In weight management, our goal is to improve overall health. In a perfect world, it would be preferable if we could melt away the fat around and inside the internal organs (called ‘visceral fat’) rather than the fat under the skin, as it is this visceral fat that contributes most to health complications of obesity such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome.
A recent study suggests that what we eat actually can help us to target this visceral fat.
The CENTRAL study, published in the journal Circulation, randomized 278 sedentary adults with either abdominal obesity or high cholesterol to follow either the Mediterranean diet versus a low fat diet for 18 months. Six months into the trial, participants were also randomized to follow an exercise program or not. They used MRI scans to evaluate fat under the skin, fat around the organs, fat in the liver, pancreas, and even around the heart.
At the end of the 18 month study, weight loss was the same between all four groups (Mediterranean vs low fat diets, with or without exercise) at -3.2%. However, where fat was lost from, and how this influenced health, was different between groups:
- People on the Mediterranean diet lost more fat from the liver, pancreas, and around the heart.
- Exercise with either diet had a greater effect on reducing visceral fat.
- Losing visceral fat and/or liver fat improved cholesterol.
- Losing fat deep under the skin improved insulin sensitivity.
- Losing fat just under the skin had no effect on health and reduced levels of leptin (a hormone that tells our brains that we feel full).
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