Often people worry about belly fat and how it may impact their overall health. But the belly fat you can see and feel might not be your biggest concern. Discover the difference between visceral fat and subcutaneous fat and why it really matters.

  • You do not have to be obese to have visceral fat. Belly fat is often seen as subcutaneous fat, the type of fat the lies directly under your skin. Visceral fat is the unseen fat around your organs, which is often referred to as visceral abdominal fat. Even people who appear to be in shape could be hauling around harmful visceral fat.
  • Weight GainA study revealed patients who lost 30 pounds of subcutaneous fat through liposuction surgery did not have a health improvement if there was still a large amount of remaining visceral fat. Visceral fat cannot be removed through liposuction. This type of stubborn fat is linked to insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol as well as heart disease and diabetes. Researchers have found visceral fat can be a side effect of an unhealthy lifestyle and is linked to health issues even more than your BMI (body mass index).
  • While subcutaneous fat is less harmful, it is also likely that people with a lot of belly fat also have a substantial amount of visceral fat. To get rid of visceral fat and reduce related health risks, cut down on your calorie intake and get more exercise. When people shed pounds through diet and exercise, visceral fat can disappear about twice as fast as subcutaneous fat.
  • The body mass index (BMI) is used to measure body fat based on the height and weight of adult men and women. Overweight adults have a BMI between 25 and 29.9 while a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. You can calculate your BMI using a website like this one – http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm.
  • Subcutaneous fat is the protective body wrap located under the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin. Fat calipers are used to provide a rough estimate of how much subcutaneous fat you carry. Loose connective tissue in humans is called adipose. Obesity does not depend on body weight but rather, body fat, specifically the adipose tissue. In women, this fat usually builds in the buttocks and thighs while men tend to get it in the chest and mid-section. Exercise is an important factor in shedding subcutaneous fat. Try to include aerobics and resistance training for the best results.
  • Visceral fat is tucked between your organs and adds to belly fat. It is made of several adipose deposits that can contribute to glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, hypertension, dyslipidemia and coronary artery disease. This fat can be stored deep in your midsection, surrounding your lungs, heart, digestive tract and liver. It puts out inflammatory substances called cytokines that can be damaging to your organs. Methods are being researched and developed to try to accurately measure visceral fat. Currently it is gauged through an MRI or CT scan. It can also be determined by your waist circumference. Those with an apple shape are more likely to have a higher level of visceral fat than those who are pear-shaped. Measure around the widest part of your waist. Women with a circumference over 35 inches and men with a measurement of more than 40 inches have dangerous levels of visceral fat.
  • While subcutaneous fat is unsightly and can be felt between your fingers, it is considered less dangerous than visceral fat, which is active metabolically. Visceral fat releases substances that go to the liver and influence the production of blood fats. These are released into the blood and sent to your organs, making you more vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease and certain cancers. Everyone accumulates visceral fat, but certain ethnic groups are more prone to it, including Native Americans and Hispanics.
  • The best way to get rid of any type of fat is to exercise and reduce calories. Try cardiovascular exercise such as running, biking and rowing to help reduce visceral fat. Eat a diet that includes healthy food choices. Stay away from white carbohydrates, such as white breads and pastas. Avoid sugary beverages such as soda or fruit punch. Incorporate limited quantities of healthy fats into your diet such as avocados, nuts and olives. Eat high-fiber complete carbohydrate foods to feel fuller longer, such as beans and oats, as well as an increased amount of vegetables and fruit. Three servings of whole grains daily can lower levels of visceral fat. To combat cravings, occasionally indulge in sugar free desserts.
  • The amount of sleep you get also relates to visceral fat. Those who sleep five hours or less or nine hours or more tend to have higher levels of visceral fat. While stress and diet play a part, sleep is also a risk factor. Reduce stress through meditation and deep breathing exercises. Talk to your doctor or a therapist about ongoing feelings of anxiety or depression that last for two weeks or longer.

Losing weight through exercise, diet and behavioral modification such as stress reduction can help ward off health problems such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes, depression, sleep apnea and more. Work with your doctor, diabetes nurse educator and/or dietitian to develop a healthy program that fits into your schedule and lifestyle. Stick to the plan and you are sure to see healthy rewards.

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