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Fat-blasting foods

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Your weight is largely determined by how you balance the calories you eat with the energy you burn. If you eat too much and exercise too little, you're likely to pack on excess pounds, including belly fat. However, aging also plays a role.

Muscle mass gradually diminishes with age and fat accounts for a greater percentage of your weight. Less muscle mass also decreases the rate at which your body uses calories which can make it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight or lose excess pounds.

An expanding waistline is sometimes considered the price of getting older. For women, this might be especially true after menopause, when body fat tends to shift from the arms, legs and hips to the abdomen. Yet an increase in belly fat can do more than make it hard to zip up your jeans. It can literally cause some serious health problems.

Belly fat produces hormones and other substances that can raise blood pressure, negatively alter good and bad cholesterol levels and impair the body's ability to use insulin (insulin resistance). An excessive amount of any fat, including visceral fat, also boosts estrogen levels. All of this can increase the risk of serious health problems, including:

• Cardiovascular disease
• Stroke
• Type 2 diabetes
• Breast cancer
• Colorectal cancer

Fat doesn't just sit idle. There are some good qualities of fat. Fat provides a necessary cushion around vital organs. However, excess fat secretes a nasty substance that can be absorbed by those very same organs. Visceral fat cells release inflammatory compounds that can lead to insulin resistance and some cancers. Excess visceral fat is linked to greater risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancers of the breast, colon, and endometrium.

Most experts agree that, no matter what your weight, a waist circumference over 35 inches for a woman and over 40 for a man indicates that you may have unsafe levels of visceral fat. Here is a safe way to measure your waistline:

• Stand up. Exhale before you measure -- do not suck in your breath.
• Wrap the tape measure around your middle. It should go across your navel.
• Make sure the bottom of the tape measure is just above your hip bones. It does not go higher up, even if you're narrower there.

So what can we do about that belly fat? Exercise is a good starting point. A Duke University study found that people who exercised the equivalent of walking or jogging 12 miles per week put on no visceral fat and those who exercised the equivalent of jogging 20 miles per week lost both visceral and subcutaneous fat.

Next, eat blueberries. A new study shows rats who ate a diet rich in blueberries lost abdominal fat - the kind of fat linked to heart disease and diabetes -- as well as experienced other health benefits like lowered cholesterol and improved glucose control, even if their diet wasn't otherwise heart-healthy. Also eating tart cherries, strawberries, raspberries, and grapefruits was found to burn off that unwanted abdominal fat.

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