Visceral fat presents a very different threat to subcutaneous fat – the type of fat you can pinch. While storing too much of either can spell health problems further down the line, visceral fat is potentially deadly due to its positioning in the body. It is stored within the abdominal cavity, lying perilously close to internal organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines.
“As a general rule, you can’t target weight loss to specific body regions,” said Kris-Etherton.
She added: “But monounsaturated fatty acids seem to specifically target abdominal fat.”
Canola oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to have beneficial effects on body composition, especially in people with obesity.
When participants consumed conventional canola oil or high-oleic acid canola oil for just four weeks, they lost abdominal fat.
How did Kris-Etherton and her colleagues arrive at this conclusion?
- The researchers tested the effect of five different vegetable oil blends in 101 participants’ diets through a controlled study.
- For four weeks the subjects were randomly assigned to follow each of the treatment oil diets: conventional canola, high-oleic acid canola, high-oleic acid canola with DHA (a type of omega-3 fatty acid), corn/safflower and flax/safflower.
- After each four-week diet period, participants were given a four-week break before starting the next diet period.
- The participants consumed two smoothies during the day, which contained the specified treatment oil.
- The quantity of oil was calculated based on the participant’s energy needs. For example, a participant who was on a 3,000-calorie diet would receive 60 grams of the treatment oil per day, providing 18 percent of his or her total dietary energy.
- Each smoothie would then contain 100 grams of orange sherbet, 100 grams of non-fat milk, 100 grams of frozen unsweetened strawberries and 30 grams of canola oil.A hundred grams is equivalent to roughly three-and-a-half ounces and 30 grams is approximately two tablespoons.
- The canola oil was carefully incorporated into the test diets so as to not exceed the participants’ daily calorie needs.
In order to incorporate canola oil into the diet, Kris-Etherton suggests using it when sautéing foods, in baking, adding it to a smoothie and in salad dressings.
The researchers point out that further studies should be conducted to look at the long-term effects of a diet high in monounsaturated fatty acids, like canola oil.
Other key dietary tips for reducing visceral fat
According to Harvard Health, you should pay attention to portion size, and emphasise complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) and lean protein over simple carbohydrates such as white bread, refined-grain pasta, and sugary drinks.
“Replacing saturated fats and trans fats with polyunsaturated fats can also help,” explains the health body.
Polyunsaturated fat is found in plant and animal foods, such as salmon, vegetable oils, and some nuts and seeds.
Exercise also plays a key role in reducing visceral fat.
“The starting point for bringing weight under control, in general, and combating abdominal fat, in particular, is regular moderate-intensity physical activity — at least 30 minutes per day (and perhaps up to 60 minutes per day) to control weight and lose belly fat,” advises Harvard Health.