Dr Zoe Williams discusses visceral fat on This Morning

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Subcutaneous fat is the technical term for the fat that consumes most of our attention. That’s because it sits just under the surface. However, the one to watch lies out of sight. Visceral fat sits near vital organs in the body, such as the liver and intestines. It is linked to a host of metabolic disturbances, such as insulin resistance, which can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Fortunately, research published in the international Journal of Obesity suggests adhering to a specific dietary pattern can aid visceral fat loss.

The study examined the association between the Dutch healthy diet index and visceral fat in middle-aged men and women.

For the cross-sectional study, visceral fat was assessed by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in 2580 participants.

MRI is a type of scan that uses strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of visceral fat inside the body.

The Dutch dietary guidelines included the following components:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Whole grain products
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Dairy
  • Fish
  • Tea.

Participants were given a score based on how closely they adhered to the dietary index.

At the end of the study, the researchers found adherence to the dietary guidelines as estimated by the index was associated with less total body fat, and with less visceral and liver fat after adjustment for total body fat.

In addition to improving your diet, regular exercise is key to reducing belly fat.

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“Go for high-intensity cardio training that will consume energy and increase your metabolic rate after exercise,” advises Holland and Barrett.

The health body advises balancing these workouts with about 20 minutes of weightlifting training and focusing on compound moves such as deadlifts, squats, kettlebell swings, lunges, chest presses and shoulder presses.

“These exercises work your entire body rather than isolating muscles, which means you are likely to burn belly fat quicker.”

Evidence points to the belly-busting effects of weight training.

A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that healthy men who did twenty minutes of daily weight training had less of an increase in age-related visceral fat compared with men who spent the same amount of time doing aerobic activities.

Aerobic activity will raise your heart rate, and make you breathe faster and feel warmer.

For optimal results, the study suggested combining weight training and aerobic activity.

Aerobic exercise by itself was associated with less weight gain compared with weight training.

“Because ageing is associated with sarcopenia, the loss of skeletal muscle mass, relying on body weight alone is insufficient for the study of healthy ageing,” said lead author Rania Mekary, a researcher in HSPH’s Department of Nutrition.

Mekary continued: “Measuring waist circumference is a better indicator of healthy body composition among older adults.

“Engaging in resistance training or, ideally, combining it with aerobic exercise could help older adults lessen abdominal fat while increasing or preserving muscle mass.”

Commenting on the findings, Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH and senior author of the study, said: “This study underscores the importance of weight training in reducing abdominal obesity, especially among the elderly.”

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