The idea of belly fat may sound jolly, like Santa, smiling Buddha statues, or the Pillsbury Doughboy. But belly fat is bad news. Research continues to pile up implicating belly fat as a cause for increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer.
Fat itself is not bad. Our bodies need fat. Our fatty tissue stores up energy, regulates hormone function, helps us absorb vitamins and minerals, and provides us with built-in insulation. In fact, 20% to 35% of our daily calories should come from fat. Yep, our bodies need fat - just not too much, and not in certain parts of our bodies. Too much fat, especially saturated and trans-fats, and our bodies can become vulnerable to disease.
You may be asking yourself why belly fat can cause more harm than, say, the fat that dimples the thighs or heaps onto the hips. To answer that, you need to get to know the two kinds of fat we all have in our belly region: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat.
Subcutaneous fat is that fat you can see and grab onto - all those beer bellies, spare tires, pouches, and love handles. It's the fat that makes a person look fat. Visceral fat, that's the fat that hides inside. Visceral fat is the fat that surrounds the abdominal organs. Visceral fat is more insidious because it's so hard to detect, and because it is also affected by genetics in addition to an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity.
Wondering now if you have visceral fat lurking inside? Researchers use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), where a magnetic field and energy pulses are used to create an image of the inside of the belly. Since MRIs are not practical for most people, you can use other methods to assess the amount of belly fat you have.
One way is to measure your waist-to-hip ratio. Apple-shaped people - those who carry more of their weight around their waist - are more likely to be storing up visceral fat. Another way is to feel your belly: is it flabby or firm? If it's firm, you may have visceral fat. But visceral fat is not just a burden of the obese and the beer-bellied. A thin person can have too much visceral fat and be at as great of a health risk as someone twice their weight.
Tips to banish hidden belly fat