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Soluble Fiber Appears Key to Trimming 'Bad Fat'

FRIDAY, July 1 (HealthDay News) -- Increasing daily soluble fiber intake may help you lose dangerous visceral fat, which produces hormones and other substances linked to a host of chronic diseases, according to a new study.

Unlike the subcutaneous fat found just under the skin, visceral fat is located deep in the belly and wraps around a person's vital organs. Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found the way to hone in on this deep belly fat is to get moderate amounts of regular exercise and to eat more soluble fiber from vegetables, fruits and beans.

"We know that a higher rate of visceral fat is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes and fatty liver disease," said the study's lead researcher, Dr. Kristen Hairston, assistant professor of internal medicine at Wake Forest Baptist in a news release from the medical center. "Our study found that making a few simple changes can have a big health impact."

Researchers analyzed 1,114 black and Hispanic Americans since those populations are at higher risk for high levels of visceral fat as well as developing high blood pressure and diabetes. The study, published in the June 16 online issue of the journal Obesity, examined whether certain lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise habits, were associated with a change in the participants' belly fat over a period of five years.

Using CT scans to measure subcutaneous and visceral fat, researchers found that increased intake of soluble fiber was associated with a reduction in belly fat, but not subcutaneous fat.

In fact, for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber eaten per day, visceral fat was reduced by 3.7 percent over five years. In addition, regular moderate exercise (30 minutes of vigorous exercise two to four times per week) resulted in a 7.4 percent reduction over the same time period.

So what exactly does a person need to eat to get 10-grams of soluble fiber each day? The researchers noted this could be achieved by eating two small apples, one cup of green peas and one-half cup of pinto beans daily.

The study pointed out, however, that more research is needed to explain the link between soluble fiber intake and reductions in visceral fat. "There is mounting evidence that eating more soluble fiber and increasing exercise reduces visceral or belly fat, although we still don't know how it works," said Hairston.

"Although the fiber-obesity relationship has been extensively studied, the relationship between fiber and specific fat deposits has not," Hairston added. "Our study is valuable because it provides specific information on how dietary fiber, especially soluble fiber, may affect weight accumulation through abdominal fat deposits."

More information

The National Institutes of Health provides more information on soluble fiber.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, news release, June 27, 2011.

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