What is abdominal fat? There are different types of abdominal fat. The type you find just below the skin, which is called subcutaneous fat; the one within the skeletal muscles; and the visceral fat, which is packed between your abdominal organs. We refer to visceral fat as belly fat, “beer belly” or more scientifically, intra-abdominal fat.
What are the health risks? Belly fat is among the most dangerous types of fat. It increases the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and premature death. The drop in estrogen levels at menopause can increase your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that results in buildup of belly fat. Moreover, stress caused by dieting can also increase cortisol levels, resulting in no change in belly fat even with calorie restriction!
How to Measure Your Belly Fat, According to Health Harvard
1- Body mass index (BMI): BMI measurements help identify people whose weight increases their risk for heart disease or diabetes. For example, people with BMIs between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight. Those with BMIs over 30 fall into the obese category. To calculate your BMI, go to BMI Calculator or use this formula: Weight in pounds × 703 ÷ (Height in inches)2
2- Waist-to-hip ratio: To find your waist-to-hip ratio, divide your waist measurement at its narrowest point by your hip measurement at its widest point. For women, the risk for heart disease and stroke begins to rise at a ratio of about 0.8.
3- Waist circumference: To check your abdominal fat, run a tape measure around your torso at about the level of your navel. In women with a BMI of 25–34.9, a waist circumference greater than 35 inches is considered high risk.
How can you lose it? Are you overweight or at a high risk for chronic diseases? Changing a few simple habits can reduce the weight around your waistline. Here are 13 tips for making a lifestyle change and flattening your stomach:
1. Engage in exercise. Practice regular moderate-intensity physical activity — at least 30 minutes per day to control weight – and strength training (exercising with weights). You can do crunches all day long, but you will never see that six-pack if it is buried under layers of fat. To achieve a truly flat stomach, work in some cardiovascular exercise between sit-ups, crunches, planks and other abdominal exercises.
2. Pay attention to portion sizes and give up second helpings.
3. Emphasize complex carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A 2009 article published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that higher intakes of cereal fiber, particularly from whole-grain sources, is associated with a lower total percentage of body fat and a lower percentage of belly fat mass in older adults. Ancient grains are the new food trend and they are loaded with fiber and many other nutrients. Examples include sorghum, farro, millet, spelt, quinoa, amaranth, khorasan wheat, frekeh, and teff.
4. Limit sugar intake. Sugar may cause unnecessary spikes and crashes of your blood sugar levels and, when consumed in excess, gets stored as fat. If you crave sweets, keep fruits like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries accessible to pacify your sweet tooth. A quarter cup of frozen grapes is also an option for a healthy dessert. Another great trick is to add a sprinkle of cinnamon in your morning coffee or oatmeal. Some studies have demonstrated that cinnamon may help stabilize blood sugar. It also slows the rate at which food exits the stomach, which helps you feel full longer.
5. Increase your lean protein foods. An American study published in the Nutrition Metabolism Journal in 2012 demonstrated that quality protein food may be related to diminished abdominal fat. It lists the “World's Healthiest Foods” that are quality sources of protein to include tuna, cod, chicken, turkey, soybeans, and salmon. Other rich protein and healthy foods are eggs, nuts, beans and the ancient grains previously mentioned.
6. Eat healthy fats. Replace saturated fats and trans fats with polyunsaturated fats. Although you should still moderate your intake, healthy fats like salmon, avocados, walnuts and extra virgin olive oil can improve satiety. You may need to take a fish oil supplement, too, but talk to your dietitian or physician first about amounts and to ensure it’s safe for you.
7. Start your meals by eating your vegetables first and avoid drinking high calorie beverages with your meals.
8. Don’t skip meals. When you skip meals, your body responds by raising cortisol levels, increasing cravings and storing fat, especially in the abdomen. Consuming small meals and snacks throughout the day can help with cravings and rev up your metabolism to prevent fat storage.
9. Increase vitamin C. Vitamin C, found in abundance in citrus fruits, broccoli, kale and bell peppers, can aid in keeping cortisol levels under control. Plus, vitamin C is essential in the production of carnitine, which the body uses to convert fat into energy. When you’re under extreme stress, you secrete more cortisol hormone, and vitamin C can help balance the cortisol spikes that may occur.
10. Take a vitamin D supplement and eat foods that are excellent sources of calcium, such as kale, chia seeds, or dairy products. A 2013 Chinese study published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that calcium plus vitamin D3 supplementation for 12 weeks increased the loss of body fat and belly fat in very low calcium consumers during energy restriction. Talk to your dietitian or physician about vitamin D supplementation.
11. Eat foods with probiotics, particularly fermented milk. A Japanese 2010 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that probiotics have a lowering effect on abdominal adiposity. Kefir is a current food trend and you can make your own drink at home.
12. Sleep well. Sleep is very important to weight management. Too little or poor quality sleep leads to weight gain, junk food cravings and increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. When you’re tired, you produce more ghrelin, which triggers cravings for sugar and other fat-building foods. Losing sleep can also alter your hormone production, adversely affecting your cortisol levels.
13. Relax. When you’re stressed, levels of cortisol rise. In cases of chronic stress, like tight deadlines at work, financial crises, injury or illness, your cortisol levels can reach extremes and even impair the function of your adrenal system altogether. This can lead to weight gain or the inability to lose weight, decreased immunity and increased levels of inflammation.
Now that you have the knowledge you need to fight abdominal fat – remember to eat smart, exercise and relax!