Almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios — at GH, we're nuts about nuts! People who snack on nuts may have lower abdominal fat than those who munch on carb-based treats, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Nuts are rich in monounsaturated fats, a heart-healthy (and more satisfying) pick than their grain-based counterparts.
Visceral fat is the hard body layer of fat that lies deep within our abdominal cavity and surrounds a number of internal organs such as the lungs, heart, intestines, liver, and pancreas. Visceral fat produces an inflammatory substance called cytokines that can damage these organs. Too much visceral fat can contribute to many health problems such as glucose intolerance, hypertension, coronary artery disease and type 2 diabetes.
“Most people who have been lean their whole lives have a much better understanding of proper portion size than people who are overweight,” says Deborah Riebe, Ph.D., a professor in the department of kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island. “If they go out to eat, they’re much more likely to ask for a doggie bag right away or to leave food on their plate rather than cleaning it up.”
The body doesn't react to all fats in the same way. Research correlates high intake of saturated fat (the kind in meat and dairy) to increased visceral fat, says Patton. On the other hand, monounsaturated fats (the kind in olive oil and avocados) and specific types of polyunsaturated fats (mainly omega-3s, found in walnuts, sunflower seeds, and fatty fish like salmon) have anti-inflammatory effects in the body, and if eaten in proper portions may do your body good. But Patton warns that eating too much fat of any kind increases your calorie intake and could lead to weight gain, so enjoy healthy fats in moderation.
If you're on a paleo diet, be careful: There's a chance you might getting too much protein, according to Melina Jampolis, M.D., author of The Doctor On Demand Diet. The average woman only needs around 46 grams per day, and a diet high in meat and meat products could cause excess protein to be stored as belly fat. Plus, too much meat can cause problems with inflammation and digestion due to all the hormones and antibiotics it contains.
Routinely squeaking by on five hours or less per night increases visceral fat levels, according to a 2010 Wake Forest University study. What’s more, after analyzing 28 different studies, UK researchers found that people who slept 5.5 hours or less per night ate an extra 385 calories the day after compared to those who snoozed for at least 7 to 12 hours. On top of that, they preferred to munch on fatty foods full of empty calories, like chips.
In a 2012 study in the journal Obesity, subjects who increased their soluble fiber intake by 10 grams a day—the equivalent of two small apples, one cup of green peas, and one half-cup of pinto beans—reduced visceral fat by 3.7 percent after five years. Even more, participants who also engaged in moderate physical activity (exercising vigorously two to four times a week) experienced a 7.4 decrease in visceral fat over the same period of time.