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Time and again research proves that having fat on the belly area is worse than being overweight in general. A recent study confirmed that having a lot of belly fat is actually deadlier than just having a high body mass index. Unfortunately that part of the body tends to gain weight faster and hold onto it longer than areas of the body, but there is hope.

This particular study researched 15,000 different adults in the U.S. and took into account their health, BMI, and waist to hip ratio. The waist to hip measurement is the best way to judge how much belly fat is too much on the body, since it can’t be measured by weight alone. This is also referred to as central obesity.

The study concluded that:

“A man with a normal BMI and central obesity had greater total mortality risk than one with similar BMI but no central obesity,” and “twice the mortality risk of participants who were overweight or obese according to BMI only.”

So even if you’re a healthy weight overall but still packing in the midsection, then you are at a higher risk than someone who is simply not at a healthy weight. Part of the theory behind this is that when you gain belly fat you gain more visceral fat which builds up underneath the muscles as opposed to on top of it. The problem with this is that the fat building up under the muscles in the abdomen area builds on top of the organs that you have in there.

Visceral fat has also been found to affect the hunger hormones in the body and actually lead to increases of hunger, which can of course make you eat more and store even more fat. It’s basically the opposite of being in fat burning mode.

So we know that we don’t want fat in the belly area, but we also know that we can’t exactly spot reduce. We can however modify our diet and exercise goals to do everything we can to avoid gaining fat in that area.

One thing that you can do is avoid the sugar. Refined sugar floods the bloodstream with fructose which basically just turns into fat. Some studies have found that an increase in fat from fructose in the body is more likely to be stored in the belly area. Keep it mind that the sugar in fruit does not have an adverse effect on the body in moderation because it is metabolized differently than processed sugar.

One of the best things you can do with your diet to avoid gaining weight and belly fat in particular, is to get enough protein. Some studies have found an inverse relationship with eating protein and belly fat, so the people who eat more protein are less likely to gain weight in that area. Protein helps the body to feel full after eating, build muscle which burns more calories, boost the metabolism and cut down on cravings for carbs and sweets.