When it comes to dietary fat — if you follow my articles — then you know I’m a fan!
Healthy dietary fat — including monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids, and moderate amounts of saturated fat and omega-6 fatty acids — play vital roles in our health. From providing a clean, long-lasting source of energy to protecting our skin to helping our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins, this nutrient is a key player in overall health!
Just as there are healthy dietary fats and detrimental dietary fats — such as trans fatty acids — there is also healthy and detrimental fat in our bodies. One such unhealthy bodily fat is visceral fat — fat that accumulates internally, around organs, and within arteries. You can’t see it and it’s a bit hard to actually measure, but visceral fat is oftentimes more deadly than other types of bodily fat. In fact, visceral fat is so dangerous that it is oftentimes referred to as “active fat” because it can “actively” increase the risk of serious health problems.
Luckily, visceral fat responds incredibly well to both dietary and lifestyle changes. Switching to a plant-based diet that’s free of processed foods, hydrogenated oils, added sugars, and other chemical preservatives is a great start! Today, I’m going to focus on simple lifestyle changes that can drastically reduce the amount of visceral fat in your body.
Visceral Fat 101
Let’s begin with a quick rundown on what visceral fat actually is!
Visceral fat is a “type of body fat that’s stored within the abdominal cavity [and is] located near several vital organs, including the liver, stomach, and intestines,” and it also has a bad habit of building up in our arteries. How does visceral fat accumulate in your body?
Multiple factors play roles in the accumulation of visceral fat including lifestyle choices such as “poor diet, lack of exercise, and [chronic] stress,” as well as overconsumption of food, alcohol, poor sleep habits, and smoking. Genetics even plays a small role in visceral fat, yet researchers have found these other factors to far outweigh and influence this type of fat accumulation. As mentioned, visceral fat is one of the dangerous fats in the body that we want to keep an eye on. Since it surrounds our organs and accumulates in our arteries, visceral fat can have fast-acting and lethal health effects.
Visceral Fat versus Subcutaneous Fat
When it comes to “belly fat,” as many people refer to it, there are actually two different types: visceral and subcutaneous. As mentioned, visceral fat surrounds our organs, while subcutaneous fat collects directly under the skin, oftentimes on the belly, arms, and legs.
We are all born with some subcutaneous fat, yet there are a few factors that determine how much subcutaneous fat you have on your body including genetics, physical activity, and diet. People who are sedentary, don’t have much muscle mass, eat higher calories than they burn, or suffer from diabetes or insulin resistance are more likely to have higher amounts of subcutaneous fat.
Health Risks Associated with Visceral Fat
Researchers believe that visceral fat may secrete a “retinol-binding protein that increases insulin resistance,” which means the chances of developing diabetes or prediabetes drastically increases. It’s also been proven that visceral fat raises blood pressure quickly and collects in your arteries. These factors lead to all sorts of serious and life-threatening health conditions including heart disease, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain cancers, such as breast and colorectal cancer.
Lifestyle Changes that Reduce Visceral Fat
Visceral fat may be dangerous to our health, but it’s also reactive to healthy lifestyle changes.
Plus, lifestyle changes that help reduce visceral fat are also all-around good for your body when it comes to managing a healthy weight, decreasing your risk of certain health conditions — such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer — and helping to navigate high blood pressure and high blood sugar levels. Of course, these are just a few of the alternate side effects of incorporating healthy lifestyle changes — not mentioned above include increased energy, more stable moods, and even better skin.
Let’s take a look at some of the specific lifestyle changes you can make to reduce visceral fat!
1. Aerobic Exercise
Exercise is not only a boon for your overall health, but it’s also one of the most successful ways to reduce visceral fat. Yet, while any kind of physical activity is a great place to start, studies have found that aerobic exercise may be the most efficient way to target visceral fat reduction. Aerobic exercise is so effective that it has been shown to reduce visceral fat without the said person making any changes to their diet.
This is because cardio is great at burning lots of calories! With that said, a calm walk around the block won’t necessarily do it for you. Specifically, studies find that “moderate and high-intensity aerobic exercises [are] most effective at reducing visceral fat,” especially if you don’t plan on changing your diet.
Luckily, there is a slew of aerobic exercises to choose from that fit your personal exercise style including jumping rope, jogging (for beginners), running (after you’re trained), biking, and brisk walking (for long periods of time). If you live in an area where gyms are currently open for business you may consider swimming, trying a stationary bike or elliptical, or attending aerobic classes or circuit training classes.
If you’re stuck at home, consider trying out an exercise app! There are a few companies offering free or reduced-price streaming services during shelter-in-place.
2. Reduce Stress
We all know that chronic stress is not great for our bodies or our minds. Turns out that chronic stress is also a major contributor to the accumulation of visceral fat. How does an emotional response affect fat levels? Chronic stress “can stimulate the body’s adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, a stress hormone,” which in turn increases the storage of visceral fat. It’s not just about human chemistry either. Chronic stress also leads to “increase overeating, which in turn may worsen” the accumulation of visceral fat.
Reducing stress is all about pinpointing what’s causing stress and seeking ways to either manage or avoid those causal factors. If shelter-in-place has you down these days, consider incorporating self-care strategies into your day such as getting outside, exercising more, and limiting news, social media, and television intake.
Other proven ways to reduce stress including meditating, — try an app or streaming services such as Headspace, Calm, Glo, Inscape, Simple Habit, Beeja Meditation (daily sessions at 12 pm), Ten Percent Happier (daily meditation “sanity breaks” at 3 pm), and the Copper Beach Institute (various livestream meditation) — and gentle yoga practice, — such as these free YouTube-based yoga videos hosted by Adriene Mishler or Corepower Yoga who are offering 100 percent free on-demand classes.
You can also try distraction methods such as listening to new music, picking up a good book, or trying out some stress-reducing natural supplements such as lemon balm, omega-3 fatty acids, ashwagandha, or green tea extract — with a doctors approval of course!
3. Focus On Quality Sleep
Along with increasing stress and anxiety, poor sleep or not enough sleep has been found to “increase your risk of visceral fat gain.” Luckily, this is pretty easy to fix.
Simply try your best to increase sleep which has been shown to “help reduce visceral fat.” In fact, studies have shown this to be the case. In a six-year study with 293 participants, it was discovered that “increasing sleep from 6 hours or less to 7–8 hours reduced visceral fat gain by roughly 26 [percent].” While the idea of getting sleep may be easy, actually obtaining said sleep can be very difficult.
For those that struggle with falling asleep and staying asleep, there are a few tips and tricks that may help you out. For instance, avoid screens of any kind — computer, phone, tablets, or television — for at least a few hours before bed. Instead, pick up a book or you can listen to a book on tape, a podcast, or even music. Try taking a warm bath or shower closer to bedtime to wind down, keep strenuous exercise to a minimum, and avoid eating late or drinking alcohol before you head to bed.
4. Incorporate a Probiotic
It may seem strange that probiotics are linked to decreased visceral fat, but the studies don’t lie!
For those that haven’t heard of them, probiotics are simply encapsulated or food-based sources of good bacteria “that are either the same as or very similar to the bacteria that are already in your body.” Bacteria is an integral part of a diverse and healthy microbiome, which plays major roles in your digestive health, mental health, and, basically, you’re overall health. While probiotics are found naturally in fermented foods such as “yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and natto,” the most powerful probiotics are generally found in supplements.
A few studies have found that “certain probiotics can help you lose weight and visceral fat,” by reducing “dietary fat absorption in the gut, increasing how much of it you excrete in feces.” Plus, probiotics are also known to help “promote higher levels of GLP-1, a fullness hormone, and ANGPTL4, a protein that may help reduce fat storage.” Basically, probiotics not only help you excrete more fat, but they also reduce the storage of fat and the chance of overeating, which leads to increased visceral fat.
This three-pronged approach could be seriously advantageous for those looking to decrease visceral fat in their bodies!
5. Intermittent Fasting
What you eat is incredibly important for reducing visceral fat — specifically, avoiding those processed foods, sugar, and alcohol — yet how often and when you eat may play just as important of a role! Intermittent fasting has become a wildly popular way to drop a few pounds, manage a healthy weight, increase muscle mass, and boost energy.
What is intermittent fasting? Basically, this is referring to a method of rotating “between periods of time that you eat and periods of time where you don’t,” and allowing your gut to rest for longer periods of time than standard American eating regimens allow. For instance, the most popular intermittent fasting — the 16/8 — requires a fast of 16 hours and an eating window of eight hours.
Studies have shown that intermittent fasting may have an effect on reducing visceral fat as it generally is a natural way to consume fewer calories, which has been linked to reducing visceral fat accumulation and storage. Make sure to speak with a medical professional, nutritionist, or dietitian before beginning an intermittent fasting plan as there may be health factors that play into the type of fasting you choose.
If you’re interested in learning a bit more about a healthy, plant-based diet, try taking a good read of the following articles:
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
Smashed Avocado, Chickpea and Pesto/One Green Planet
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health, and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
For those of you interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And, while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
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