The 2 Types of Belly Fat & How To Lose It
Having some fat in your belly is normal. After all, fat serves to protect and insulate your body. However, having too much belly fat may harm your health and increase your risk of developing certain chronic diseases. As such, keeping your total body fat, including your belly fat, at a healthy level can be helpful.
What are the different types of belly fat?
Compared with the rest of your body, only a small amount of fat is located in your belly. There are two main types of belly fat - one is found under your skin and the other is found deeper inside your abdomen, surrounding your internal organs.
Subcutaneous fat is the fat that's found under your skin. It is soft, and it's the fat you see “jiggling” on your belly. In general, women have greater amounts of subcutaneous fat than men. Unlike the fat that's found deeper in the abdominal cavity, subcutaneous fat isn't as strongly linked to increased disease risk.
Visceral belly fat is the fat that surrounds internal organs like your kidneys, liver, and pancreas, so it's much deeper in your abdomen than subcutaneous fat. This is commonly referred to as “harmful” belly fat.
Compared with subcutaneous fat, visceral fat is much more metabolically active. This type of fat contains more cells, blood vessels, and nerves than subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is strongly linked to increased resistance to the hormone insulin, which regulates your blood sugar levels. Over time, insulin resistance may lead to elevated blood sugar levels and the development of type 2 diabetes.
Men are more likely to accumulate visceral fat than women, which is why men are more likely to develop an “apple-shaped” figure as belly fat grows. On the other hand, women are more likely to develop excess fat in the lower body, leading to a "pear" shape.
Why excess belly fat may harm health
While having some belly fat is normal and necessary for good health, having too much belly fat may harm your health and increase your disease risk. Visceral fat is the type of belly fat that's significantly linked to health concerns.
Even though only 10-20% of total body fat is composed of visceral fat, this type of fat is strongly linked to increased disease risk. This is because visceral fat is "active" fat, meaning it produces hormones and other substances, including inflammatory proteins, which harm your health by increasing insulin resistance, systemic inflammation, blood fat levels, and blood pressure.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to lose excess belly fat, and in turn, reduce your risk of many health conditions.
Evidence-based tips to lose belly fat
Cut out sugary beverages. Drinking too many sugary drinks like soda has been linked to increased visceral fat accumulation and a larger waist circumference. Try swapping sugary drinks with water or sparkling water
Get moving. Increasing physical activity may significantly reduce belly fat. Try mixing up your workouts, including high and low intensity aerobic activity, as well as resistance training, all of which have been shown to help reduce belly fat.
Increase your fibre intake. People who follow high fibre diets tend to have less belly fat than those who don't. Plus, transitioning to a high fibre diet may help you lose excess belly fat.
Cut back on ultra-processed foods. Studies show that frequently eating ultra-processed foods like snack foods, sweets, fast food, and refined grain products is linked to a greater waist circumference.
Limit alcohol use. Drinking too much alcohol may harm your overall health in a number of ways, including contributing to excessive accumulation of belly fat.
Don't skimp on sleep. Poor sleep quality is associated with visceral fat accumulation. Plus, one review including over 56,000 people tied shorter sleep duration to a greater waist circumference.
Increase protein intake. Dietary patterns that are higher in protein may help promote belly fat loss. A review including 23,876 people linked higher protein diets to a smaller waist circumference.
Fill up on whole foods. Cutting back on ultra-processed foods and eating mostly whole, minimally processed foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, and healthy sources of protein and fat may promote overall health and healthy belly fat levels.
In addition to the tips listed above, recent research suggests that some people with too much belly fat may benefit from reducing their carb intake.
Belly fat reduction strategies include exercising more, eating more fibre-rich foods, cutting out sugary beverages and ultra-processed foods, and getting enough sleep.