People call a bulging abdomen a beer belly, but beer, clearly, isn’t the (only) culprit.
And finding the cause isn’t a silly blame game.
Abdominal fat isn’t merely an esthetic issue. Fat in and around abdominal organs is active metabolically, much more so than the fat under our skin, and it poses additional risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke, above and beyond the risk seen with just having some extra weight. Fat around our internal organs acts like an endocrine gland, causing insulin resistance and interfering with fat metabolism.
A growing body of evidence suggests that what we eat certainly affects body shape and fat accumulation patterns – it isn’t just age and genetics. Dietary choices matter, and a more appropriate term of endearment for the rounded belly would be sugar belly.
Or perhaps soda belly, as research shows.
Drinking 25 percent of daily calories (which is quite a lot) in fructose for 10 weeks increased triglycerides and cholesterol, caused insulin resistance and belly fat accumulation, a study from the University of California at Davis showed.
Another study found that even moderate (1 can of soda a day for 3 weeks) consumption of sugary drinks led to increased belly fat, elevated glucose levels, higher inflammation markers, and worsened lipid profile.
A study in the journal Obesity, following 800 people, found sugary drinks were associated with significantly more belly fat and wider waistlines.
And a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition assigned overweight people to drink cola, skim milk, diet cola or water for 6 months, with total calories staying constant. Liver fat and fat around abdominal organs and muscle increased significantly in the regular soda group, while it remained unchanged in the other study groups. Blood pressure and triglycerides also rose among the soda drinkers.
These studies show that sugar -- especially in drinks -- increases fat accumulation in the worst possible locations of our anatomy. Similarly, saturated fat might also cause more weight to accumulate as fat in the liver and around internal organs.
But is there a weight-loss diet that can target these specific fat pools?
Losing that belly
A new study, led by Yftach Gepner and published in Circulation examines whether different weight-loss programs attack fat deposits preferentially. The 2 diets butted against each other were a low-fat one, and a Mediterranean diet – rich in unsaturated fat and low in simple carbs, with and without a moderate exercise regimen.
This was a unique, 278 participant, 18-month study, because besides the weight and waist circumference measurements, total body MRI was used to in order to measure fat quantities around all the internal organs.
The two groups lost about the same amount of weight.
The weight was loss pattern was, however, significantly different: the Mediterranean diet/low carb group lost more abdominal fat, more liver fat and fat around the heart and pancreas.
Exercise also helped shed abdominal fat preferentially.
And losing this liver and deep intra-abdominal fat helped to improve lipid profile and insulin sensitivity!
Making that belly fat the first to go
The take home message: When it comes to fat deposits it isn’t just how much we eat, but also what we eat.
Some foods – especially refined carbs – lead to fat storage in the worst-for-health places.
And the same is true for weight loss: You can preferentially target belly fat by eating a healthy Mediterranean diet with lots of fruits, veggies, nuts and unsaturated fats, and less sugar and carbs. It might work better than a low-fat weight-loss diet with the same number of calories.
Add to that all-important exercise, and you’ve got yourself a good regimen that will help you avoid weight gain during the holidays – and a worthy plan if you need to lose some in the coming year.