Visceral fat is a dangerous type of fat invisible to our own eyes. Here’s how to tell if you have this kind of fat, and what to do about it.
When we think of fat, we may pinch our love handles and grimace about losing those last ten pounds. However, the fat you can grab with your fingers is actually subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is located around our organs, and can cause problems like heart disease.
So what exactly is this fat we can’t see, and why is it so detrimental? Here’s a breakdown of visceral fat, what causes it, and how to fight it.
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What Is Visceral Fat?
Visceral fat is the kind that surrounds our organs, like the liver, pancreas and intestines. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which is easily seen just under the skin, visceral fat is a silent killer that drives up your risk for things like diabetes and heart disease, and is also a cause of insulin resistance. (1, 2, 3)
This dangerous fat is part of the reason why we see 50-year-old marathon runners drop dead from heart attacks. These types of athletes may look like they were healthy, but they probably had a lot of hidden visceral fat.
How To Tell if You Have Visceral Fat
Since you can’t see it, the best way to know if you have it is to get a bone density scan, or DEXA scan. (4) This form of x-ray technology measures bone density, and both visceral and subcutaneous fat. You can also get an MRI, though this tends to be more expensive.
A relatively good way to make a rough estimate of visceral fat at home is to take a waist measurement. Since about 1/10 of your total fat is visceral, your weight itself is a general indicator of too much visceral fat being stored.
So for a 160-pound man, this means that around 16 pounds is stored as visceral fat. So the heavier you are, the more likely you will have unhealthy amounts of it. This is yet another reason you should try to maintain a healthy weight.
How to Get Rid of Visceral Fat
The best way to remove and prevent visceral fat is to exercise, eat well, and get plenty of rest.
Exercise is great for countless reasons: it lowers stress, keeps depression away, improves glucose tolerance, and, as we all know, it burns fat. (5) While some of that fat you burn is subcutaneous, some of it will also be visceral. So if you have higher levels of either kind of fat, start stepping on that treadmill, or make a daily bike ride part of your routine.
Here are a few dietary tips for keep visceral fat away:
- Avoid sugar. Sugar is a major culprit of this dangerous fat, and can also spark the inflammation that causes cardiovascular disease. (6) Even though it’s hard, quitting sugar for good is probably the best thing for your health.
- Get more probiotics. Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi help to replicate the good bacteria in our gut, which combats visceral fat. You can also supplement with a probiotic, preferably a broad spectrum type with soil-based organisms.
- Supplement with DHA. Don’t stick to a low fat diet – you need all the healthy fats you can get! DHA is the most bioavailable of all the omega-3 fatty acids, and plays a key role in metabolic function and neurological health. The best way to get more of these healthy fats is to eat wild-caught fish two to five times per week. You can also supplement with about 1 gram of DHA per day – just check with your doctor first.
The Bottom Line
Visceral fat is invisible, but it can still cause all sorts of scary diseases. You can get tested to see how much of this fat you have around your organs, but unless your doctor says otherwise, it isn’t a necessity. As with any healthy lifestyle regimen, be sure to exercise often, avoid sugar, and eat a healthy diet to keep visceral fat from becoming a risk factor.
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