Visceral Fat Rating: How much is too much?
Everyone needs a certain amount of visceral fat for good health, but the amount is critical. Too little or too much spells trouble. But how do we recognise the fine line between safe and lethal?
Systems to Measure and Rate Visceral Fat
There are a limited number of sure-fire methods of monitoring the amounts of visceral fat within the body. Here are some of the most accurate to date:
An MRI scan is the most conclusive method of identifying visceral fat but it’s expensive and is usually only performed during investigative treatment for a disease or surgical procedure.
This is a highly accurate system which uses a plethysmograph (apparatus for measuring changes of volume within an organ or the whole body). Measurements are taken of the volume of air displaced by the body. This is then used to calculate body fat percentage. BodPod is a non-invasive procedure involving the patient/client sitting in a chair within the ‘pod’ while the monitoring takes place.
Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA)
This is a method of identifying levels of visceral fat without the need for medical intervention. The Bio-electrical impedance analysis method uses equipment developed as the result of extensive research by the Tanita Institute and is an accurate and medically validated system for rating body composition.
Tanita’s body composition analyser provides statistical information based on calculating the BMR (basal metabolic rate, sometimes known as the RMR – resting metabolic rate), using a standard equation based on height, weight, gender and age. The Body Composition Analyser provides a visceral fat rating of 1 to 59. This is for an age range between 18 years to 99 years.
Rating from 1 to 12:
- Indicates you have a healthy level of visceral fat. Continue monitoring your rating to ensure that it stays within the healthy range.
Rating from 13 – 59:
- Indicates you have an excess level of visceral fat. Consider making changes in your lifestyle possibly through diet changes or increasing exercise.
- Even if you have a low body fat rate, you may have a high visceral fat level.
- For medical diagnosis, consult a physician.
There are various Tanita analysers and scales available, some more suitable for athletes and fitness professionals and others more suited to those of us simply interested in keeping ourselves healthy. The cost, as well as the type can vary, so research is advisable.
Various other types of body fat measuring scales are available for domestic use. They look similar to bathroom scales but are actually based on bioelectrical impedance analysis. These types of monitor are accurate but because they base their readings on fluid levels in relation to body mass and fat, it is important that certain factors are strictly adhered to:
- Must be used at the same time of day and probably just once a week maximum
- It’s necessary to have an empty bladder before taking the reading
- No alcohol should be taken before monitoring
- Should not be used after exercise
When choosing a BIA device, make sure the one you decide upon does have a visceral fat measuring function as some will only give an overall body fat reading.
What is a Healthy Visceral Fat Rating?
Visceral fat is very difficult to measure accurately without expensive equipment, says Aisling Piggott of the British Dietetic Association.
“High street products that use bio-electrical impedance are often based on algorithms which measure hydration/electrolytes, which are not always reliable in terms of measuring fat percentage. Indicators may include central obesity (carrying weight around your belly) and should take into account other factors, including physical activity levels, diet, family history and blood lipids. High levels of visceral fat or central obesity can be a risk factor for cardiovascular and other diseases so it may be useful to discuss concerns with your GP.
She went on to advise “To avoid high levels of visceral fat, ensure a healthy, balanced energy-appropriate diet with regular physical activity – this is vitally important for central obesity.”
Contact the British Dietetic Association for information on health issue concerning weight or dietary changes.
Problems of High Levels of Visceral Fat
When we are storing too much visceral fat it can pre-dispose us to heart disease, high blood pressure, pancreatitis, gall bladder disease, cancer and even Alzheimer’s disease, so nothing trivial. It can also cause hormonal malfunction, including the production of insulin, making us highly vulnerable to type-2 diabetes. The reason visceral fat is known as active fat is that it releases substances called cytokines into the bloodstream. There are various types of cytokine, some cause blood vessels to constrict resulting in high blood pressure, and others cause inflammation leading to heart disease and diabetes.
Problems of Low Levels of Visceral Fat
Insufficient levels of visceral fat interfere with hormones too, causing menstruation to cease. A very low amount of internal fat can also deplete the immune system, leaving us vulnerable to infection.
Why Do We Need Any Visceral Fat At All?
The reason we need a certain amount of internal (active fat) is because fat-solubles such as vitamins A, D, E and K, are stored in the liver and fatty tissue; they can only be activated when fat is present. Fat is also vital to regulate body temperature and protect organs.
Slim Doesn’t Always Mean Safe
Research has now established that very slim people, particularly those who use diet alone to control their weight and do very little exercise, could be at risk from dangerous levels of visceral fat.
Watch out for Changing Shape
Even if you have kept your weight constant over the years, as you get older the distribution of fat changes and may gravitate towards the abdominal area. NHS UK report that men who develop a ‘beer belly’, even though alcohol may not be the cause, are likely to be at greater risk than those who are just generally overweight.
Try pinching the flesh surrounding your belly button. Any flesh you can pinch between your fingers is subcutaneous fat. If your abdomen is bloated but you can’t actually pinch much fat, this means that the fat is stored within the muscle wall and is therefore of the visceral variety.
Tips on Achieving a Good Visceral Fat Level
The supplement Inulin has been the subject of much research for its effect on fat loss, particularly visceral fat. It has also proven positive in randomized controlled trials, especially in treating pre-diabetes.
The key to reversing the dangers of visceral fat are making healthy food choices and regular exercise. The healthy eating plan needs to be sustainable for life, rather than a strict calorie controlled diet which is unrealistic long term. Most important is the need to find the right kind of exercise to fit with your physical ability whilst still giving your heart a bit of a workout.
Factoring exercise into your life will literally save your life. There are ways of exercising to suit all ages and physical abilities; it doesn’t have to be high intensity. By increasing the rate of calories you burn through exercise you will also build muscle. The more active you are, the more muscle you will build, and because muscle needs more calories you will burn more. The huge bonus in all this is that because of an increased metabolic rate, you will be burning fat even when you’re resting and sleeping.
NHS Choices have an excellent 12-week plan to help get you started on your new life of fitness and a healthy visceral fat score.
Have Your Say
Have you ever had your visceral fat level assessed?
Would you be interested in exploring one of the systems for rating visceral fat?