In fact, having enough essential fatty acids is key to isolating and protecting vital organs, as well as storing energy in the body through adipose tissue. On the other hand, having too much visceral fat can cause some problems.
“Visceral fat is fat that lies under the abdominal muscles and accumulates around internal organs such as the intestines, stomach, and liver,” Dr. Melissa Rifkin tells eatthis.com.
“Because of the location of this fat, it can physically put pressure on surrounding organs and potentially cause health problems,” the doctor said. She added that visceral fat releases hormones known to cause inflammation, which also affects the health of internal organs and blood vessels, and is a risk factor for several chronic diseases.
Eating too many calories daily, chronic stress, insufficient sleep, and a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute to an increase in visceral fat. However, there are certain types of foods that contribute to the rapid deposition of fat on the internal organs.
Refined grains and grains
Refined or processed carbs are most commonly found in baked goods, including cakes, cookies, donuts, and yes, even white bread. Cereals become refined when the bran is removed by food manufacturers. This process also removes most of the nutrients and fiber from grains, making processed carbohydrates like white flour or white rice have a longer shelf life.
While unprocessed carbohydrates such as whole-grain bread and brown rice are part of a healthy diet, refined carbohydrates lead to belly fat storage when consumed in excess.
“This type of carbohydrate is known to cause inflammation by itself and is often associated with abdominal fat,” says Rifkin. “To reduce your chances of visceral fat accumulation, replace refined carbohydrates with whole grains, including whole-grain bread and cereals.”
Drinking alcohol several times a week can cause visceral fat to build up despite how healthy the rest of the diet is. “Another element that is often associated with abdominal fat is alcohol,” says Rifkin. “While small amounts may actually provide some health benefits, higher alcohol consumption can cause inflammation, negatively affect the liver, and is associated with excess abdominal fat.”
Technically, trans fats are prohibited, but this only applies to the addition of artificial trans fats known as partially hydrogenated oils or PHOs to packaged foods.
“This type of fat comes from processed foods and is considered the least healthy form of fat,” says Rifkin.
Animal products also contain naturally occurring trans fats, but there is not enough comprehensive research to conclude whether animal trans fats are as harmful to human health as those created in the laboratory.
“Some animal studies show that trans fat intake is linked to abdominal fat, and it is well known that trans fats can increase inflammation in the body and play a negative role in disease,” she said. “You can avoid trans fats by limiting your intake of processed foods and anything cooked with fat and margarine,” she added.
Some fried foods can also be high in trans fats, depending on the type of oil they were fried in. For example, some vegetable oils may contain trans fats, which may increase slightly during cooking, especially if the oil is reused for frying.
Refined sugar, mainly found in sweet teas, sodas and other sugar-sweetened soft drinks, can also be a major source of visceral fat. One study in 2020 by the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that long-term consumption of added sugars and sugar-sweetened beverages was associated with higher levels of visceral adipose tissue in participants.