Subcutaneous fat is fat underneath your skin. They’re generally harmless and offers your body (and organs) protection.
Visceral fat wraps around your organs. It’s not visible from the outside.
High levels of visceral fat is associated with many diseases such as heart conditions, as well as metabolic diseases like diabetes.
It’s possible to have low levels of subcutaneous fat and high levels of visceral fat. Although looking ‘lean’ or underweight by BMI measures, these individuals are still subject to the potentially harmful effects of visceral fat to their organs and overall health.
How to measure your fat level?
Subcutaneous fat roughly accounts for 90% of the fat we have in our body, and it’s highly visible. The soft ‘squishy’ layer then you poke your belly is your subcutaneous fat.
Visceral fat needs specialist equipment to be accurately measured.
The gold standard measure of body composition, is using Dual-Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (also known as ‘DEXA’), although these are rarely used outside of a clinical setting. A more accessible measure would be using the body composition scanner.
A very simple method to keep your belly fat in check is by using a measuring tape, and measure your waist circumference.
According to the Department of Health Australia:
- for men, a waist circumference of 94cm or more indicates an increased risk of chronic disease; a measurement of 102cm or more indicates a higher increased risk of chronic disease
- for women, a waist circumference of 80cm or more indicates an increased risk of chronic disease; a measurement of 88cm or more indicates a higher increased risk of chronic disease
How to keep your fat level in check?
Excess body fat, be it visceral or subcutaneous, isn’t conducive to good health. The key to keeping your fat level in check is by adopting a healthy lifestyle.
- Eating a healthy diet, and eating plenty of good fat. That’s right! You shouldn’t avoid fat, but instead by selective about the fat to eat. Fat is an essential fuel source for the body and a critical macronutrient for optimal cell and brain function. Stick with healthy fat sources like avocado, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), fatty fish, nuts and seeds. Stay away from trans-fats, which is an artificial fat source present in most processed and packaged foods like chips, cookies etc. Aim for half an avocado a day, use EVOO in most cooking, snack on nuts and seeds, and 2 servings of fish a week. (If you don’t like fish, take fish oil supplements as an alternative.)
- Exercise regularly! – listen to Eliza’s response to this question
- Manage your stress levels – surprise, surprise! – Cortisol exposure can increase visceral fat. So make sure you keep your stress levels in check, and give yourself plenty of down-time to help recover from a bout of high stress.
One last thing to note is that your body needs time to change its composition. If you currently have excess levels of body fat and you’re trying to reduce that, it may takes months before you achieve that goal. Think about it – you didn’t get to where you are now overnight, right? Often excess body fat is the result of years of poor lifestyle, so be realistic when you’re trying to reverse that.
The key here is be patient and be consistent. Avoid taking short-cuts or ‘hacks’ because you can’t ‘hack’ your way to good health in the long run.