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Ways to Prevent Visceral Fat Gain, Say Experts

This is how you can prevent packing on the pounds.
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

In general, carrying excess body fat is bad news for your health. But having too much of a certain kind of fat—visceral fat, also known as belly fat or abdominal fat—is particularly dangerous. It's important to avoid accumulating visceral fat, so it's good news that science has isolated specific things you can do to prevent packing on the pounds in this area. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Is Visceral Fat?

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There are two kinds of body fat: subcutaneous fat (the jiggly fat under the skin that you can grab or pinch) and visceral fat, which lies deep within the abdomen, nestled around organs like the stomach, liver and intestines. That positioning makes it dangerous—visceral fat is metabolically active and can release harmful toxins into those nearby organs. 

According to the Cleveland Clinic, excess visceral fat raises your risk of serious health conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease. In women, visceral fat is also associated with breast cancer, polycystic ovary disease, and the need for gallbladder surgery. 

To gauge if you have excess visceral fat, measure your waist at the belly button. Experts say you're at higher risk of health problems related to visceral fat if your waist is more than 35 inches if you're a woman, or more than 40 inches if you're a man. 

As with all weight gain, it's easier to avoid putting on visceral fat than it is to lose it. Here's how to prevent visceral fat gain, according to experts.  

2

Keep Your Weight in a Healthy Range, Or Lose Weight If Necessary

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If you're not overweight, you have a lower chance of accumulating a dangerous amount of visceral fat. If you are overweight or obese, the easiest way to reduce visceral fat is to lose weight, experts say. Dropping just 10% of your body weight can slash 30% of your body fat.

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3

Skip Added Sugar

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Visceral fat literally lives for sugar. "​​Fructose, or sugar, causes fat cells to mature faster, specifically in the visceral fat," says the Cleveland Clinic. To avoid enabling those ravenous visceral fat cells, reduce the amount of added sugar in your diet. Smart moves include limiting or eliminating sugary drinks and juices, refined grains like white bread, baked goods like cookies and cakes, and processed foods.

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4

Get Enough Quality Sleep Every Night

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Experts say poor sleep alters the production of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that regulate appetite, which can make you hungrier during the day. Not sleeping enough can also increase the production of cortisol, a stress hormone that tells the body to hold onto fat around the abdomen. In fact, scientists at Wake Forest University found that dieters who slept five hours or less every night put on 2.5 times more belly fat than people who got a good amount of sleep. To prevent visceral fat gain—and promote overall health—aim for seven to nine hours a night.

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5

Exercise Regularly, And This Way

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"If you eat too much and exercise too little, you're likely to carry excess weight — including belly fat," says the Mayo Clinic. To fight visceral fat, exercise regularly. According to a 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients, exercise reduces visceral fat even if you don't lose weight. Physical activity lowers circulating insulin (which tells the body to hang onto fat) and tells the liver to start burning visceral fat. According to a 2021 review of studies, moderate-intensity exercise combined with strength training tends to burn visceral fat most efficiently.

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6

Emphasize Protein

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A high-protein diet seems to burn belly fat and help keep it off. In one study published last summer in Scientific Reports, researchers found that people who took a protein supplement as part of a calorie-restricted diet lost more visceral fat than people who took a placebo. Protein also seems to encourage healthy gut bacteria to flourish. Some studies have found an association between healthy gut microbiota and visceral fat loss, regardless of diet.

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7

Relax More 

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Chronic feelings of stress cause the brain to produce more cortisol, and stressing out can lead to "comfort eating" high-fat and sugary foods. The combination is a sure shortcut to gaining belly fat, says a study published in The Annals of the New York Academy of SciencesAnd to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael