Why You Should Pay More Attention to Fat You Can’t See

by | May 31, 2022 | Nutrition

The shape in mirror might not match always match your ideal. But when it comes to fat, it's what you can't see that is the real concern.

Fat is at the center of a $75 billion per year industry in the US, spent on programs and products aimed at reducing the amount of it on the body. But in terms of your health, it’s not the amount of fat that’s most important, it’s the kind of fat you have. There is one kind of fat that can be especially bad for your health, and it’s not in places you can see.  

Some fat is stored deep in your body, wrapped around the organs in your abdomen. This “visceral” fat is different from the fat directly under your skin (“subcutaneous” fat), the stuff that you can gather with your fingers at your waist. In fact, it’s possible for persons who do not appear to be overweight to have significant amounts of visceral fat.  

High deposits of visceral fat are associated with a number of health problems. According to “The Skinny on Visceral Fat,” part of a diabetes education series from Johns Hopkins University, fat around the belly can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. It can contribute to insulin resistance, which leads to diabetes. It may also be a factor in the development of some cancers. 

If you can’t measure visceral fat levels with a mirror or your fingertips, how can you find out where things stand? A widely used tool for assessing “normal” weight ranges, Body Mass Index (BMI), isn’t useful in this case, because a scale does not distinguish between visceral and subcutaneous fat, or even between fat and lean muscle. 

The only certain way to measure visceral fat is an exam using ultrasound or other such technology. Failing that, there’s always the measuring tape.  A man is considered to have “abdominal obesity” with a measurement greater than 40 inches, and a woman with a measurement greater than 35. (The tape should be placed above the top of the hip bone.) 

Don’t be misled if what appears to you to be a firm stomach still reads out of range. A hard “beer belly,” for example, is not a manifestation of fitness but of visceral fat.  On the other hand, if there is excess fat outside your abdominal muscle wall, just under the skin, abdominal obesity doesn’t necessarily indicate excess visceral fat. 

However, when abdominal obesity is accompanied by one or more specific other factors, including high blood pressure, high fasting glucose levels, high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL cholesterol, there is a high likelihood of an unhealthy amount of visceral fat.  That cluster of factors is called “metabolic syndrome”, because it indicates that the body’s metabolism is not operating as it should.  And it is known that visceral fat has the power to alter metabolism in an unhealthy direction. 

One of the first-line approaches to dealing with visceral fat and metabolic syndrome is dietary changes. eSavvyHealth has free digital guides, video courses, and regular blog posts and news updates that can help you understand what kinds of foods are most likely to cause you to accumulate excess fat, and the changes you can make to get your metabolism working as it should.

You can find them here. 

Fundamentals of Health Alliance

Fundamentals of Health Alliance


The Fundamentals of Health Alliance works to publish useful and reliable information about nutrition and health. Their mission is to empower readers to be informed with honest, non-biased information about food, nutrition and the vital components of health.

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