Belly Fat: The Best Way to Trim Your Tummy (cont.)

"Fats have to be controlled, because it is easy to overeat nuts or guacamole -- which can undo the health benefits by packing on the pounds," cautions Rosenbloom.

Can Exercise Flatten Your Abs?

Hundreds of crunches each day won't flatten your belly if you need to lose weight. If your abdominal muscles aren't covered with excess fat, strengthening them can help you look tighter and thinner. But spot exercises won't banish belly fat.

"If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you must eat a healthy, controlled-calorie diet and get regular exercise -- around 60 minutes a day of moderate activity, like brisk walking," says Rosenbloom.

And the harder you exercise, the more belly fat you may lose. Jensen suggests that people who engage in high-intensity aerobic exercise tend to be leaner around the abdomen.

The Risks of Excess Belly Fat

Why is it important to lose belly fat? Carrying around extra pounds in your midsection is serious business. Extra weight in your midsection is more dangerous than fat around your hips and thighs, as visceral fat is worse for your health than the subcutaneous fat that sits under the skin.

"Extra weight around the midsection is associated with inflammation and a higher risk of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more," Jensen says.

According to a recent study in Circulation, belly fat appears to boost inflammation and is linked to hardening of the arteries.

Is Your Middle Too Big?

Beyond the body mass index (BMI), waist circumference has been touted as a simple and reliable test to measure health, weight status, and hidden fat, says Rosenbloom.

To assess your risk, use a soft tape measure. Lie down and wrap it around your natural waistline, located above your hip bone and below your belly button. Take the measurement without holding your breath or holding your stomach in.

If your waist is larger than 40 inches (for men) or 35 inches (for women), you have too much belly fat and are at risk for heart disease and other conditions. And one of the best things you can do for your health is to lose weight, says Rosenbloom.

The Bottom Line About Belly Fat

So what's the bottom line about belly fat?

Most scientific evidence suggests that a calorie-controlled diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, lean meat, fish, eggs, and poultry is the foundation for a diet that provides all the nutrients you need while helping to whittle your waistline.

The real secret to losing belly fat is to lose weight on a balanced, calorie-controlled diet and exercise at least an hour a day.

Published March 7, 2008.

SOURCES: Penny Kris-Etherton, PhD, RD, distinguished professor of nutritional sciences, Penn State University, State College, Pa. Christine Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, nutrition professor, Georgia State University, Atlanta. Michael Jensen, MD, professor of medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Katcher, H.I. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2008; vol 87: pp 79-90. WebMD Medical News: "Why Belly Fat Hurts the Heart." WebMD Medical News: "Whole Grains Fight Belly Fat."

Last Editorial Review: 3/12/2008

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