Diet and Nutrition

What Is Visceral Fat?

What Is Visceral Fat?

Key Takeaways

  • Most people refer to visceral fat as "belly fat". 
  • Having a large abdomen means that visceral fats have become so large that they already caused the abdomen to firm up and cause enlargement.
  • Eating too much can increase your visceral fat levels.

You probably want to lose visceral fat for improved health. Visceral fat is the fat located deep inside the abdomen. It has several components, which include fat in the intestines (mesenteric fat), around the kidneys (intrarenal fat), and some bits of fat near the uterus or testes. Unlike other types of fat, the presence of excess visceral fat has direct implications for your health. Most people refer to it as the "belly fat". 

Visceral fat is composed of fat cells. Like ordinary fat tissues, it is also a storehouse of excess calories from the food you eat. It is normally present even in thin people. These fats help protect the vital organs by providing proper cushioning against blows to the body. Visceral fat is not the fat responsible for "beer belly", nor the fat lying under the skin of the abdomen.

Although it is technically "fat", visceral fat is quite different. There is strong evidence that visceral fat can also secrete hormones, like an endocrine gland, especially when it grows and accumulates in the body.

How to Lose Visceral Fat

Most people want to get rid of their belly fat simply because they want to look fit. However, you should know that having belly fat may damage your health. A high percentage of visceral fat is associated with metabolic syndrome, heart disease, diabetes, and of course, obesity. 

You can easily know if you have excess fat by simply looking at your abdomen. Having a "pot belly" or "beer belly" is a sure sign, as having a large abdomen (abdominal obesity) means that visceral fats have become so large that they already caused the abdomen to firm up and cause enlargement. There is an urgent need to lose weight if you are 40 years and older, have a waistline more than 40 inches (women) or 35 inches (men), elevated blood sugar levels, and high cholesterol.

Losing belly fat is very important if you are at high risk of heart disease and other conditions. In some people, losing belly fat can mean a difference between life and death. Burning visceral fat is important, and is sometimes prescribed by doctors to reduce the risk of serious medical conditions. 

The good news is that exercise and diet often work to reduce visceral fat. It is also affected by exercise since it is a storehouse of excess calories. 

How is visceral fat stored?

As mentioned, visceral fat is the term for fat tissues beside the organs such as the kidneys and intestines. These fats are not palpable and can be seen only in advanced imaging tests. These fats store calories and also increase in size as your intake of excess calories increases. 

The excess calories from food are distributed throughout the body, including fatty tissues around the abdominal organs. It only means that eating too much can increase your visceral fat levels.

Differences Between Visceral Fat vs. Subcutaneous Fat

Most of the fat in our body are normally stored as subcutaneous fat, which is just under the skin. This type of fat is pinchable and palpable. The fat under the skin of the abdomen is also subcutaneous fat.

Meanwhile, visceral fat lies deep in the abdomen. Aside from storing fat, it secretes hormones and other substances. This property of visceral fat can affect our body, often in an adverse manner. Since visceral fat lies just beside the major organs, the hormones it secretes have an immediate effect on one's body. 

A person with a huge waistline tends to have different hormone levels and blood sugar readings compared to a same-age person with lighter body weight. The presence of visceral fat may explain why individuals with abdominal obesity face serious health risks. 

What causes visceral fat?

Note that visceral fat is part of the anatomy. It is the fat cushion that protects the organs, especially the kidneys and intestines. Like any other fat tissue, visceral fat changes in size depending on the number of calories we eat. It only becomes a problem when it becomes so large that it secretes hormones on its own. 

How visceral fat transforms from a simple fat tissue to a hormone-producing one is something of a mystery. The only thing doctors are sure of is that these fat tissues acquire such change when they reach excessive levels.

Some studies provide clues about factors that influence increased visceral fat levels. One of the probable mechanisms is insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that serves the very important function of bringing glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. Insulin resistance means that the cells do not properly respond to the available insulin in the body. It often occurs in people with diabetes, causing problems in regulating their blood sugar levels. It explains why people with diabetes receive insulin shots or medications that can help increase the cells' response to insulin. 

Eating too much food in one sitting puts a lot of glucose in the bloodstream. Often, when there is not enough insulin available, our body turns glucose into fat. Therefore, excessive blood sugar levels can contribute to the increased size of fat tissues, including those in the abdomen. 

Another factor that promotes the development of visceral fat is stress. It releases the stress hormones called "cortisol" and "adrenaline". These hormones work by dumping sugar into the bloodstream so the body has more fuel in case it needs it. It works well in circumstances where extra physical effort may be required, such as during accidents or in life-or-death situations. However, a lot of stress we experience nowadays are mostly mental in nature, such as work-related stress, stress in relationships, and other everyday stressors. Since we have no use for excess blood sugar, it lingers and then transformed into fat cells. 

Having factors such as elevated blood pressure, high glucose, and elevated cholesterol levels are associated with increased abdominal fat, even in thin people. Age also plays a factor, as people in their 40s tend to have a bigger abdomen compared to those in their 20s. Those who consume large quantities of table sugar and people who do not have the time to exercise are also at risk.

Since it is a part of the body, visceral fat loss is impossible. To improve your health, the goal should be reducing visceral fat and relieving factors that cause it.

What is visceral fat diet?

Some people would like to know how to get rid of visceral fat, as they believe that losing fat in the waist is very difficult. There are plenty of diets promising to initiate visceral fat removal. Some call it the visceral fat diet. Many of such diets are filled with promises such as "getting rid of belly fat". 
The truth is that losing body weight also reduces abdominal fat. Note that when you are trying to lose weight, all the fat tissues in your body are affected including the visceral fat. 

Doctors understand that losing weight, specifically, the fat tissues around the waist can reduce the likelihood of stroke, diabetes, and heart attack. People with medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, or fatty liver may benefit from a visceral fat loss. If you are at risk of these conditions, losing weight becomes more important than ever. The goal is not to remove visceral fat, but only reduce the levels of the fatty tissues to cut the likelihood of certain health problems. 

You might consider taking extreme diets to lose weight, but most of them are not proven to remove belly fat. Abdominal obesity does not respond to shortcuts. If you already have a health problem, you also do not want to expose your body to additional risks. 

The primary goal should be a change in one's lifestyle so that belly fat will not come back. Following a classic diet and proper exercise with relaxation techniques for stress relief are still essential and are regarded as effective types of treatment. 

Trim Calories, Trim Your Waistline

Abdominal obesity is driven by the consumption of excess calories. Therefore, you need to trim your calorie intake to remove belly fat and reduce your overall body weight. 

The first thing you should do is to eliminate the foods that contain a whopping amount of calories. Cutting off high-calorie food items stops the overload of calories, thereby stopping fat formation. There is a really low chance to succeed if you do not trim your calorie intake. 

Start by determining the foods you often eat that are high in calories. They could be processed foods, takeouts, coffee lattes, or instant dinners. To help you, here are some examples of commonly eaten items with a very high-calorie count that should be removed from your diet. You can cut a lot of calories by simply not eating the following food items:

  • Pizza, 14-inch pan pizza with cheese (three slices packs 870 calories)
  • Oils in fried food (1/2 cup contains more than 800 calories)
  • Pork (113 grams already packs 752 calories)
  • A burger with cheese and condiments (one has 678 calories)
  • Peanut butter (6 tablespoons packs almost 600 calories)
  • Nuts (1/2 cup already has 576 calories)
  • Bacon (100 grams has 548 calories)
  • Chocolate candy (100 grams has 535 calories)
  • Chocolate spread (6 tablespoons has 528 calories)
  • French fries, large serving (487 calories)
  • Commercial salad dressing (6 tablespoons has 387 calories)
  • Processed and commercial cheese (100 grams has 353 calories)
  • Beef (100 grams has 332 calories)

Stay away from fast food and takeouts. Search your home or kitchen, and remove all high-calorie items. If you wish, you can donate them to a food bank or soup kitchen. It is a task that often proves difficult to most people, but no diet or weight loss plan will work if you continue to consume high-calorie foods on a daily basis.

The next thing that you should do is to plan your daily meals so you will consume fewer calories than you really need. This measure is often necessary because individuals with severe abdominal obesity need to lose a lot more to bring visceral fat levels down. You have to bring calorie intake to levels where your body is forced to burn its own fat, which can be done only by cutting calories.

The recommended calorie intake per day for men is 2,500 and 2,000 in women. You have to eat less if you want significant weight loss to occur. Your diet should have a reduced sugar, starch, and fat, while still having complete nutrients to prevent other deficiencies. Among the diets that work really well for burning visceral fat include the low-carb diet called the Atkins, the Paleo, and the Mediterranean diet. 

A low-carb diet is simple. All you have to do is simply limit your intake of sugar, bread, pasta, cereals, and starch. The intake of veggies, fruits, meat, and fat remains largely the same. You can substitute starch or bread with some low-calorie food items such as leaf veggies, mushrooms, eggplant, squash, carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, or cabbage.

The Atkins diet is another low-carb approach with emphasis on proteins and fats. Your meals will be based on meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. As long as you shun starches and carbs, you are allowed to consume butter, oils, and cheese. Doing Atkins is very tricky because many high-calorie items are allowed. 

Meanwhile, Paleo diet is somewhat similar. In this diet, meals are based on lean meats, fish, fruits and veggies, and olive or coconut oil. You have to avoid all processed foods, wheat, dairy, legumes (peanuts and beans), sugar, potatoes, salt, and refined vegetable oil. If done right, the Paleo diet is healthy and may help bring down one's weight, correct abnormal blood sugar levels, and reverse metabolic disorders. Just remember to take calcium supplements to make up for the lack of dairy in the diet. 

The Mediterranean diet is somewhat similar to the regional cuisines of Greece, Cyprus, Italy, Morocco, Spain, and Crete. Meals are based on leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and genuine olive oil. You can also eat some ocean fish, other seafood, poultry, and dairy, while greatly reducing the intake of red meat, processed food, sweet treats, and eggs. It is a healthy and sustainable diet. The Mediterranean diet is very good in promoting weight loss and reduction of visceral fats as long as you follow calorie restrictions.

Spending Significant Effort on Exercise

Physical activity is essential for visceral fat loss. It speeds up mobilization of fats to reduce fatty tissues and increases metabolism. Note that the mentioned diet patterns require certain amounts of physical activity per day. 

Research suggests high-intensity exercises for burning visceral fat. Walking or brisk walking alone may not work as those routines hardly burn any calories. Compared to other exercises, high-intensity exercises appear to be the most effective exercises to reduce one's belly fat, although it requires more effort. It even works in people with morbid obesity or metabolic syndrome. 

To eliminate belly fat, you must spend at least 30 minutes to an hour a day on exercise. High-intensity exercise is described as doing short but maximal effort routines spaced by very short rest periods and then repeating the cycle again. It can be tiring at first, but most people find their endurance improve over time. 

A typical routine consists of several cycles. Each cycle is 60 seconds of very intense exercise followed by 30 seconds of rest. 

Here are some specific high-intensity exercise moves you can do:

  • Squat, followed by a full jump
  • Rapid stair steps
  • Push up and jump (done by doing a push-up, standing up, and then jumping)
  • Running or sprinting
  • Rowing
  • Jumping rope

According to research studies, high-intensity exercises will produce results within 2 to 6 weeks, while best results occur within 12 to 16 weeks. Such intense routines force the body to use up fat as a source of energy and produce hormones to release the fat from the fatty tissues. This effect is not readily apparent in other types of exercise. 

A diet of limited calories and high-intensity exercise is effective in resolving abdominal obesity in most people. It may only fail if you skipped on exercising or cheat on your meals. 

Explore Methods to Relieve Stress 

Relieving stress is also important to lose visceral fat. We previously discussed how stress is a significant factor in promoting the growth of visceral fat. Therefore, we need to tackle it as well. Stress hormones may play a role in the growth of visceral fat. It is also good to note that we often eat a lot of fatty and salty food when stressed. It is very difficult to control food intake if our emotions are haywire throughout the day. 

There are countless ways to relieve stress. Some of the simplest methods include deep breathing, mindfulness, rest, and listening to soothing music. Doing these things during your break can alleviate a lot of stress at work or school. 

Setting aside time for certain activities is the key for reducing stress hormones and prevent them from damaging your body. Some of these activities include:

  • Having naps
  • Avoiding social media and gadgets
  • Doing hobbies
  • Playing with your kids or spending time with friends

Burning Visceral Fat Requires Work

Belly fat is not just undesirable, but it affects your overall health very badly, as bad as smoking does to your body. If you do not have it yet, you better work to avoid having it in the future. If you already have a large waistline, do not waste time and act now before it does damage to your body.