AUTHORITY NUTRITION

How to Get Rid of Visceral Fat

Written by Ryan Raman, MS, RD on August 22, 2017

Visceral fat, also known as belly fat, is found inside your abdominal cavity.

Carrying too much visceral fat is extremely harmful. It’s linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease and even certain cancers (1, 2, 3).

Fortunately, proven strategies can help you lose visceral fat.

This article explains why visceral fat is harmful and provides proven strategies to help you get rid of it.

Man Jogging in City

Visceral fat is commonly known as belly fat.

It’s found inside your abdominal cavity and wraps around your internal organs.

It’s hard to judge how much visceral fat you have. However, a protruding belly and large waist are two signs that you have too much of it.

On the other hand, subcutaneous fat is stored just below your skin. It’s the fat that you can pinch easily from just about anywhere on your body.

Carrying too much visceral fat is a serious health problem.

Studies have shown that excess visceral fat is linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease and even certain cancers (1, 2, 3).

Visceral fat also produces inflammatory markers, such as IL-6, IL-1β, PAI-I and TNF-α. Elevated levels of these markers are related to the health problems described above (4, 5).

Summary: Visceral fat sits inside your abdominal cavity and wraps around your organs. It’s a health problem linked to a higher risk of chronic disease.

Fat cells do more than simply store excess energy. They also produce hormones and inflammatory substances.

Visceral fat cells are especially active and produce even more inflammatory markers, such as IL-6, IL-1β, PAI-1 and TNF-α (4, 5).

Over time, these hormones can promote long-lasting inflammation and increase the risk of chronic disease (6, 7, 8, 9).

One example of this is heart disease. Long-lasting inflammation may cause plaque to form inside the arteries, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

Plaque is a combination of cholesterol and other substances. It grows larger over time and can eventually rupture.

When this happens, the blood in the arteries clots and either partially or completely blocks blood flow. In the coronary arteries, a clot can deprive the heart of oxygen and cause a heart attack (10).

The “portal theory” also helps explain why visceral fat is harmful (11, 12).

It suggests that visceral fat releases inflammatory markers and free fatty acids that travel through the portal vein to the liver.

The portal vein carries blood from the intestines, pancreas and spleen to the liver.

This may cause fat to build up in the liver and potentially lead to liver insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes (11, 12).

Summary: Visceral fat may promote long-lasting inflammation, which in turn may increase the risk of chronic disease. The “portal theory” also helps explain why it’s harmful.

Low-carb diets are an effective way to reduce visceral fat.

In fact, many studies have shown that low-carb diets are more effective at reducing visceral fat than low-fat diets (13, 14, 15, 16).

In an 8-week study including 69 overweight men and women, scientists found that people who followed a low-carb diet lost 10% more visceral fat and 4.4% more total fat than those on a low-fat diet (15).

Additionally, the ketogenic diet, which is a very low-carb diet, may also help reduce visceral fat (16).

Ketogenic diets drastically reduce carb intake and replace it with fat. This can put you in a natural metabolic state called ketosis (17).

A study including 28 overweight and obese adults found that those who followed a ketogenic diet lost more fat, especially visceral fat, than people following a low-fat diet.

Interestingly, they did so while eating roughly 300 more calories per day (16).

Summary: Low-carb diets are especially effective at reducing visceral fat. Studies show that a ketogenic diet may help reduce visceral fat as well.

Regular aerobic exercise is a great way to shed visceral fat.

It’s commonly known as cardio, and it burns a lot of calories.

In fact, many studies have shown that aerobic exercise can help you lose visceral fat, even without dieting (18, 19, 20, 21).

For example, an analysis of 15 studies in 852 people compared how well different types of exercise reduced visceral fat without dieting.

They found that moderate and high-intensity aerobic exercises were most effective at reducing visceral fat without dieting (21).

That said, combining regular aerobic exercise with a healthy diet is more effective at targeting visceral fat than doing either one alone.

If you want to get started with aerobic exercise, start with brisk walking, jogging or running at least two to three times per week.

Summary: Aerobic exercise is especially effective at reducing visceral fat. Try combining it with a healthy diet to shed more visceral fat.

Fiber can be divided into two broad categories — soluble and insoluble.

The soluble kind mixes with water to form a viscous gel-like substance. This helps slow down the delivery of digested food from the stomach to the intestines (22).

When soluble fiber reaches the colon, it’s fermented by gut bacteria into short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids are a major source of nutrition for colon cells.

Interestingly, they may also help reduce visceral fat by suppressing your appetite.

For example, studies show that short-chain fatty acids help increase levels of fullness hormones, such as cholecystokinin, GLP-1 and PYY (23, 24).

They can also help reduce levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin (25, 26, 27).

A study in 1,114 people found that simply increasing soluble fiber intake by 10 grams daily reduced the risk of visceral fat gain by up to 3.7% (28).

To increase your fiber intake, try eating more flaxseeds, sweet potatoes, legumes and grains. You can also try taking a soluble fiber supplement.

Summary: Eating more soluble fiber can help reduce visceral fat by suppressing your appetite and keeping gut bacteria healthy. Try eating more soluble fiber-rich foods or taking a soluble fiber supplement.

Protein is the most important nutrient for fat loss.

Eating more protein can help fend off hunger by increasing levels of the fullness hormones GLP-1, PYY and cholecystokinin. It can also help reduce levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin (29 30, 31).

Studies have shown that protein can help boost your metabolism as well, which in turn promotes weight loss and visceral fat loss (32, 33).

Additionally, many studies show that people who eat more protein tend to carry less visceral fat (34, 35, 36).

A study in 23,876 adults showed that a higher protein intake was linked to a lower body mass index, higher “good” HDL cholesterol and a smaller waist circumference, which is a marker of visceral fat (36).

To increase your protein intake, try adding a source of protein at each meal.

A few great sources include meat, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes and whey protein.

Summary: Eating more protein may help you lose weight and visceral fat. Try eating more protein-rich foods to help reduce visceral fat.

Added sugar is very unhealthy.

It provides no vitamins or minerals, and consuming too much of it can lead to weight gain.

Studies have also shown that people who eat more added sugar tend to have more visceral fat (37, 38, 39).

Added sugar contains roughly 50% fructose, a simple sugar that is metabolized by the liver.

In large amounts, fructose can get turned into fat by the liver. This may increase visceral fat storage (37, 40, 41).

Thus, eating less added sugar and fructose may be an effective way to lose visceral fat.

For example, in a study in 41 children aged 9–18, scientists replaced fructose in their diets with starch that provided the same amount of calories.

They found that this simple change reduced liver fat by 3.4% and visceral fat by 10.6% in just 10 days (42).

You can reduce your added sugar intake by simply eating more whole foods, such as fresh vegetables, fruits, lean meats and fish.

Summary: Added sugar is unhealthy and may increase visceral fat. Try eating more whole foods to reduce your intake of added sugar.

Drinking a small amount of alcohol, especially red wine, can have health benefits (43).

However, drinking too much alcohol may harm both your health and waistline.

In fact, several studies have shown that drinking too much alcohol may encourage fat to be stored as visceral fat (44, 45).

A study in 8,603 Korean adults found that people who drank the most alcohol also had the largest waist circumference, a marker of visceral fat (46).

Another study in 87 women found that a moderate alcohol intake was also linked to carrying more visceral fat (47).

However, only a few studies on this topic exist. More studies will help clarify the link between alcohol intake and visceral fat.

Summary: Drinking too much alcohol regularly may increase visceral fat. Try limiting your alcohol to small amounts.

If there’s one thing that health professionals agree on, it’s that trans fats are bad for your health.

They are an artificial type of fat created by pumping hydrogen into vegetable oils.

Trans fats don’t spoil quickly and have a longer shelf life. This is why they are added to processed foods, such as baked goods and potato chips (48).

However, studies have shown that trans fats can increase visceral fat and may cause numerous health problems (49, 50).

In one six-year study, monkeys were fed either a diet rich in artificial trans fats or monounsaturated fats. Monkeys on a trans fat diet gained 33% more visceral fat, despite taking in a similar number of calories (51).

Fortunately, the Food and Drug Administration has realized the harm in trans fats. It has given food manufacturers three years from 2015 to either gradually remove trans fats from food products or apply for special approval (52).

Summary: Trans fats are incredibly bad for your health and linked to carrying more visceral fat. Try limiting your intake of foods that contain trans fats, such as baked goods and potato chips.

A good night’s rest can do wonders for your health.

However, more than a third of American adults aren’t getting enough sleep (53).

Studies have shown that a lack of sleep may increase your risk of visceral fat gain (54, 55, 56, 57).

Conversely, increasing your sleep may help reduce visceral fat.

A six-year study including 293 people found that increasing sleep from 6 hours or less to 7–8 hours reduced visceral fat gain by roughly 26% (58).

Additionally, several studies have linked sleep apnea, a condition that impairs breathing, with a higher risk of gaining visceral fat (59, 60, 61).

If you struggle to get enough sleep, try relaxing before bed or taking a magnesium supplement. You can also find more proven tips here.

If you suspect you have sleep apnea or another sleeping disorder, it’s best to check with your doctor.

Summary: A good night’s rest can do wonders for your health and help fight visceral fat. Try to aim for at least 7 hours of sleep daily.

Stress and anxiety are common problems that affect many people.

They can stimulate the body’s adrenal glands to produce more cortisol, a stress hormone (62).

Studies have shown that excess cortisol can increase visceral fat storage (63, 64).

What’s more, ongoing stress can increase overeating, which in turn may worsen this problem (65).

Women who already have large waists in proportion to their hips, which is a marker of visceral fat, tend to produce more cortisol when stressed (66).

A few proven strategies to reduce stress include exercising more, trying yoga or meditation or just spending more time with friends and family.

Summary: Studies have shown that chronic stress is linked to visceral fat gain. To relieve stress, try exercising more, yoga, meditation or more family time.

Probiotics are live bacteria that can benefit your gut and digestive health.

They are found in supplements and foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and natto.

Some studies suggest that certain probiotics can help you lose weight and visceral fat. They may reduce dietary fat absorption in the gut, increasing how much of it you excrete in feces (67).

In addition, probiotics may help promote higher levels of GLP-1, a fullness hormone, and ANGPTL4, a protein that may help reduce fat storage (68, 69, 70).

Studies have shown that some probiotic bacteria from the Lactobacillus family, such as Lactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus amylovorus, and especially Lactobacillus gasseri, may help you lose visceral fat (71, 72, 73).

For example, a study in 210 healthy Japanese adults investigated the effects of taking Lactobacillus gasseri over a 12-week period.

It found that people who took Lactobacillus gasseri lost 8.5% visceral fat. However, as soon as participants stopped taking the probiotic, they gained all of the visceral fat back within a month (73).

Interestingly, not all studies have shown that probiotics help weight loss. In fact, some studies have shown that certain strains of probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus may actually lead to weight gain (74, 75).

Research in this area is quite new, so future studies will help clarify the link between probiotic bacteria like Lactobacillus gasseri and visceral fat.

Summary: Probiotics, especially Lactobacillus gasseri, may help you lose visceral fat. However, more research in this area is needed.

Intermittent fasting is a popular way to lose weight.

It’s an eating pattern that involves cycling between periods of eating and fasting.

Unlike dieting, intermittent fasting does not restrict any foods. It simply focuses on when you should eat them.

Following an intermittent style of eating will generally make you eat fewer meals and, in turn, fewer calories.

Studies also show that intermittent fasting may help you lose visceral fat (76, 77).

In fact, a large review of studies found that following an intermittent fasting style of eating helped reduce visceral fat by 4–7% over a period of 6–24 weeks (77).

You can find out more about intermittent fasting and how to do it here.

Summary: Intermittent fasting is an eating strategy that may help you reduce visceral fat.

Visceral fat is incredibly harmful and may increase your risk of chronic disease, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even certain cancers.

Fortunately, there are proven strategies you can follow to help reduce visceral fat.

Some of these include eating fewer carbs and less added sugar, doing more aerobic exercise and increasing your protein intake.

By trying a few of these strategies, you can lose visceral fat and improve your health.

An evidence-based nutrition article from our experts at Authority Nutrition.

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