When You Can’t Pinch The Fat

By: Cassidy Hobbs
Johnston County FCS Agent

You can pinch most body fat, right? You can take two fingers and tug at least an inch from the backside of your arms, but did you know that there is fat that you can’t tug hiding deep within your body? It’s true! Over the past couple of weeks, I have shared that not all fats are created equally. Saturated fat and unsaturated fat are totally different. Likewise, your body has two types of fat.

Visceral fat and subcutaneous fat are big words that are not created equally. The term “visceral” stems from the word “viscera” meaning “the internal organs in the main cavities of the body, especially those in the abdomen.” Simply put, visceral fat is the fat around your organs. Subcutaneous fat is the fat stored underneath the skin (“sub” meaning below; “cutaneous” meaning skin).

As a result of insulin resistance, visceral fat has been linked to type 2 diabetes, as well as heart disease and some cancers. Visceral fat cells not only store excess energy, but they also produce inflammatory hormones. Long-term inflammation increases plaque formation in the arteries. As plaque builds, it can rupture and cause blood to clot, leading to a heart attack or stroke. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, you are at risk if you are a female with a waist  measuring 40 inches or greater. Men with a waist measuring 35 inches or greater are also at risk. The good news is that you can decrease your visceral fat through proper eating patterns and exercise!

Lowering your consumption of carbohydrates and replacing them with healthy, unsaturated fats is a great start. Carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin which promotes fat storage. Unsaturated fats decrease bad cholesterol, increase good cholesterol, and help you stay full and satisfied. Increasing the amount of fiber you eat is the next step. Fiber increases the “fullness” hormone, decreases the “hunger” hormone, and is broken down into a substance that is nutritious for the colon. Increase lean protein.

Lean proteins like lean meat, fish, nuts, and eggs help to keep you full by decreasing the “hunger” hormone and increasing the “fullness” hormone. Limiting added sugar and alcohol is important as well. Studies show that people who consume more added sugar have more visceral fat. Alcohol encourages fat to be stored as visceral fat.

Next, lower your stress! Cortisol is a stress hormone and increases visceral fat storage. Not sure how to lower your stress? The final step will help you to lower your stress and lower your visceral fat: exercise! Aerobic exercise, commonly recognized as “cardio”, includes things like biking, running, jogging, brisk walking, or circuit training. Aerobic exercise burns fat faster. Incorporate strength training as well for greater results. Strength training builds muscle, reduces body fat percentage, and boosts metabolism by burning calories efficiently- even after exercising!

Reducing carbohydrates, increasing fiber and healthy fats, eating lean protein, and limiting added sugars sounds very similar to the Mediterranean eating pattern covered last week! Start slow with one or two changes each day and work your way up to a new lifestyle. Research shows that setting small goals to achieve a greater goal has a higher success rate. After all, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” To get started, check out this great recipe: http://www.skinnytaste.com/taco-stuffed-zucchini-boats/ 

As always, contact Cassidy Hobbs at the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Johnston County Center for more information at 919-989-5380.