Poor health is a reality for certain persons due to excessive fat storage in the body. There are different types of fat stored in your body: fat that you cannot see when you look at someone and, on the other hand, the fat that can be seen from the outside.
Your visceral fat is fat that’s located within your abdominal organs, such as your stomach, intestines, and liver, and it cannot be seen on the outside., says Mthatha’s Dr Mxolisi Xulu. On the other hand, subcutaneous fat is the fat found under the skin.
Most people have around 90% of their body fat stored in their subcutaneous fat. The remaining 10% is made up of visceral fat, explains Xulu.
The amount and quality of visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) are distinctive. We look at whether changes in metabolic risk factors can be predicted by changes in fat volume or attenuation (an indirect measure of quality).
Do our bodies need all that extra fat?
Subcutaneous fat is a type of fat that is responsible for various functions. The skin’s three layers are composed of the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutaneous fat, explains Xulu.
“Subcutaneous fat protects your bones and muscles from falls and bumps. Your nerves and blood vessels can get through to your muscles and skin via subcutaneous fat.”
He adds that it also regulates your body temperature to keep you from being too cold or too hot. It also uses specific connective tissue to link the dermis (middle layer of skin) to the bones and muscles of your body.
Subcutaneous fat is the energy reserve, according to Xulu. However, if one’s body has an excessive amount of these fats, they may also be detrimental to health.
“If you have too much visceral fat, it can lead to various health problems, such as increase your risk of getting cancer and it can also lead to fatty liver disease (caused by the accumulation of fat in the liver).”
“Getting enough sleep and maintaining a stress-free environment are also important factors that can help you lose weight.”
What is recommended and what should be avoided?
No matter what your body shape is, excess fat isn’t good for your health, says the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson and registered dietitian, Maria van der Merwe.
She notes that combatting visceral and subcutaneous fats requires the same approach: a healthy lifestyle. This involves the combination of a healthy diet, physical activity, good sleep, managing stress, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding the use of tobacco products.
“To prevent the accumulation of visceral and subcutaneous fat, avoid the consumption of foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt (sodium). This includes fried foods, ultra-processed foods, sugar-sweetened beverages (including fruit juice) and most commercially baked goods.”
Furthermore, she adds that when eaten in moderation, foods like whole grains, pulses, and legumes, low-fat or fat-free dairy, lean meats, vegetables, and fruits, as well as sources of mono- and poly-unsaturated fats like the majority of plant oils, nuts, and seeds, make up a balanced diet.
For emotional eaters
According to Van der Merwe, emotional eating can sabotage weight loss efforts.
“A first step towards healthy eating would be to identify the triggers that lead to emotional eating and to implement steps to avoid or manage these triggers,” she advises.
Other helpful tips:
- Keeping a food diary, recording what and how much you eat along with how hungry you are and other emotions experienced at the time, to identify patterns.
- Practising stress management techniques, not including food as a distraction or reward.
- Fight boredom by distracting yourself from snacking through other activities such as going for a walk, listening to music or reading.
- Don’t keep “tempting” food on hand, but rather stock up on foods that are part of a healthy diet to substitute for your cravings.
- Plan your meals and mealtimes.
Seek support from qualified professionals. This may include a dietitian or mental health specialist to guide and support you on your journey, Van der Merwe recommends.
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