose visceral fat and gain muscle mass. However, exercise will deplete your liver of glycogen, which means your liver will convert consumed fructose to glycogen instead of visceral fat.
Engage in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity most days, such as high intensity interval training ( HIITs), sprints or circuit training.
Get your sleep. Too little is bad. Studies show that when you sleep less, you are more likely to accumulate visceral fat. So, 7-8 hours per night will help you keep metabolism and belly fat at bay.
Eat right. Choose a balanced diet that helps you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Minimizing dietary fructose consumption means limiting added sugar from processed food but you may also want to cap yourself at 2-3 pieces of fruit per day.
Intermittent fasting for 12-14 hours which can be achieved simply by skipping breakfast is based on the rationale that your body stores sugar as glycogen in your liver but only stores enough for 6-8 hours. So after this time, you have consumed your glycogen store you can shift your body to metabolize the fat storages in your body. Missing breakfast 2-3 times a week can help you to help reset your liver metabolism and prevent the build up of belly fat.
If you’re having trouble losing belly fat, then you need to look at all of the dietary and lifestyle factors that influence your body’s fat storage. Make sure to consult your physician if you think you’re putting on too much fat in the wrong areas.
Dr. Steven Lin is a practicing board accredited dentist, writer and speaker. As passionate health educator, Dr. Lin works to merge the fields of dental and nutritional science to show how the mouth is a crucial part of our overall health. As a TEDx speaker his work has been featured on influential health websites such as MindBodyGreen and About.com. Dr. Lin is now working on his own publication ‘The Dental Diet’ an exploration of how food is the foundation of oral health and how it connects to the body. Follow Dr. Lin on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Main Photo Credit & Second Photo Credit: Suzanne Tucker/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: Jacob Lund/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: Victoria Kurylo/shutterstock.com