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If you need another reason to switch to whole grains, maybe the results of a recent study will convince you. Researchers from the USDA Human Nutrition Researcher Center on Aging at Tufts University found that adults who eat three servings of whole grains a day (and less than one serving of refined grains a day) have less visceral adipose tissue, or VAT, which is the fat commonly referred to as belly fat.1 VAT surrounds the internal organs and is closely associated with metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

The study involved 2,834 men and women, ages 32 to 83, who were enrolled in The Framingham Heart Offspring and Third Generation study groups and the results were fairly clear. A higher intake of whole grains was associated with a lower rate of VAT, whereas a higher intake of refined grains was associated with a higher rate of VAT.

There is one caveat, however. The benefit occurred only when whole grains were substituted for refined grains. Individuals who consumed whole grains, but continued to consume four or more servings of refined grains each day, did not have a lower rate of VAT. In other words, it’s not enough to add whole grains to the diet; instead, it’s important to replace refined grains with whole grains to see a benefit.

VAT is the belly fat beneath the skin that you can grab between your thumb and index finger and it can have serious health consequences. VAT is easier to lose than subcutaneous fat because it is more metabolically active and responds more quickly to weight loss measures. If you want to banish belly fat, consider switching to whole grains and making some healthy lifestyle changes such as getting more sleep and more exercise.

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1 McKeown NM, Troy LM, Jacques PF, et al. Whole- and refined-grain intakes are differentially associated with abdominal visceral and subcutaneous adiposity in healthy adults: the Framingham Heart Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010; 92: 1165-1171.