By Justinne Lou Go
FAT is an all too familiar word for everyone, a ubiquitous word such that there are many misconceptions about it — whether this is bad or good, the more recent issue being the latter. The word “fat” has become so colloquial that it is often featured in unwelcome greetings that go something like, “Hey, you look like you’ve put on a few pounds.” or stated more bluntly, “Hey, you got fatter!” But, what we’re really talking about here is physiological fat, not dietary fat.
Going into the basics of anatomy and physiology, we know that fat is not just of one type or form. We actually have two types of body fat—brown adipose tissue and white adipose tissue.
Fundamentally, in terms of locality, we have two types of fat — subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is the fat beneath our skin located throughout our bodies serving mainly as insulation whereas visceral fat is the fat stored in the abdominal area, particularly surrounding the organs in this area (i.e. liver, kidney, pancreas).
Visceral fat is the hot topic that this article will be elaborating on as it has been found to have significant effects on one’s health, and apparently should become more of the main concern rather than total body fat. With the findings on visceral fat and its profound effects on one’s health, particularly it being a gauge for a person’s risk of developing lifestyle diseases, it is now considered a more superior parameter for one’s health status than BMI (body mass index) and total body fat.
It was found that this type of fat actually acts like an organ on its own, interacting with several significant hormones (i.e. hunger hormones, stress hormones, neurotransmitters) in our body, and thus affecting several aspects in our health.
So, how would you know how much visceral fat you actually have?
Since this deposits around the abdominal area, obviously, a person with a protruding belly and a large waist (specifically meaning your waist is obviously wider than your hips) has a high visceral fat and correspondingly is either overweight or obese. This is, of course, commonly caused by lifestyle and the perfect example would be someone who has a “beer belly.”
Termed as central obesity, it is a sensitive indicator that the person is at high risk of developing lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, heart diseases, and stroke. However, it is also very much possible for a person to have a high amount of visceral fat despite it not showing in the appearance. This is called “skinny fat,” wherein a person may have a normal weight and BMI but the person’s metabolism tends to store fat around the organs. As such, “skinny fat” people still have the same degree of risk in developing diseases as overweight or obese people.
There is, of course, an objective way to measure visceral fat and this can be done with the use of a bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) machine. I will not explain how a BIA machine works but basically, it is commonly used to measure body composition. That is, the proportion of one’s muscle mass to body fat as well as determine bone mass and metabolic age among other things, and of course, visceral fat. The normal range for visceral fat is said to be between 1-12 but there are medical professionals who prefer to cap this off at the rating of 10, myself included.
Since visceral fat influences hormones responsible for our satiety, mood and energy storage, this is essentially what deems a high amount of this type of fat detrimental to one’s health. To mention a few of the reasons behind visceral fat’s notorious reputation, it increases insulin resistance thereby possibly causing an individual to develop diabetes eventually. Influencing hunger hormones, this causes a person to have difficulty in managing his weight. And last but not the least, it can influence the mood of an individual, possibly causing depression and even decreased brain function. If you noticed, these are all symptoms of the metabolic syndrome, which is common in obese people.
Fortunately, whatever the status of your visceral fat rating, we all have control over this — a capability to prevent or remedy this problem — as it is highly influenced by lifestyle habits.
The following are some key habits to countercheck with our lifestyle and adopt if not practiced yet:
* Reduce intake of simple sugars and refined carbs (i.e. white rice, refined pasta, white bread).
* Choose more whole grains and complex carbs such as sweet potato, brown or red rice, whole wheat bread and whole wheat pasta.
* Fill up on non-starchy vegetables, healthy fats and proteins.
* Make sure to eat well-balanced meals to prevent irregular blood sugar levels, which can be a problem for people who already have insulin resistance.
* Exercise regularly. We all know that exercise helps increase metabolism and this means the utilization or turnover of energy sources in the body is optimized.
* Manage stress. Stress involves adrenal hormones as well as hunger hormones and thus affects energy utilization in the body, putting the body on fat storage mode to fuel adrenaline.
* Prioritize getting good sleep. I’ve talked about what good sleep means in my previous column entries here. Good quality sleep means uninterrupted, deep sleep and is ideally between 7-8 hours daily. Not getting good quality or enough sleep can also affect hunger and stress hormones. Sleep is also needed for recovery from exercise and the day’s work, of course.
Bottomline is, the higher your visceral fat rating is, the more you are in a pro-inflammatory state and the greater your chances of developing chronic lifestyle diseases. This does not mean we all need to have “abs” but this is the best reason to aspire to achieve a healthy body weight and a lean figure, especially in the abdominal area. And be empowered by the fact that you can be in control.