The truth about belly fat
What's the best way to trim your tummy?
Having a flat belly or so-called "six-pack abs" is a dream of most adults. If you're middle-aged, have ever been pregnant or sometimes indulge in too much food or one too many beers, you probably have a spare tyre you'd like to get rid of. So what's the best strategy for banishing belly fat? Is it as simple as adding certain foods to your diet, or doing particular exercises?
We turned to the experts for answers on belly fat - and the best ways to lose it.
The answer to flatter abs
Don't despair; you can lose that spare tyre, experts say. However, there's no secret formula.
"There is no magic bullet, diet plan, specific food or type of exercise that specifically targets belly fat. But the good news is belly fat is the first kind of fat you tend to lose when you lose weight," says Dr Michael Jensen, a specialist in endocrinology (the hormonal system) and an obesity researcher.
Whether you're an "apple" shape with excess belly fat, or a "pear" with wide hips and thighs, when you lose weight you'll most likely lose proportionately more from the abdominal region than elsewhere.
"99% of people who lose weight will lose it in the abdominal region before anywhere else - and will lose proportionately more weight from the upper body," says Jensen, also a professor of medicine.
Why is that? "Visceral fat, the kind tucked deep inside your waistline, is more metabolically active and easier to lose than subcutaneous fat under the skin, especially if you have plenty of it," explains researcher Dr Penny Kris-Etherton.
The more weight you have to lose, the more quickly you're likely to start losing your belly fat, experts say.
"People who are significantly overweight may see quicker results in their belly than someone who has less to lose in that area, such as a postmenopausal pouch," says university nutrition professor Dr Christine Rosenbloom.
Can whole grains help you lose belly fat?
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a calorie-controlled diet rich in whole grains trimmed extra fat from the waistline of obese subjects.
Study participants who ate all whole grains (in addition to five servings of fruits and vegetables, three servings of low-fat dairy, and two servings of lean meat, fish or poultry) lost more weight from the abdominal area than another group that ate the same diet, but with all refined grains.
"Eating a diet rich in whole grains while reducing refined carbohydrates changes the glucose and insulin response and makes it easier to mobilise fat stores," says study researcher Dr Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutritional sciences.
"Visceral fat is more metabolically active and easier to lose than subcutaneous fat, especially if you have plenty of it and the right conditions are met, such as the ones in our study."