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You Docs: Want to get rid of adominal fat? Here's the skinny

Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 5:00 AM

Want to nab a sneaky health thief? Grab a tape measure, lock the bathroom door, disrobe . . . and take an honest, your-eyes-only gander at your middle (without sucking it in). If your waist is more than 35 inches around for women, 40 for men, it's time to get real about the fat you keep pretending is a "no big deal" muffin top or beer belly.

We're talking abdominal fat. Those breezy summer catalogs clogging your mailbox may offer loads of high-fashion camouflage for a big belly, from XL T-shirts to floaty linen tunics and Miraclesuits. But you're probably aware that "out of sight, out of mind" is a risky way to deal with a spare tire.

We have been warning about ab fat for more than a decade. But the latest data knocked even our tube socks off.

1. Ab fat is lethal. That spare tire is as deadly as a pack-a-day smoking habit or sky-high blood pressure. Ab fat dumps fatty acids and chemicals into your bloodstream that boost dangerous, bodywide inflammation. If you're among the 28.3 million North Americans with heart disease, even a modest tummy pooch doubles your odds for an early death.

2. Ab fat infiltrates your liver and squeezes your heart. Fat that accumulates in our omentum -- the curtain of abdominal fat that stretches from your stomach to your pelvis -- can threaten your organs. One in nine adults now has a fatty liver, an invitation to diabetes, heart disease and serious liver trouble.

3. Ab fat is bad for bones, joints, brains, breasts and prostates. It weakens your skeleton, increases arthritis risk and pain, raises your odds for dementia by 80 percent, increases at least one kind of breast cancer and likely prostate cancer, too. Oh yeah, and it makes migraines more likely.

4. Ab fat is dangerous even if the rest of you is slim. Up to 45 percent of skinny women and 60 percent of thin men have some. It takes a tape measure to find this nasty stuff.

But if it's there, you don't have to morph into Richard Simmons to shrink it. Dropping just 3 percent to 5 percent of your body weight (about five to nine pounds if you weigh 180) could shrink ab fat by 20 percent and liver fat by 40 percent.

All it takes to do that is...

Make a diet U-turn. Rein in super-sized portions and banish two foods that make ab fat expand: refined grains (anything made with white flour, from pastries to regular pasta) and trans fats (aka partially hydrogenated fats). Either or both are found in many, many baked goods and other processed foods.

Switch to whole grains and good fats. Simply eating three servings a day of whole grains (oatmeal, two slices of 100 percent whole-wheat bread) could slash belly fat by 10 percent IF you limit refined grains to one serving (aim for none). Then use olive and canola oils instead of butter; munch a few nuts instead of chips; add sliced avocado to sandwiches instead of mayo or cheese. These delicious monounsaturated fats encourage your body to move fat away from your belly.

Overindulge in blueberries and green tea. These super-low-cal treats are rich in plant compounds that turn up your body's immune defenses and may help burn off more ab fat.

Walk for 30 minutes today. Repeat tomorrow. No need to train for the New York Marathon. Moderate, consistent exercise blasts ab fat. Got kids in your life? Take them with you. More and more children and teens have bulging bellies, and active fun slims their middles.

Always on the go? Pack your own road food. A steady diet of fast food can increase your ab fat by 41 percent in just one month. Invest in a small cooler and load it with fat-fighting goodies.