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What is this ‘bad’ fat I hear talked about?

2 minute read

  • There are three different types of fat
  • They are categorised by where they are stored
  • One particular type of fat is especially dangerous
  • There are measures we can take to reduce our risk

Like many I’ve heard that there is a particular fat in us that’s really bad. I knew it’s name but not much more than that. I thought I’d begin by taking a whistle-stop tour of fat generally to understand what it does and what different types there are.

I particularly wanted to find out more about this so called ‘bad’ fat and what is it that makes it worse than the ‘other’ fats out there, how do we know if we’ve got too much of it and what we can do to reduce it?

Here we go…

There are three types of fat:-

White fat – The type of fat that most people immediately think of. It’s made up of large, white cells that are stored under the skin or around the organs in the belly, arms, buttocks, and thighs. These fat cells are the body’s way of storing energy for later use. This type of fat also plays a large role in the function of hormones.

Brown fat – The type of fat primarily found in babies, although adults do still retain a very small amount of brown fat, typically in the neck and shoulders. This type of fat burns fatty to keep you warm. Researchers are interested in finding ways to stimulate the activity of brown fat to help prevent obesity.

Beige (brite) – This fat is a relatively new area of research. These fat cells function somewhere between brown and white fat cells. Similarly to brown fat, beige cells can help burn fat rather than store it. It’s believed that certain hormones and enzymes released when you’re stressed, cold, or when you exercise can help convert white fat into beige fat.

Where is it stored?

Essential fat – This fat is absolutely essential for your life and a healthy body. This fat is found in your brain, bone marrow, nerves and membranes that protect your organs

Subcutaneous fat – The fat we can pinch and lies under the skin.

Visceral fat – The fat that’s stored deep inside your belly, wrapped around your organs, including the liver and intestines. It makes up about one tenth of all the fat stored in your body. This is the fat that I’d heard of as being the ‘bad’ fat.

In a nutshell then there are three sorts of fat cell, white, brown, and beige and they can be stored as essential, subcutaneous, or visceral fat.

How do you know how much of this Visceral fat you have?

The only true method of measuring visceral fat would be internal scanning such as MRI, as we don’t have one of those at home there is another method.

This method was taken from the Harvard website so it must be good.

A tape measure is your best home option for keeping tabs on visceral fat. Measure your waistline at the level of the navel — not at the narrowest part of the torso — and always measure in the same place. (According to official guidelines, the bottom of the tape measure should be level with the top of the right hip bone, or ilium — see the illustration — at the point where the ilium intersects a line dropped vertically from the centre of the armpit.) Don’t suck in your gut or pull the tape tight enough to compress the area.

For men below 94cm (37in) is ‘low risk’, 94–102cm (37-40in) is ‘high risk’ and more than 102cm (40in) is ‘very high’. For women, below 80cm (31.5in) is low risk, 80–88cm (31.5-34.6in) is high risk and more than 88cm (34.6in) is very high.

However rather than purely focus on a single reading or absolute cut-off, keep an eye on whether your waist is growing (are your pants getting snug at the waist?). That should give you a good idea of whether you’re gaining unhealthy visceral fat.

What makes Visceral fat so dangerous?

Fat doesn’t just sit there. It produces chemicals and hormones that can be toxic to the body. Hidden body fat produces more of these substances than fat under the skin so it’s more dangerous. Even in thin people, having a greater proportion of visceral fat carries a range of health risks.

Subcutaneous fat produces a higher proportion of beneficial molecules, and visceral fat a higher proportion of molecules with potentially deleterious health effects. Visceral fat makes more of the proteins called cytokines, which can trigger low-level inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease and other chronic conditions. It also produces a precursor to angiotensin, a protein that causes blood vessels to constrict and blood pressure to rise.

Visceral fat is implicated in a number of chronic conditions, including these:

Cardiovascular disease



Breast cancer

Colorectal cancer

What can we do to reduce our risk of gaining visceral fat?

Keep moving. Exercise can help reduce your waist circumference. Even if you don’t lose weight, you lose visceral fat and gain muscle mass.

Studies have shown that you can help trim visceral fat or prevent its growth with both aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) and strength training (exercising with weights). Spot exercises, such as sit-ups, can tighten abdominal muscles but won’t get at visceral fat.

Eat right. Choose a balanced diet that helps you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Include plenty of calcium and get plenty of sun: according to studies consuming calcium rich food sources and vitamin D can reduce visceral fat. Avoid products that seem to encourage belly fat deposition, including trans fats (hydrogenated vegetable oils) and fructose-sweetened foods and beverages.

Don’t smoke. The more you smoke, the more likely you are to store fat in your abdomen rather than on your hips and thighs.

Get your sleep. Too little is bad. A five-year study found that adults under age 40 who slept five hours or less a night accumulated significantly more visceral fat. But too much isn’t good, either — young adults who slept more than eight hours also added visceral fat. (This relationship wasn’t found in people over age 40.)

Mind your mood. There is a link between mental health and visceral fat. A study showed that people expressing hostility and had more depressive symptoms also had more visceral fat — but not more subcutaneous fat. Also higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol were associated with a build-up of visceral fat even in lean men and women too.

Well that’s my dip into the world of fat and as usual it’s the same outcome, look after your body and mind and it will look after you.

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Apexgray are a progressive sportswear brand headquartered in Derby, UK. Using environmentally sensitive materials including Lyocell, recycled plastics and bamboo, our pieces are made in carefully selected sewing studios that comply with international workplace standards.


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Apexgray are a progressive sportswear brand headquartered in Derby, UK. Using environmentally sensitive materials including Lyocell, recycled plastics and bamboo, our pieces are made in carefully selected sewing studios that comply with international workplace standards.