Why do we have fat on our bodies? Body fat has a lot of functions and is an important part of the human body. In the short term we use fat to get energy. But we also store fat for long-term energy needs, so we have a ‘little extra’ if we need it. Actually, fat is your body’s largest energy reserve.
Fat can be divided into essential and non-essential fatty acids. Essential fats provide insulation and help regulate body temperature and protect your organs like a cushion. Furthermore, essential body fat is necessary to maintain life and reproductive functions; it helps to protect your nerve cells; and dietary fat acts as a vehicle for the ingestion and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K).
Body fat percentage
The percentage of body fat varies according to gender and age. Women have a higher body fat percentage than men, and they tend to store fat on the breasts, hips and thighs, whereas men generally store fat around the abdomen.
The body fat percentage can tell you something about how much fat you store on your body, but it does not tell you anything about where on your body the fat is stored, or if your weight is too high or too low. You can actually be underweight but still have too much fat on your body, and the opposite can also be the case. Therefore, you should also look at your BMI and your waist circumference.
There are different recommendations from country to country, but generally for women a healthy body fat percentage should be 20–33%, and for men 10–23%. If you want to know more about your own body fat percentage, you can get it measured at most fitness centres, dieticians or doctors.
Most of your body fat is subcutaneous fat found right underneath your skin. Actually, about 90% of your body fat is subcutaneous fat. A certain amount of subcutaneous fat is healthy, but too much can spell trouble.
The most unhealthy fat, however, is the visceral fat, or belly fat, that is stored within the abdominal cavity around your organs such as the liver, pancreas, intestines and your heart. Visceral fat can increase resistance to insulin leading to glucose intolerance and type 2 diabetes, and it has also been linked to breast cancer, colorectal cancer, strokes and dementia.
An easy way to check if you have too much visceral fat is to measure your waist circumference. If the number is greater than 35 inches for women, then it is a sign of increased visceral fat.
So how do you get rid of some of the fat?
Well, if you want to lose body fat, it basically comes down to the rules of caloric balance. You need to create a caloric deficit, which means that your calorie intake should be smaller than the amount of calories you burn.
By creating a 500 calorie deficit every day, you should loose 0.5 kg per week. A 1000 calorie deficit per day should result in a 1 kg weight loss per week.
But it is not only important how much you eat and drink, it is also important what you eat and drink. Some research shows that visceral fat is particularly sensitive to processed foods, so it is a good idea to cut down on these foods. Instead, go for unrefined foods, lean protein from fish and lean meat, unsaturated fatty acids from nuts, avocados, oils, etc., whole grains and dietary fibres from fruits and vegetables. And quench your thirst with water instead of sodas and juice.
It is also important to get enough sleep every night, so try to get the recommended 7–9 hours per night.
Finally, it is a very good idea to exercise regularly. A combination of cardio and strength training will be the most effective at preventing increases in belly fat. Exercise will help increase your overall metabolism and it will also help increase your fat metabolism and lower your body fat percentage.
But remember: You cannot force your body to lose fat from one specific area; it comes down to genes… That said, by lowering your body fat percentage all over, you will also lose visceral fat.
5 tips to boost fat metabolism
1. Do strength training – it will help you maintain or build muscle mass, which will increase your metabolism overall.
2. Do cardio exercise – it will burn a lot of calories and help you lose weight. Opt for low to moderate intensity exercise like walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, etc. and try combining it with some high intensity interval training a couple of times a week.
3. Avoid processed foods, sugars, saturated fats, salt, etc.
4. Eat lots of vegetables and some fruit.
5. Drink plenty of water.
Did you know
- That fat, or adipose tissue, is your body’s largest energy reserve, containing about 100,000 calories? Without additional food, fat can support metabolic functions for 30 to 40 days, although water intake must be maintained. But please don’t use this as your new diet!
- That when you gain weight, the number of fat cells also increases? Once fat cells develop, they may change in size as you lose or gain weight, but their number never decreases again.
- That a lot of the female athletes and models you see on Instagram have very low body fat levels that are on the verge of being unhealthy? A too low body fat percentage can affect fertility and mood, just to mention a couple.
- That it is healthier to be a bit overweight but have a lower body fat percentage, than to be underweight but have a high body fat percentage?