Visceral fat – unlike the fat you can see – neighbours vital organs in the body, such as the liver and intestines. An accumulation of visceral fat can obstruct vital processes in the body, such as insulin production. This can give rise to metabolic complications, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
“There is evidence linking sugar-sweetened beverages with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” said Caroline S. Fox, M.D., M.P.H, lead study author and a former investigator with the Framingham Heart Study of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
“Our message to consumers is to follow the current dietary guidelines and to be mindful of how much sugar-sweetened beverages they drink. To policy makers, this study adds another piece of evidence to the growing body of research suggesting sugar-sweetened beverages may be harmful to our health.”
To gather their findings, a total of 1,003 study participants, average age 45 and nearly half women, answered food questionnaires and underwent CT scans at the start and the end of the study to measure body fat changes.
They were ranked into four categories: non-drinkers; occasional drinkers (sugar-sweetened beverages once a month or less than once a week); frequent drinkers (once a week or less than once a day); and those who drank at least one sugar sweetened beverage daily.
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Over a six-year follow-up period, independent of the participants’ age, gender, physical activity, body mass index and other factors, they found visceral fat volume increased by:
- 658 centimetres cubed for non-drinkers;
- 649 centimetres cubed for occasional drinkers;
- 707 centimetres cubed for frequent drinkers; and
- 852 centimetres cubed for those who drank one beverage daily.
The exact cause is unknown, but Jiantao Ma, M.D., Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow at the NIH and co-leader of the study, proposed a possible explanation.
Ma said that it’s possible that added sugars may contribute to insulin resistance, a hormonal imbalance that increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Added sugars – where they are found
“A large chunk of the added sugar in our daily diet (up to 27 percent) comes from table sugar, jams, chocolate and sweets, with chocolate regularly voted Britain’s favourite sweet treat,” explains the NHS.
However, as the health body explains, just over a fifth (21 percent) of the added sugar in adult diets comes from soft drinks, fruit juice and other non-alcoholic drinks.
“A 500ml bottle of cola contains the equivalent of 17 cubes of sugar,” warns the health body.
“Perhaps more surprising, 100 percent pure unsweetened fruit juice is high in the type of sugars we need to cut down on.”
As it explains, this is because the juicing process releases the sugars contained in the fruit, meaning they can damage our teeth.
Sweet offenders include:
- Cola (10.9g/100ml)
- Squash cordials (24.6g/100ml)
- Sweetened fruit juice (9.8g/100ml).
Other key tips to reduce visceral fat
According to Bupa, protein can be a helpful way to lose weight because it makes you feel fuller than carbs and fat do.
“So if you include a lean source of protein, such as skinless white chicken, in your meals you may find that you’re not as hungry, and so eat less,” advises the health body.
Good sources include chicken breast, tuna, mackerel, salmon, eggs, milk, red lentils, chickpeas, brown bread, nuts and soya.