Belly fat: Why every centimetre counts
Love handles, Buddha belly, spare tyre, donut ring – whatever you want to call it, it’s time to start taking that gut seriously.
Current figures show Australian waistlines are blossoming – and not in a forgiving way. We’ve now outgrown the guidelines for both what’s considered a healthy heart and weight range.
The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics show the average male waist measures in at about 97.9 cm and women’s is 87.7 cm – while the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines recommend 94cm for men and 80cm for women.
And it’s more than just a stretch in numbers – a new study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has found for every ten-centimetre increase in waist circumference your risk of heart failure increases by 29 per cent.
The research, which analysed two major studies spanning across a whopping 360,000 – 650,000 participants, found that those who were overweight increased their risk by 35 per cent and those who in an obese group either doubled or tripled their risk of heart failure.
Which means no matter which end of the spectrum you’re at, tipping the scales even marginally will up the risk of damage to your heart health.
“Until now there has been a lot of conflicting evidence at the lower end of overweight with respect to carrying an extra few kilograms and heart failure. It was not clear whether those with a BMI in the overweight range increased risk of heart failure, despite there being a clear association for obesity and heart failure,” says Nicholas Fuller, an obesity expert at The Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders at the University of Sydney.
“This study shows that just being overweight will increase risk of heart failure by at least 35 per cent.”
The short of it – every centimetre counts if you’re aiming for a long, healthy life.
“People fail to understand that even a few extra kilograms can be putting them at high risk of disease and mortality,” says Fuller. “Often they will want to lose weight to look better or feel better but unfortunately it’s often not it’s to improve their overall health.”
Dr Arthur Nasis, Head of Acute Cardiac Services at Monash Heart also agrees, believing that as a society we have got a little too relaxed.
“The excess body fat that the increasing proportion of our population carries is largely a consequence of our modern, comfortable lifestyle – we eat too much for the little energy that we expend.”
However, Nasis does believe it’s still important to distinguish that there are still degrees of what is unhealthy versus harmful between the different weighted groups.
“It would not be correct to say that a few extra kilos of visceral fat is just as harmful as being morbidly obese – as obesity is well established as having a higher rate of mortality and cardiovascular morbidity than those simply overweight. However, there is a need for regular public education regarding the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and keeping in regular contact with a GP to monitor all aspects of cardiovascular risk.”
So, in order to keep both our ticker and tummy on track, it’s important to get a general sense of what belly fat in fact is and how to avoid it.
Firstly, let’s get to know the two types of fat stored by the belly – visceral and subcutaneous.
“Subcutaneous fat is the fat directly below our skin and visceral fat is the type that surrounds our vital organs (such as liver and kidneys), often referred to as ‘deep’ fat,” says Fuller.
“Visceral fat affects our normal functioning and can result in high blood pressure, insulin resistance, NAFLD, type 2 diabetes, mellitus and heart disease. Belly fat is thus a combination of both subcutaneous and visceral fat.”
And it’s important to note it’s universal to have a combination of both – even if you’re lucky to have ‘lean genes.’
“Just because someone is lean with little or no subcutaneous fat does not mean they do not have visceral fat. Obviously for someone who is carrying excess body weight it is more likely they have high levels of subcutaneous and visceral fat however this may not be the case with everyone,” says Fuller.
“Large athletes, such as sumo wrestlers, often have very high levels of subcutaneous fat but low levels of visceral fat due to their high physical activity level.”
So be it a bulging belly or a skinny fat diet, we’re all at risk of storing harmful fat, but Nasis belives the most important thing to recognise that visceral fat is the one to watch out for.
“Visceral is associated with the greater risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disorders including insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension – all subsequent symptoms of coronary heart disease that can lead to heart attack and heart failure.”
And while Nasis says the mechanisms between visceral fat and heart health are yet to be understood, what they do know is that they are all linked by the insulin resistance and high triglyceride levels.
The solution then to fighting the fat and preserving our future? Yep you guessed it – being healthy all day, every day.
“To minimise heart disease risk and maintain a healthy weight aim for a balanced diet rich in all the nutritional food groups including – fruit, vegetables, fish, whole grains and nuts and limit things like salt intake and alcohol consumption,” recommends Nasis.
Additionally, aim to cut those bad habits once and for all. “Avoid sedentary behavior where possible, smoking and periodically make an appointment to visit your GP for early detection or the management of conditions associated with an increased risk of heart disease such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.”
Plus, don’t forget to fuel your gut with the right stuff and steer clear of the obvious avoidable fats aka – trans and saturated.
Leading Sydney nutritionist and author of the Heal Your Gut cook book Lee Holmes, recommends cutting out things like fish and chips, deep fried food and packaged snack foods like chips and crackers and opting in for these flat belly foods…
- Lemon – “to assist as a natural diuretic that cleanses the system.”
- Turmeric – “to enhance the body’s anti-inflammatory capabilities.”
- Cinnamon – “to help prevent bloating.”
- Cucumber – “to reduce swelling around your middle.”
- Bananas – “to ease constipation and fend off bloating.”
Lastly, just for good measure, give your heart a regular dose of omega 3 (found in salmon, tuna, mackerel and trout and walnuts) to maintain healthy cholesterol and remain fighting fit now and into the future.
The University of Sydney’s Boden Institute is currently undertaking a weight loss trial, for those interested in participating, please see www.metabolictrial.com for more details.
Liked this? Read these!
Got something to say? Get it off your chest here
The Juice Daily is a Fairfax Media owned website