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Facts and Myths About Belly Fat

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Updated February 15, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Can following a certain diet reduce belly fat? Is there a particular food that you can add to your diet to help whittle your middle? And what about sit-ups ... do they really rid us of our bellies? Read on to find out the facts and myths about belly fat.

Myth or Fact?: Whole Grains are a Belly Flattener

True. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a calorie-controlled diet rich in whole-grain foods helped obese research subjects lose more weight from their middles than those who ate the same diet, but included refined carbs instead of whole grains. The researchers concluded whole-grain foods may make it easier for the body to mobilize fat stores.

 

Myth or Fact?: Sit-ups Reduce Belly Fat

Unfortunately, doing tons of sit-ups or crunches won't actually flatten your belly area if you are overweight. Strengthening abdominal muscles that are covered with excess fat simply won't make your abdominal area look slimmer. However, if you're at a healthy weight, doing abdominal exercises correctly and consisetenly will help your stomach area look more toned. But, so-called "spot-reducing" won't actually eliminate belly fat.

More: Can I Reduce Belly Fat with Sit-ups?

Myth or Fact?: Following a Certain Diet Plan Reduces Belly Fat

It sometimes seems as though a diet is causing weight to magically be reduced in the belly area -- specifically low-carb diets or the South Beach Diet -- but in actuality, the place where you tend to gain weight is the first place you'll start to lose it. Since most of us store a large amount of excess fat in our abdominal area, that's the first place a noticeable change will be seen. A diet plan simply can't target any one area of the body any more than exercise can spot-reduce the belly.

Myth or Fact?: You Have to Work Out Intensely to Burn Belly fat

Myth! Reducing belly fat could be as easy as putting one foot in front of the other: walking was found to be effective in as little as two and a half hours total per week to shrink belly fat by one inch in just a month, according to researchers at Louisiana State University. The researchers say that walking even appears to reduce abdominal fat before it's reduced in other areas. Wake Forest University researchers studied 45 obese women and found the ones who walked between 30 and 55 minutes three times a week cut the size of their abdominal fat cells by almost 20%.

Myth or Fact?: Belly Fat is More Dangerous than Other Fat

An absolute fact. Belly fat is dangerous because of its location; it surrounds your organs in your abdomen and releases hormones that can cause increased risk of heart attack. This can be deadly. For example, research from the National Institutes of Health said that women with a middle that measured more than 28 inches were twice as likely to die from heart disease than their slimmer-stomached counterparts. Additionally, abdominal fat affects your liver -- it has a tougher job of filtering toxic substances from your body (which is what its purpose is). Belly fat can also raise your changes of developing diabetes and being apple-shaped also increases risk of certain cancers, incluing breast and colon.

Myth or Fact?: Less Dietary Fat Means Less Belly Fact

Well, that's both a myth and a fact. Reducing fat in your diet will reduce the overall calories that you take in, leading to weight loss. But, dietary fat can also help you reduce belly fat: The key is the choosing the right kind of fat like nuts and olives, which contain so-called "good" fats. Consider this: A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people who were apple-shaped lost five times more belly fat while following a Meditteranean diet rich in healthy fats, than those on a diet that simply reduced calories. Pass the olive oil!

Sources

Centers for Disease Control. Healthy Weight: Assessing Your.../Waist Circumference. 4 Jan 2011.

Fahey, Thomas D. et al. Fit and Well for Life. 7th Edition. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, 2007.

Katcher, Heather, et al. The effects of a whole grain–enriched hypocaloric diet on cardiovascular disease risk factors in men and women with metabolic syndrome. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 2008; vol 87: pp 79-90.

National Institutes of Health. Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults: The Evidence Report. 1998; NIH Publication No. 98-4083.Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Exercise Important in Reducing Size of Abdominal Fat Cells, Research Shows. 8 August 2006.

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