The visceral fat builds up inside and around the organs (left) is very dangerous
Conventional dietary wisdom says that maintaining a healthy weight is as simple as eating the correct number of calories. But emerging evidence strongly suggests that eating ultra processed processed foods can cause dangerous “visceral fat” to accumulate around our internal organs… and this process can accelerate as obesity increases.
For over 2 million years of human history, everything we ate was 100% fresh and natural… like fish, grapes, or wild yams. About 13,000 years ago, humans figured a how to grow, dry and grind grains for long-term storage. The first processed grains and breads provided a dense source of carbohydrates that were quickly digested, raising insulin and blood sugar levels higher than ever. But these early processed foods tasted great, so agriculture and processed food became an enduring way of life around the globe.
Early processed foods like bread and noodles went stale or took a little while to prepare. Then came the industrial revolution made food instant and packaged. Around 100 years ago, factory-made trans fats and ultra-processed foods like Oreo cookies, Crisco and Marshmallow Fluff began to rapidly enter our food supply. The first mass-produced automobile was released in 1913, and in the blink of an eye, human health was forever changed. By the 1920’s Americans were no longer walking to the store to buy cabbage and beans… but, rather, driving to the store to buy Wonder Bread, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Popsicles and Velvet Cheese. To a fit and energetic Native American warrior, these kinds of “food” would be unrecognizable and suspicious. Ultra-processed foods are extremely addictive and many have detrimental effects on our liver and other organs.
Natural Food is Satiating and Healthy
Real, whole foods are healthy and satiating. Better yet, natural foods never stresses our liver. A diet filled with ultra-processed foods drives up the ALT (Alanine Amino Transferase) and AST (Aspartate Amino Transferase), two liver enzymes that are produced when the liver gets stressed. When a person is relatively thin and visceral fat storage is low, ALT/AST levels rise and subside quickly after eating “junk.” But a long-term diet of ultra-processed foods causes the ALT/AST levels to rise high on a chronic, long-term basis. This is a sign of liver stress. People who don’t take medication, alcohol or recreational drugs should have normal AST/ALT levels. If their levels are high, it’s typically due to eating ultra-processed foods.
All Calories are NOT Created Equal!
It’s not just about the quantity of calories we eat, but the form those calories come in. Ghee, or clarified butter, is a staple processed food in India that is 99.5% saturated animal fat. Since ancient times, many Indians have been vegetarians who shunned animal protein but loved animal fat. 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of fat is about 900 calories. The same 900 calories is is equivalent to 700 grams (1.5 pounds) of cabbage. 900 calories of saturated fat is really bad for you, but 900 calories of vegetables is very healthy.
Triglycerides Rise Fast, Fall Slowly
Triglycerides, or three saturated fats linked up in a fork like glycerol structure, can contribute massively to obesity.1 I have a low-density lipid (LDL) level of only 46 and a high-density lipid (HDL) level of 92. I ate three fat chicken legs (about 24% fat) for dinner, three days in a row and my LDL rose to 90. In just 3 days, I even noticed a rise my in AST/ALT levels. I switched back to eating organic tofu and my LDL went back to 46 in just two weeks. My fat levels rose very quickly and fell slowly.
Our Liver Can Be Its Own Worst Enemy
Visceral fat, or “deep fat” is stored in the abdomen, around your vital organs. It is much more consequential than the fat stored under your skin. Accumulating too much visceral fat is dangerous and it can contribute to heart disease, dementia, cancer, depression and many other diseases.
Many people think you have to eat a lot of saturated fat to gain visceral fat. This is not true because the more obese an individual is, the more fat their liver produces. Triglycerides and saturated fats “trigger” the liver to produce visceral fat in higher quantities than consumed. For example, consuming 100 grams of saturated fat may cause the liver to produce 200 to 300 grams of liver fat, depending on the stage of obesity.
Minor processed food ingredients, even at trace levels, can contribute to obesity. I am often attacked by processed food industry lobbyists for making this point, who demand I produce “detailed” clinical studies. My stance is based on personal experience: I see ALT/AST levels of a person raise due to eating processed food, causing liver stress. Then, when they stop eating processed food their ALT/AST levels invariably drop. I see this as “cause and effect.” When I see this over and over again, I am convinced of the link.
BPA: Plastic Can Have Drastic Effects
Bisphenol A (BPA) is the lining of some plastic containers that store processed foods. For decades, proponents have lobbied that BPA metabolites pass harmlessly through the body. This is a huge lie. One of the most toxic chemicals that BPA breaks down into is called BPA glucuronide.2 Even in tiny trace amounts, BPA glucuronide massively stimulates visceral fat production in the liver and it can be a major contributor to obesity. The liner of a plastic jar can leech BPA glucuronide into the food in parts per million and cause the liver to greatly overproduce fat. In my mind, this is strong evidence against the “calories in, calories out” theory of obesity.
Splenda Actually Makes You Fat
Sucralose (“Splenda”) is an artificial, chemical sweetener that is 650 times sweeter than sugar. It has the normal benefits of an artificial sweetener, such as no calories, so people take it as a license to indulge. Sucralose can be a trigger for the liver to produce fat in amounts far greater than the amount of sucralose consumed.3 In addition to BPA and Splenda, there are at least 14 other common food additives that can cause increased production of visceral fat!
Farmed Meats and Fish Can Also Contribute to Obesity
Much has been written about the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids in fish. A couple of years ago I baked both wild salmon and farmed salmon. The wild salmon had a richer color and no fat at the bottom of the pain. The farmed salmon had layer of fat at the bottom of the pan. I checked what the farmed salmon were fed: poultry meal, fish meal, poultry fat, fish oil, whole wheat, soybean meal, corn gluten meal, feather meal and rapeseed oil. That doesn’t really sound like anything fish should be eating! Farmed salmon has more saturated fat and it will contribute to obesity, just by its high saturated fat content.
Farmed chickens are no better. My grandmother’s farm had scrawny chickens that ate bugs and grass that were no more than 8% fat. This type of chicken is similar to the ones the USDA measured in the 1950’s and documented as the nutritional content of the average chicken. The fattened broiler hens of today are fed to be slaughtered as soon as possible and have approximately 22 - 26% fat, most of it saturated fat.
The bottom line: To avoid dangerous visceral fat you should avoid packaged, refined & processed products or farmed fish and grain fed meats. Choose real, whole foods containing modest amounts of saturated fat. Real food makes satiates you, is not addicting and doesn’t make you fat!
1.Nutrition. 2008 Nov-Dec;24(11-12):1097-102.
2. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2012 May 6;354(1-2):74-84.
3. Journ Tox & Environ Health, Part B, 2013.16:399–451.
References (Web Links)