The Effects of Visceral Fat: What it is and Why You Should Care

The effects of visceral fat are probably not something most people think about. They are much more likely to think about belly fat in general with the goal of getting rid of it as quickly as possible.

If you have problems with belly fat, you can probably identify with this attitude. Studies show a high percentage of people are unhappy with the appearance of their bellies. Most of them want to get rid of their belly fat for aesthetic reasons, but did you know there is a type of belly fat that is not only unhealthy but deadly?

It’s true.

The effects of visceral fat on your health is so much worse than any cosmetic complication, and most people don’t even know they’re in danger.

The Effects of Visceral Fat Vs. Subcutaneous Fat

There was a time when fat (adipose tissue) was simply considered an inert tissue that stores fat. We now know fat is metabolically active tissue that synthesizes and secretes hormones. Fat tissue plays a role in insulin sensitivity, inflammatory process mediation, and more.

This is why the effects of visceral fat on health and those of subcutaneous fat are as different as night and day. Let’s start with subcutaneous fat.

Subcutaneous fat is the layer of fat that lies just beneath the skin. It is the fat you can pinch beneath your fingers, the fat that jiggles and dimples, and it is distributed throughout your entire body. Wherever you have skin, you have a layer of subcutaneous fat beneath it. Evidence suggests subcutaneous fat may actually be good for your health. Research shows subcutaneous fat may improve glucose metabolism for better blood sugar control.

Visceral fat lies deep within the abdominal cavity, surrounding and at times even wrapping around vital organs, such as the kidneys, pancreas, and liver. You cannot see or feel visceral fat. But the effects of visceral fat located so close to these organs increase the risk for many serious health conditions.

Researchers have learned that visceral fat pumps immune system and inflammatory chemicals, which they believe probably enters the nearby portal vein of the intestine. These chemicals are then carried to the liver and cause cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and other serious conditions.

The Effects of Visceral Fat on Body Shape: How to Tell by Appearance

Though you cannot see visceral fat, there are a few ways that appearance can indicate the likely presence of visceral fat.

The best way to see the effects of visceral fat on body shape is to look at yourself in a full-length mirror. Are you pear shaped or apple shaped? You see, if most of your fat is in the lower half of your body (your butt, thighs, etc.), you have a pear-shaped body, and your fat is likely to be subcutaneous.

If most of your fat is in the upper part of your body, the abdominal area, you are likely to have a large amount of visceral fat.

Looking in the mirror is not the only way to know if you might have visceral fat. You can also simply measure the circumference of your waist. If your waist circumference is 35 or more inches if a woman, or 40 or more inches if a man, you likely have a high level of visceral fat.

If you want to be absolutely sure you have visceral fat, you can schedule an MRI with your healthcare provider. Though an MRI is expensive, it will give you a visual look at the amount of visceral fat surrounding your organs.

Skinny Fat: One of the Effects of Visceral Fat that is Invisible

Having a large waist circumference is not always the best way to judge the effects of visceral fat on the body. There was a time when everybody judged one’s health and their risk for health problems based on their level of obvious body fat. In other words, a heavy person was thought to be automatically unhealthy, and a thin person was automatically thought to be healthy.

We now know that this isn’t true. In recent years, the concept of metabolically obese normal weight people came into view. Also known as “skinny fat,” these individuals have too much body fat and not enough muscle. Though they may have a slight pouch to their belly, it is usually not that noticeable. To all appearances, they look thin and healthy.

But underneath this appearance, they have high levels of visceral fat subjecting them to all the potential health problems of an obese individual. This means that thousands of seemingly thin and healthy people are being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes. They may also have cardiovascular disease and strokes.

Being skinny fat is worse than being overweight or obese because those who are thin are typically not screened for obesity-related diseases. After all, their body mass index is normal. Why would doctors worry about them?

The Effects of Visceral Fat on Health

The effects of visceral fat on health are many. Having an excess amount of visceral fat increases your risk for many serious conditions, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Abnormal Cholesterol Levels
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Dementia
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Breast Cancer
  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Metabolic Syndrome

Causes of Visceral Fat

Though there is a genetic component of visceral fat, the biggest causes of this condition are poor-quality diet and inactivity. Your body is an amazingly complex machine. It knows exactly what to do to keep you healthy, and it knows what to do to heal your body.

The body can handle a large quantity of food with no problem. What it cannot handle are aggressive calories.

You see, not all calories are the same when it comes to being stored as body fat. When you eat, a digestive traffic cop tells calories where to go. How aggressively calories approach this cop determines whether they will be stored as visceral fat or subcutaneous fat.

This digestive traffic cop directs calories to repair, fuel, or fatten us, making sure we have all the nutrients we need to repair our body, give us energy, and keep us from starving. If you have a calm, consistent flow of calories coming into your system, the cop does a great job directing these calories to the places they will do the most good.

But if the digestive cop has to deal with a bunch of aggressive requests all at once, he or she just throws them in the fat cells. For example, when you consume refined carbohydrates and sugars, your body breaks them down into simple sugars (glucose), and then sends it to your bloodstream. Because refined carbs and sugars contain no fiber to slow digestion down, the glucose is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, and your blood glucose levels rise.

Whenever you eat foods that rapidly increase levels of glucose in your bloodstream (called aggressive calories), your body is likely to store the excess glucose as fat. That’s because your body can only deal with a certain amount of glucose at one time. According to researchers, the body has only around 40 calories of glucose circulating in the bloodstream at a time. Anything that exceeds that amount has to be rapidly cleared from the bloodstream to keep blood sugar levels normal, which means that most of it ends up in the fat cells.

The same effect does not happen if you eat a lot of non-aggressive calories, such as non-starchy vegetables or protein, that gradually enter the bloodstream over several hours. Your digestive traffic cop can deal with them, and the effects of visceral fat will not apply.

5 Healthy Ways to Eliminate the Effects of Visceral Fat in Your Life

There are several ways to eliminate the effects of visceral fat in your life. Here are 6 of the best ways.

Reduce Refined Sugar and Refined Carbohydrate Consumption

One of the best ways to eliminate the effects of visceral fat is to reduce refined sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption. Studies have shown that both may lead to increased visceral fat accumulation.

Refined sugars are processed sugar added to foods. Refined carbs are foods that contain no fiber or nutrients. They are “empty” calories that cause surges in your blood sugar levels that promote visceral fat storage. (Refined carbs include white flour, white bread, white rice, breakfast cereals, sodas, and pastas.)

Limit Ultra-Processed Foods

Ultra-processed foods are chemical concoctions made to look, smell, and taste like real foods. They are food-like products that contain no fiber and few nutrients. Because of their lack of fiber, they are digested quickly, causing a rapid rise in blood glucose levels.

A recent study showed more than half of the average American’s calories are composed of ultra-processed foods, which probably explains why the rates of overweight and obesity — along with the levels of visceral fat — are so high.

NON-STARCHY VEGETABLES

10+ servings per day

The fiber in non-starchy vegetables slows their absorption into the bloodstream, stabilizing blood sugar levels. They also contain high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that nourish your cells.

Here are some examples of great non-starchy vegetables to add to your plate:

  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Eggplant
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Spinach

NUTRIENT-DENSE PROTEINS

3-5 servings per day, 30-55 grams per meal

Nutrient-dense proteins take a long time to digest, meaning they cause a slow rise in blood sugar levels.

Here are some delicious nutrient-dense proteins to try today:

  • Chicken
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Egg Whites
  • Grass-Fed Beef
  • Nonfat Greek Yogurt
  • Salmon

WHOLE-FOOD FATS

3-6 servings per day

Whole-food fats are satisfying, and like non-starchy vegetables and nutrient-dense proteins, whole-food fats help regulate your blood sugar levels. Plus, if you replace refined carbs and sugars with whole-food fats, your body will start burning your fat stores — and that includes your visceral fat stores!

LOW-FRUCTOSE FRUITS

0-3 servings per day

Enjoy a serving of low-fructose fruit as a between-meal snack or after dinner.

Here are some tasty choices:

  • Blueberries
  • Lemons
  • Grapefruit
  • Oranges
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries

Reduce Stress

Studies show chronic stress increases belly fat, particularly visceral fat. That’s because stress causes increased levels of cortisol, which also cause a release of insulin, a hormone that promotes fat storage.

The best way to counteract cortisol and insulin is to make it a point to regularly de-stress. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  1. Meditate
  2. Take a walk in the park
  3. Pet your dog. (Studies show pets have a calming effect on their owners.)
  4. Go out to dinner with friends.
  5. Watch a marathon of your favorite sitcom. (Studies show laughter really IS the best medicine!)
  6. Take up a hobby
  7. Practice deep breathing exercises
  8. Do a good deed for someone. (Studies show doing something good for someone else raises the level of “feel good” hormones for the doer.)
  9. Listen to soothing music.
  10. Soak in a warm bubble bath.

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep deprivation has been linked to an increase of belly fat, and that increased visceral fat. Cortisol also plays a role here, but studies show there are other hormones involved that increase hunger and encourage fat storage when we are sleep deprived.

To avoid the effects of visceral fat, it is imperative you get enough quality sleep. Here are some easy tips to help you do that.

  1. Turn off the television, computer, and smartphone 1 hour before bedtime. The light from the screen interferes with melatonin production, making your brain think it’s time to be up and active when it’s really time for bed.
  2. Keep your room dark, allowing no light in, if possible. If necessary, wear a sleep mask. (Any light can interfere with melatonin production.)
  3. Go to bed at the same time every night. Doing so will train your body to get tired at a particular time each night.
  4. Drink a cup of soothing, relaxing chamomile tea before bedtime.
  5. Avoid sleeping in — even on weekend. It is important to stay on a set sleep schedule to be able to consistently achieve a good night’s sleep.

19 Replies to “The Effects of Visceral Fat: What it is and Why You Should Care”

  1. The information was great it was simply enough that anyone could understand fixing to have a MRI will ask them about the visceral fat there are admonial breathing exercises that will get rid of the visceral fat used to do them when I had the time thanks for all the information,Jack

  2. Oh ! Barbara,
    Thank you so much for this, I learned a lot. Now i know . Hope to get more information relative to health care.
    Regards,

    Clarita H. Delima

  3. Yep agree with all said
    However not none fat Greek yoghurt
    This none fat diet is all lies
    I’ve eaten loads of full fat Greek yoghurt and am still 67 kgs
    Of course good fats are that except yoghurt in that, mechanical farming is all about profit.
    Bovine growth hormone or IGF1 and anti biotics to name only 2 but my belief is that they inject em with estrogen but only today found out IGF1 does the same thing to female cows.
    Either way is this why little boys now ask.
    “Mummy, can I goto school with a dress on pls?”
    And why men suffer erectile dis function?
    Most likely
    I eat avocados and coconut oil plus milk plus flesh.

  4. thank you for this and thank you for breaking down points . this is helpful and informative. i really like reading your blog posts. they are very useful!

  5. Thank you for the fruitful information.
    May I ask you how can I regulate my sleep when I am having night sweat. Throughout the night, I get too much disturbed due to that. As a result, I feel very tired all day and sleepy. I get continuous hot flush that makes me to be all the time off mood. My weight has started to continuously increase and I am upset and always depressed.
    Many thanks.

    1. Hello Nasiha,
      I understand how awful it is to suffer the symptoms you describe. If you are menopausal age menopause is possibly the cause.
      I used herbal concoctions to help me through that period and now I am post menopausal I use wild yam tincture.
      The right herbs are an effective and safe way to help balance hormones.
      I don’t know where you live so therefore what access you have to shops, but if you are able to access a health food store or naturopath that would be a good place to start. Otherwise you could order online.

  6. Very informative. I’ve been walking up to 5 miles per day but have belly fat. Going to use this info for my eating habits and relieve stress. Those I see as my biggest obstacles. Thx

  7. Very common sense information and helpful for sure. I will implement many of your valued suggestions going forward.

    Thank you
    Ray

  8. This type of informative news is useful and not a long wisecrack recording ending in selling a book or inflated medication that is not economical to import for non USA clients.
    Thank you.

  9. I’ve read this eating advice for years from various sources. I’ve been eating this way for at least 4 years – eliminated 90% of refined starches/sweets from diet (I do eat a small side portion of pasta or a cookie occasionally). I eat whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, farro), plenty of salads and non-starchy veggies, lean protein and full fat yogurt. I avoid processed foods, commercial dressings, canned foods, etc. And yet not one pound has budged in 3 years. I walk as much as possible but bad knees, edema in legs and excess body weight make it difficult.

    1. Ann Marie, I feel you! There’s nothing more frustrating than doing all the right things and having nothing to show for it.
      But! You’re on the right path! You are aware of the things you are eating and staying active!
      The only thing I can think of drink more water and maybe cut out more of those carbs. Try zucchini noodles or shiritake noodles instead of your regular pasta, and cauliflower rice instead of the grains. You can flavor it with ANYTHING to make it just how you want it to taste.
      Also, just to be sure, check the labels on EVERYTHING! You’d be SO surprised by ingredients they add to the simplest thing!
      I went to buy some tortilla chips once, they were plain, but with lime flavoring. THEY ADDED SUGAR!? WHY? LOL
      So I actually bought citric acid and other spices and I make my own seasonings now. Lots of those expensive spice blends are just regular things many people already have (salt, pepper, garlic, onion, chili powder, paprika, etc).
      Don’t give up!

  10. Thank you, Barbara for the article, good info!
    But I would be cautious using eggplants (or any other vegetables of the nightshade family). It causes inflammation.

  11. DEXA scans are fairly inexpensive and they also show how much visceral fat you have. It’s a pretty neat evaluation!
    I got a package of 4 scans in Austin for about $175.

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