Aside from personal appearance, why is belly fat a cause for concern?
New research suggests that your body fat distribution can predict your risk of heart disease and other issues, and having a “spare tire” is worse than other types of fat[*].
In fact, if you carry fat in your midsection, you may be at higher risk of health problems compared to overweight people who store their fat elsewhere — even if your body weight is “normal”[*].
Keep reading to learn why keto is the best way to burn fat, how belly fat leads to health problems, and the most effective ways to lose abdominal fat according to research.
In a nutshell, keto is the best fat-burning diet for the following reasons:
- Lowering your carb intake reduces insulin levels. On high-carb diets, insulin inhibits fat-burning, but lower blood sugar and insulin levels on the keto diet make burning stored fat easy[*][*][*]. In some cases, keto-adapted individuals can burn nearly 10 times more fat than others[*].
- In the absence of carbs, keto forces your body to burn fat for fuel, both during exercise and at rest[*]. On other diet plans, fat-burning occurs mainly during fasting (including overnight fasts) and exercise[*]. But with keto, you can burn fat 24/7.
- Ketones created during a state of ketosis naturally reduce hunger and cravings, creating an effortless calorie deficit[*][*]. The result is sustainable, long-term weight loss without counting calories.
Next, you’ll discover the real-world fat loss effects of going keto.
The Science Behind Keto and Weight Loss
The weight loss effects of keto are not merely theoretical.
There are now dozens of clinical trials with thousands of participants that can attest to its effectiveness.
Here are some of the key findings:
- A 2013 meta-analysis of 13 studies that included 1415 subjects concluded that compared to a low-fat diet, the keto diet resulted in greater long-term weight loss as well as increased improvements in health markers[*].
- A 2012 study comparing low-calorie versus low-carb, high-fat keto diet in patients with type 2 diabetes found the keto diet led to more significant reductions in body weight, waist circumference (belly fat), and blood glucose levels[*].
- A separate 2012 study of 58 obese children ages 8-18 found that following the keto diet led to greater reductions of body weight, fat mass, waist circumference, fasting insulin, and insulin resistance compared to a low-calorie diet[*].
- A 2020 review of 12 studies of very-low-calorie keto diets (VLCKDs) in obese adults found an average weight loss of 10 to 15.6 kg (22-34.3 lb) and an average waistline reduction of 12.6 cm (5 inches)[*]. The keto subjects’ results were stable during follow-up periods of up to 2 years, and 92.5% of them were able to stick with the diet.
For our purposes in this article, the statistics on waist circumference and belly fat are the most important.
In the next section, you’ll find out why belly fat is the worst kind of fat.
Generally speaking, being overweight or obese may increase your risk of serious diseases including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and other conditions[*].
But recent evidence suggests that at the individual level, body fat distribution is actually a much more accurate way to gauge your health risk[*].
In other words, where you carry fat may be at least as important as how much fat you carry.
And if you’re overweight and carry fat in the wrong places? That’s a serious problem for your health.
Here are the terms you need to know to understand this issue:
- Subcutaneous fat: A layer of adipose tissue (fat) just beneath your skin’s surface anywhere on your body. It’s healthy and normal to have some subcutaneous fat. Even if you have excess fat of this type, it’s the least problematic[*].
- Visceral fat: Belly fat that occurs within the abdominal cavity, surrounding your stomach, liver, and intestines is known as visceral fat. It increases inflammation levels in your body and leads to health problems, which is why the nickname for visceral fat is “heart attack fat”[*].
- Ectopic fat: This type of fat occurs in abnormal places, and it’s extremely unhealthy[*]. Examples include excess fat stored within the liver, heart, or muscles (similar to the “marbling” you can sometimes see in steak)[*]. People with more visceral fat also tend to have higher ectopic fat levels elsewhere[*].
Differences in fat distribution may explain why some overweight people are “metabolically healthy,” while other people who aren’t overweight can have cardiovascular disease and other health problems due to having more “heart attack fat”[*][*][*][*].
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to estimate how much visceral fat you have, and how it affects your risk of health problems.
A higher waist circumference correlates with more visceral fat[*].
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women with a waist circumference above 34.5 inches and men with waists over 40 inches are at higher risk of heart disease and other issues[*].
Some estimates show the risk of death by all causes is double for people with waist circumferences larger than the cutoff numbers[*].
For people of “normal weight,” with a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9, the waist cutoff is lower[*].
Normal-weight women are healthiest when their waist is 31.5 inches or less, whereas men should keep their waists under 35 inches[*].
Unfortunately, most studies on this topic thus far have mainly included white subjects[*].
Some experts argue that the waist cutoff numbers should be different for people of other ethnic groups[*].
But regardless of your ethnicity, a smaller waist (and less visceral fat) is undoubtedly better for your health.
#1: Eliminate Sugar and Reverse Insulin Resistance
Along with all of the other problems sugar causes, it also contributes to visceral fat.
If you haven’t already done so, cutting sugar from your diet is the very first step you should take to combat belly fat.
In particular, fructose may be the worst culprit behind ever-increasing abdominal fat levels[*].
The most common sources of fructose are sweetened beverages (such as sodas, which contain high-fructose corn syrup) and table sugar (which is 50% fructose)[*].
#2: Don’t Be Sedentary
Being physically inactive could lead to higher belly fat levels, but regular, mild exercise can have the opposite effect.
A 2018 analysis of over 3000 adults found that time spent sitting or watching television significantly increased the likelihood of visceral fat storage[*].
The same study also found that higher physical activity levels decreased the likelihood of having excess belly fat[*].
Luckily, you don’t need to go from couch potato to athlete overnight to begin fighting belly fat. Evidence suggests walking every day helps reverse unhealthy abdominal fat and improve body composition[*].
#3: Do Cardio
Beyond eliminating sugar and being more active, a cardio regimen may be the biggest step in reducing your belly fat.
According to a 2012 systematic review, aerobic exercise is the most effective type of physical activity for decreasing visceral fat levels[*].
And a 2018 meta-analysis found that aerobic exercise effectively decreases belly fat in overweight adults, even without cutting calories[*].
What about high-intensity interval training (HIIT)?
There’s less evidence in favor of HIIT so far, but at least one study found that HIIT was equally effective compared to steady-state cardio, and was also more time-efficient[*].
And a 2018 meta-analysis concluded that “HIIT is a time-efficient strategy to decrease fat-mass deposits, including those of abdominal and visceral fat mass,” although the best protocols have yet to be established[*].
#4: Lift Weights
According to a 2012 review, training your muscles may help preserve muscle during aging, decrease inflammation levels, and alter body fat distribution in a healthy way[*].
Although aerobic exercise is more time-efficient for losing belly fat, a combination of cardio and weights is the best way to retain muscle mass, shed fat, and support healthy aging[*].
#5: Go Keto (Not Dirty Keto)
Keto is the best fat-burning diet of all time, and that includes belly fat.
But whatever you do, avoid the approach known as dirty keto.
Dirty keto allows users to eat any food that fits keto macros, which happens to include many unhealthy choices.
Instead, your diet should be high in nutrient-dense whole foods, with plenty of naturally-occurring antioxidants[*][*]. Obtaining extra omega-3 fatty acids may also help decrease inflammatory belly fat[*].
As a last resort, you can also cut your calorie intake drastically on the keto diet.
Most people can reach their weight loss goals on keto without counting calories at all.
However, very-low-calorie keto diets (VLCKDs) are backed by credible evidence and can help reduce visceral fat[*].
If you choose to go the low-calorie, ultra-low-carb diet route, make sure you’ve exhausted all your other options first. And don’t use a VLCKD more than a few months at a time, because starvation mode is real.
#6: Eat a High-Protein Diet
Eating plenty of high-quality protein is a proven strategy to boost your metabolism, decrease your appetite, and ignite fat-burning[*].
And it turns out that a diet rich in high-quality protein may also help prevent unhealthy levels of belly fat[*].
Consuming 20% to 35% of your overall calories from protein is considered optimum[*].
If you’re also doing resistance training to help burn belly fat, consider adding keto-friendly whey protein post-workout, too.
A 2014 study found that timing whey protein intake around resistance training increased visceral fat loss compared to protein only or resistance exercise only[*].
#7: Take MCT Oil
For example, a 2008 study found that subjects following a weight loss diet who received 18-24 grams of MCT oil per day lost 3 times more fat over 4 months compared to others who received olive oil[*].
MCTs are a powerful supplement if your goal is to lose belly fat.
A 2015 meta-analysis found that compared to long-chain triglycerides (MCTs), taking MCTs significantly boosted subcutaneous as well as visceral fat loss[*].
Extra body fat in your abdominal area is a health concern you can’t afford to ignore.
It’s also a sign that now is the time to make lifestyle changes.
Some evidence suggests that belly fat is easier to burn than other types of fat–almost like your body wants to lose it[*].
By following the suggestions from this article, you can shed unwanted belly fat, which can reduce your heart disease risk and improve your overall health[*].