What is visceral fat? The 3 major causes and ways to reduce it.


What is visceral fat? The 3 major causes and ways to reduce it.

Think maintaining low body fat is important simply to maintain an attractive outlook?

While subcutaneous fat (the layer of fat that can be seen and pinched) is a hindrance, it’s the fat that you cannot see that is more worrisome. Visceral fat lies within the abdominal cavity and wraps around the internal organs including liver, stomach, intestines and pancreas.

While it’s hard to judge how much visceral fat a person has, a protruding belly and large waist are two signs. For accurate assessment, bioelectrical impedance machines can measure the amount of visceral fat in a person. 

Having too many visceral fat cells poses a serious health problem as they produce inflammatory markers. Over time, long-lasting inflammation leads to higher risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and cancer.

3 Major Causes of Visceral Fat

1.     Diet

A poor diet consisting of processed foods contribute to the buildup of visceral fat. Processed foods such as fast food, ready-to-eat meals, and baked confectionary are usually high in trans-fat, sugar and calories, while being low in essential nutrients, all of which contribute to fat increase. Besides that, a higher consumption of added sugar is linked to increased visceral fat. Fructose, a form of sugar that is mostly found in sweetened beverages, baked confectionary and fast food gets converted into fat by the liver, which ends up increasing visceral fat storage. 

2.     Sedentary Lifestyle

Fat gets stored when we consume more calories than we use. With poor diet control, having too little physical activity amplifies fat accumulation in the body. As the total body fat increases, visceral fat increases as well, as visceral body fat makes up an estimated 10% of total body fat in the body.

3.     Stress

Stress encourages the body to store excess visceral fat. When under stress, the body produces a hormone called cortisol. While cortisol is important in regulating the body’s processes and response to stress, excessive amounts increase visceral fat storage. Furthermore, stress encourages emotional overeating of empty calories, which further worsens visceral fat accumulation.

Fortunately, lifestyle adjustments can be made to lose existing visceral fat.

1.     Balanced, Whole-foods Diet

To keep daily calorie intake under control and to reduce intake of added sugars and trans-fats, focus on a whole foods diet consisting of plenty of vegetables and fruits, ample protein and complex carbohydrates in moderation. At the same time, limit intake of processed foods. Consuming vegetables and fruits will also increase soluble fiber intake, which lowers risk of visceral fat. Increasing soluble fiber intake by 10 grams daily may reduce the risk of visceral fat gain by up to 3.7%. Soluble fiber helps by increasing gut bacteria diversity for a healthy gut, as well as by increasing sense of satiety, which ultimately reduces total calorie intake. Aim for meal proportions of 50% vegetables and fruits, 30% protein, and 20% complex carbohydrates.

2.     Keep moving

Moderate to high intensity form of cardio exercises such as biking, tennis, hiking or running are especially effective in losing visceral fat.

To kick start, aim for 150 minutes of cardio exercises per week.

3.     Get a good night’s sleep

Lack of sleep is linked to higher levels of visceral fat. In fact, increasing sleep duration from less than 6 hours a day to at least 7 hours has been shown to reduce visceral fat gain by around 26%.

Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep daily. For a well-rested sleep, dim the lights and reduce screen time on electronic devices before heading to bed.

4.     Keep stress under control

Focus on managing stress levels by spending time on a hobby, practicing deep breathing and meditation, and seeking support from family and friends.


Zuanne, Nutritionist
Anna Hoo Clinic


1.     How to reduce visceral body fat (hidden fat). (2022). Retrieved 7 January 2022, from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/how-to-reduce-visceral-body-fat-hidden-fat

2.     Hairston, K. G., Vitolins, M. Z., Norris, J. M., Anderson, A. M., Hanley, A. J., & Wagenknecht, L. E. (2012). Lifestyle factors and 5year abdominal fat accumulation in a minority cohort: the IRAS family study. Obesity20(2), 421-427.

3.     Parikh, S., Pollock, N. K., Bhagatwala, J., Guo, D. H., Gutin, B., Zhu, H., & Dong, Y. (2012). Adolescent fiber consumption is associated with visceral fat and inflammatory markers. The journal of clinical endocrinology & metabolism97(8), E1451-E1457.

4.     Magee L, Hale L. Longitudinal associations between sleep duration and subsequent weight gain: a systematic review. Sleep Med Rev 2012;16:231–241.

5.     Chaput, J. P., Bouchard, C., & Tremblay, A. (2014). Change in sleep duration and visceral fat accumulation over 6 years in adults. Obesity, 22(5), E9-E12.

6.     Drapeau, V., Therrien, F., Richard, D., & Tremblay, A. (2003). Is visceral obesity a physiological adaptation to stress?. Panminerva medica45(3), 189-196.