It should be no surprise that having an excess of belly fat is incredibly unhealthy.
To use more technical terminology, the extra belly fat is more commonly known as “visceral fat” in the medical world, referencing the fatty area which encompasses the liver along with other abdominal organs.
There is even an increased risk of serious health issues if you are of average weight and still pack on some extra fat in your belly – which is called normal-weight central obesity, states research in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Below is a list of 10 things that contribute to visceral fat in your stomach.
Trans Fats and Belly Fat
In the world of unhealthy fat, there is none unhealthier than trans fat, claims The Mayo Clinic.
According to the American Heart Association, trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats to make them more stable.
Nowadays, companies want their products to last as long as possible [shelf life], so they accomplish this by adding trans fats to their goods such as muffins, frozen pizza, packaged foods, crackers, cakes, microwave popcorn, and baking mixes.
One study in Obesity showed that by its completion, male African green monkeys that were given an 8% trans fat diet experienced significant weight gain coupled with increased intra-abdominal fat deposition, even though each of the subject groups was taking in enough calories to maintain their weight.
Many food companies have left trans fats aside, but it’s best to track your foods with a weight-loss app like Noom to see all the nutritional information.
One of the best ways to prevent weight gain is consuming a sufficient amount of dietary protein.
Research in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition says that when you eat a meal that is high in protein, you feel more satiated and full.
High protein diets also increase thermogenesis as well as producing a sustained reduction of ad libitum caloric intake, as per a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Intake of low protein meals could lead to a significant increase in belly fat over a long enough period.
In addition to this, there have been several rather substantial studies (e.g., The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) indicating that individuals who intake the highest amount of protein in their diet experience the least amount of excess belly fat.
There have even been in vivo studies in Mineral and Electrolyte Metabolism and Nature Medicine which found that neuropeptide Y [a polypeptide consisting of 36 amino acids] causes high appetite and belly fat gain.
The levels of neuropeptide Y are elevated whenever your protein intake is too low, says a study in the Journal of Nutrition.
The Final Verdict: Consuming insufficient protein could raise the sensation of hunger and increase belly fat while raising neuropeptide Y.
Sugary Foods and Beverages
You may not realize it, but you could be taking in way more sugar in your daily diet than you think.
Foods that are high in sugar include candy, cake, muffins, and frozen yogurt.
Along with those, you have soda, flavored coffee drinks and sweet tea as more prominent sweetened beverages.
There have been reports in the Journal of Nutrition that showcase the connection between high amounts of sugar consumption and excess belly fat.
The primary cause of this is the high levels of fructose content in the added sugars of these products, according to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Regular sugar and high fructose corn syrup [HFCS] are both extremely abundant in fructose, with regular sugar containing 50% fructose and HFCS containing 55% fructose.
One 10-week human controlled study (Journal of Clinical Investigation) set out to test the effects of dietary sugars during sustained consumption.
Obese participants ingested fructose-sweetened drinks containing 25% energy requirements for ten weeks, leading to a reduction in insulin sensitivity and a rise in belly fat.
There is another report in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showing a decrease in metabolic rate along with a significant decline in net fat oxidation in participants who were given a similar diet which was high in fructose.
It should be stressed that high amounts of sugar in any shape or form could result in weight gain and various health issues, but sugar-sweetened drinks could very well be leading the charge, writes the Ames Tribune.
Sweetened beverages such as soda allow the consumer to intake copious amounts of sugar in a much shorter period.
More studies (e.g., International Journal of Obesity) have pointed out that calories from liquid do not have the same effect as calories from solid foods, highlighting the fact that drinking beverages don’t supply the satiety that solid foods do, leading you to eat less or choose a different food instead.
The Final Verdict: Belly fat gain is caused by consuming large quantities of drinks containing high fructose corn syrup and sugar, which could also be harmful to your health.
Do you know how much sugar is in the foods you eat? Use the extensive food database available from Noom to see where the hidden sugars are coming from.
Belly Fat and Alcohol
Alcohol is known to possess harmful as well as helpful effects on human health.
There are studies (e.g., Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences) which point out the suppressing effect that alcohol has on fat burning and shows that excess calories from the alcohol are semi-stored as belly fat.
If you’ve ever heard someone say, “You’ve got a beer belly!” that is the most likely the reason.
Studies are showing the effects that alcohol has on midsection weight gain, with one study in Epidemiology and Health showing male individuals who ingest more than three alcoholic beverages per day are typically 80% more likely to experience extra fat in their belly as opposed to men who consume less alcohol per day.
It is also important to point out that the amount of alcohol ingested in a single day could also be a cause of excess belly fat.
One study in the Journal of Nutrition evaluated the effects of drinking in moderation with belly fat, suggesting that those who ingested less than one drink per day had the least amount of belly fat, while those who had consumed less alcohol in general but more on the days where they “binged” were more likely to possess excess belly fat.
The Final Verdict: Consuming alcohol in large quantities is linked to several health issues as well as playing a significant role in excess belly fat, Health.com writes.
Is Inactivity Causing Your Belly Fat?
Idle hands aren’t just the Devil’s workshop – they can be the precursor to excess belly fat.
Throughout the past 30 years or so, human beings have become less active than they should be. This is among the list of reasons why so many suffer from obesity and extra tummy fat.
One study in The American Journal of Medicine showed that from the year 1988 to the year 2010 men and women in the US experienced significant weight gain and abdominal girth due to increased inactivity.
There has been another study which compared the weight gain effects on women who watched more than three hours of TV per day vs. women who watched under an hour, concluding that the women who watched less television had less of a risk of severe abdominal obesity.
Some research in Obesity points out the importance of exercise following a period of weight loss, stating that those who kept resistance or aerobic exercise in their lifestyle following one year of weight-loss prevented weight gain, while those who remained inactive experienced a 25%-38% elevation in belly fat.
The Final Verdict: Stay active and keep a steady exercise regimen in your daily routine to prevent abdominal fat regain following a period of weight-loss.
Getting active is crucial to over all, but so is eating a healthy, nutritious diet. Noom can help you log food and exercise to track your progress through the weight-loss journey.
Bacteria and Belly Fat?
There are seemingly countless amounts of bacteria that reside in your gut and colon. While some of these bacteria are beneficial to your health, others pose some potentially serious health concerns, says WebMD.
Gut flora is microorganisms that live in the digestive tract.
As stated in Scientific American, research and reports indicate that an unhealthy balance of gut bacteria could not only cause serious health risks but increase chances for weight gain and excess belly fat.
Humans tend to contain a more substantial amount of Firmicutes bacteria which could elevate caloric absorption from foods, says a study in Nature.
One study (International Scholarly Research Notices: Obesity) done in mice pointed out that conventionally raised mice had 40% more total body fat than germ-free mice.
Other studies (e.g., Nature) showcased the significance of sharing flora with siblings, using twins to highlight the link between weight gain and storage via a common core of shared flora within their mother.
The Final Verdict: Belly fat and overall weight gain could be a direct result of an imbalance of bacteria in your gut.
Belly Fat Diet – Low-Fiber
Fiber is a great way to promote health and manage weight.
According to Mercola.com and the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, fiber assists in the feeling of satiety, balances hunger hormones and decreases absorption of calories from the foods we eat.
One study in Obesity showed that fiber ingestion was linked to reduced belly fat, finding that there was a 3.7% reduction in body fat for each 10-gram addition of soluble fiber.
There seems to be an opposite effect with high carb/ low fiber diets on excess belly fat and weight gain.
The Final Verdict: Taking in a small fiber meal that is high in refined carbohydrates could ultimately lead to excess belly fat.
An adult should consume about 35g of fiber daily. Use an app like Noom to track the foods you eat and the nutritional information, including fiber count.
Is Stress Making You Fat?
Cortisol [produced by the adrenal glands] assists the body by releasing stress, MedicineNet states.
While this may sound fine, it could lead to weight gain when it’s produced in copious amounts.
When you become stressed, you may overeat, a review in Endocrinology suggests. The calories from these foods are then, because of cortisol, stored in the belly instead of dispersed throughout the body.
What Role Does Genetics Play?
It should be no shock that genetics is a significant factor in risks for obesity, as a study in Current Genomics indicates.
It seems that one’s genetic makeup greatly influences belly fat storage and the body’s predisposed methods for storing it, suggests one study in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
A study in Human Molecular Genetics pointed out three new genes which are linked to high abdominal obesity and waist-to-hip ratio.
Two of these three genes were found exclusively in females.
The Final Verdict: There seems to be a link between genetics and the storage of excess calories as belly fat as well as playing a part in waist-to-hip ratios.
Not Enough Sleep
Not getting a sufficient amount of sleep can be costly.
There have been a large number of studies (e.g., The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) linking the importance of sleep in weight management, possibly including body fat and belly fat.
One study in the American Journal of Epidemiology outlined the metabolic effects of sleep restriction, finding those who slept for five hours or fewer a night were more likely to gain weight than the participants who were getting at least seven hours of sleep.
There is evidence which points to sleep apnea being a culprit in obesity, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
In one particular report in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, it was discovered that obese patients suffering from sleep apnea possessed a higher amount of belly fat than obese patients without sleep apnea.
The Final Verdict: There is a link between sleep apnea and visceral obesity, thus not getting enough sleep could result in weight gain and belly fat accumulation. “Ever wonder why you crave sugary cereal, ice cream, French fries or pizza after a bad night’s sleep? When we skimp on sleep, it trips up our body’s natural hunger and satiety hormones, causing us to crave high-calorie foods.
Not getting enough sleep can also cause disturbances in mood. When you don’t think you can stick with your new healthy lifestyle, the active virtual community with Noom is always there to help.
“At the same time, lack of sleep limits our ability to exert self-control over foods we normally try to avoid. Studies show that when we get enough sleep, we choose and prefer healthier foods to junk food. While everyone has their own optimal sleep time, most sleep experts recommend that we clock at least seven hours of quality sleep every night.” states Katherine Brooking MS, RD.
There are a large number of causes for excess belly fat.
Some of the causes are simply out of your control, like genetics and hormones, while most of the factors can be handled personally by changes in diet and lifestyle.
Learn more about stress management and different workout regimens, as well as keeping what you eat in mind, and knowing which foods out there just to flat out avoid.
Summer Banks has researched over 5000 weight-loss programs, pills, shakes and diet plans. Previously, she managed 15 supplement brands, worked with professionals in the weight loss industry and completed coursework in nutrition at Stanford University.