All weight-loss eating plans don’t offer the same benefits in reducing harmful fat deposits in the abdomen called visceral fat. A study referred to as Central MRI compared the effects on the distribution of body fat of the Mediterranean/Low Carb (Med/LC) diet and a low-fat diet with and without exercise. It found the former diet in combination with moderate workouts proved superior.

Moderate, but persistent, weight loss may have dramatic beneficial effects on fat deposits related to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.- Felipe Cruz, Olave

“Weighing patients or using blood tests to detect changes, hasn’t, until now, given us accurate pictures, literally, of how different fat deposits are impacted disproportionately by diet and exercise,” said lead author Iris Shai.

“These findings suggest that moderate exercise combined with a Mediterranean/low carb diet may help reduce the amount of some fat deposits even if you don’t lose significant weight as part of the effort.”

In the 18-month clinical trial, Shai and her team assessed how lifestyle strategies affected fat deposits in a group of sedentary adults who were moderately overweight to obese. Each participant was randomly assigned either a Med/LC diet augmented with 28 grams of walnuts per day or an iso-caloric low-fat diet. The individuals were also randomly asked to engage or not to engage in a moderate exercise program. Data was collected from an extensive quantity of whole-body MRI scans.

The results showed that even with only moderate weight loss, the Med/LC diet proved significantly more effective than a low-fat diet in reducing fat storage in especially unhealthful areas. Combining the exercise program with the diet decreased fat deposits 29 percent around the liver, 22 percent in the abdomen, and 11 percent around the heart.

Conversely, fat storage in the kidney, neck and muscles of the thigh were changed only by weight loss. The type of diet consumed wasn’t a determining factor.

Reductions in fat storage were associated with positive health effects. Decreases in liver and abdominal fat were independently linked to an improved lipid profile, while decreases in abdominal fat improved sensitivity to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar.

“We learned in this trial that moderate, but persistent, weight loss may have dramatic beneficial effects on fat deposits related to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases,” explained Shai. “A Mediterranean diet, rich in unsaturated fats and low in carbohydrates, was a more effective strategy than an iso-caloric low-fat diet to dramatically reverse morbid fat storage sites.”

In an interview with Olive Oil Times, Carolyn Dean, medical doctor, naturopath and medical advisory board member of the Nutritional Magnesium Association, warned that abdominal fat adversely affects wellness in diverse ways.

“Abdominal fat accumulation poses a danger to health because it drives chronic inflammation in the body, which has proven to be associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, dementia and depression. This type of fat is toxic and can interfere with normal hormonal functions such as appetite, weight, mood and brain function,” she said.

Shai concluded that the health benefits resulting from an exercise program together with an improvement in nutrition quality aren’t reflected by a reduction in body weight alone. The study was published in the journal Circulation.

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