Body fat: the good, the bad, and the ugly

By Ann Griswold • Published: June 15th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Swimsuit season is right around the corner… are you ready? If visions of flabby arms, thunder thighs and a large caboose are dancing in your mirror, relax. You may be healthier than you think.

Subcutaneous fat… the soft, flabby, and easy-to-grab kind… can arguably make or break swimsuit season, but it has virtually no impact on your overall health. This “good” fat accumulates on the surface of the abdomen, as well as on the hips, thighs and buttocks, giving rise to a pear-shaped body. In theory, you can’t have too much. Experts cite sumo wrestlers as extreme examples… they consume more than five-thousand calories a day and yet they remain heart-healthy, despite having tremendous amounts of subcutaneous fat.

Why? The negative effects of obesity… cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, type two diabetes, and even sleep apnea… stem almost exclusively from the accumulation of visceral fat deep inside the abdomen. This “bad” fat creates a thick layer of insulation around vital organs. Because it stays in the center of the body, people with excess visceral fat are shaped like apples, with large, firm stomachs. In contrast, sumo wrestlers have loads of flab but very little visceral fat, explaining their lack of hypertension and diabetes.

Fortunately, visceral fat is easily shed with regular exercise and a diet free of trans fats. Liposuction may seem like an easier alternative, but beware… it only removes the good fat, leaving you to deal with the bad and the ugly.