It is perfectly normal—and healthy—to have some belly fat because without it, how are vital organs supposed to be insulated and protected? Keep in mind your body stores energy in your adipose (fat) tissue, as well, which is critical for exercise. Not to mention, our bodies require energy to engage in everyday activities such as working, chores, and acts of self-care (brushing your teeth, bathing, etc.)
In contrast, having too much adipose tissue around the abdominal region, also known as visceral fat, can potentially pose several threats to your overall health. As Sydney Greene, MS, RD, and member of our medical review board points out, visceral fat (think: an apple-shaped body) can be more harmful than having excess fat stored around the hips, thighs, and butt (think: pear-shaped body).
"The reason for this is that fat found predominantly in the abdomen can settle in the spaces adjacent to organs and appears to exhibit inflammatory profiles that are different from fat found in other areas of the body," she says. "It is important to note that even abdominal fat found in individuals in a smaller body can have potentially damaging effects."
In a recent article for Eat This, Not That! that identified Popular Foods That Increase Visceral Fat, Says Dietitian, Melissa Rifkin, MS, RD, CDN explained that visceral fat releases hormones that are known to cause inflammation. This can negatively affect the health of internal organs and blood vessels and is considered a risk factor for various chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Mia Syn, MS, RDN says that while there is no one special food that will help you eradicate visceral fat in your body, there are certain swaps that may help you develop a better metabolic profile.
"Snack smarter by focusing on fiber and protein which will help you feel satiated and prevent overeating, a contributor to visceral fat. Instead of potato chips, satisfy crunchy cravings with air-popped popcorn which is a whole grain and good source of filling fiber," she says.
If you like cheesy snacks, Syn recommends munching on one serving of Whisps Cheddar Cheese Crisps as it's satiating and only made with one ingredient—100% cheese.
"Another food that may contribute to visceral fat is trans fats found in some fried foods and anything prepared with shortening and margarine, she says. "Instead, focus on incorporating lean proteins like baked chicken and fish at mealtime."
She suggests trying Applegate Naturals Grilled Chicken Breast Strips if you're looking for something healthy and convenient to make for lunch, as they can easily be tossed into salads.
For more advice, be sure to check out The Best Healthy Foods to Buy at Target, Dietitians Say. Then, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter!