Visceral fat can have ruinous effects on the body because it is stored near vital organs, such as the liver and intestines. The positioning of this fat is ripe for the development of diabetes and cardiovascular complications. Keeping visceral fat at bay therefore wards off grave health problems.
Diet plays an integral role in keeping belly fat at bay and research suggests particular food swaps can have a profound impact on your ability to shift it.
According to findings published in the American journal Diabetes, the type of fat you consume determines where the fat is distributed in the body.
The key takeaway from the study is that polyunsaturated fatty acids can affect fat distribution in the body more favourably than saturated fats.
The researchers suggest this favourable effect is probably due to regulating increased energy combustion or decreased storage of visceral fat in connection with calorie-rich diets.
The research from Uppsala University shows that saturated fat builds more fat and less muscle than polyunsaturated fat.
Polyunsaturated fats are healthier types of fat that can help reduce fatty substances called cholesterol in your blood, thereby lowering your risk of heart disease and stroke.
They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells.
In contrast, saturated fats, which are found in processed foods, can increase your risk of health problems.
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This is the first study on humans to show that the fat composition of food not only influences cholesterol levels in the blood and the risk of cardiovascular disease but also determines where the fat will be stored in the body.
The study involved 39 young adult men and women of normal weight, who ate 750 extra calories per day for seven weeks. The goal was for them to gain three percent of their starting weight.
One half of the subjects were random to eat surplus calories from polyunsaturated fat (sunflower oil), while the other half got their surplus calories from saturated fat (palm oil).
Both diets contained the same amount of sugar, carbohydrates, fat, and protein; the only difference between muffins was the type of fat.
The increase in body fat and the distribution of fat in the body was measured using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI scans) before and after the weight gain, as was the muscle mass in the body.
Gene activity was measured in the abdominal visceral fat before and after the weight gain with the help of a gene chip that studies several thousand genes at a time.
Despite comparable weight gains between the two diet groups, the surplus consumption of saturated fat caused a markedly greater increase in the amount of fat in the liver and abdomen (especially the fat surrounding the internal organs, visceral fat) in comparison with the surplus consumption of polyunsaturated fat.
Moreover the total amount of body fat was greater in the saturated fat group, while, on the other hand, the increase in muscle mass was three times less for those who ate saturated fat compared with those who ate polyunsaturated fat.
Thus, gaining weight on excess calories from polyunsaturated fat caused more gain in muscle mass, and less body fat than overeating a similar amount of saturated fat.
How can I increase my intake of polyunsaturated fats?
Foods high in polyunsaturated fat include a number of plant-based oils, including:
Soybean oilCorn oilSunflower oil.
Other sources include some nuts and seeds such as walnuts and sunflower seeds, tofu and soybeans.
The American Heart Association also recommends eating tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed, and their oils.