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The truth about belly fat

What's the best way to trim your tummy?
By
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

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.

"The key to losing belly fat is self-motivation, exercise, eating a more healthy diet and consuming fewer calories than you use up,” says Dr Sarah Clarke, a consultant cardiologist at Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

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.

The type of fat that is responsible for the “ beer belly” shape is called visceral fat. Visceral fat (the fat surrounding your vital organs) is more metabolically active than subcutaneous fat (the fat just under your skin) so it tends to burn off quicker.

When people lose weight, it’s usually the belly that shrinks first. And the more weight you have to lose, the more quickly you’re likely to start losing your belly fat, experts say.

But avoid crash dieting. “It is much better to lose weight gradually,” says Professor Jimmy Bell, an obesity specialist at Imperial College London. “Although it takes longer, it is less likely that you will put the weight back on.”

Dietitian, Priya Tew, recommends losing no more than one or two pounds a week.

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 refined foods such as white bread and sugary foods triggers a series of events. A rapid rise in blood sugar level is followed by an increased insulin response which can cause fat to be deposited more readily. However, eating a diet rich in whole grains (which also tend to be higher in fibre) helps improve insulin sensitivity. This, in turn helps the body more efficiently use blood glucose, controls blood glucose levels and reduces fat deposition.

The NHS recommends that you try to choose whole grains as often as possible.

“If you compare a few tablespoons of brown rice to a few biscuits, you’ll be hungry after the biscuit, but the brown rice is much more likely to sustain you and keep you full,” says Priya Tew.

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