Busting Food Myths with Nicole Senior

Myth: Thin people are healthier.

Nicole Senior

Fact: Thin people can still carry fat around their organs and this is places them at increased risk of chronic disease. There’s now a new name for this thin AND fat state: ‘metabolically obese.’

How many times have you thought or heard, ‘he/she is thin so they can eat anything and don’t have to worry’? It’s almost like the slender folk among us appear untouchable to the afflictions of fatties, but being slight of frame is no longer a guarantee all is well on the inside where it really counts. British Prof Jimmy Bell coined these folk ‘TOFIs’: Thin Outside, Fat Inside.

The advent of sophisticated medical imaging machines means we can now look at where fat is stored in the body and apparently thin people can still carry risky amounts of fat around their internal organs (visceral fat). A US study by the Mayo Clinic found 20–30% of people fell in this thin-but-fat category when they measured 6000 adults over nine years. Even though they don’t look overweight, people with ‘metabolic obesity’ are at greater risk of all the usual disease we associate with fatness including high cholesterol, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. A predisposition of storing visceral fat is the reason why certain ethnic groups have a higher risk of disease at a lower BMI: people from Asia and India are considered overweight at a BMI of 23 rather than 25 for the general population.

So how do you know if you’re metabolically obese? Aside from the use of expensive imaging equipment, the easiest thing to do is to measure your waist. In men, a waist more than 94 centimetres (37 inches) is an increased risk, and more than 102 centimetres (40 inches) is a greatly increased risk. For women it is 80cm (31½ inches) and 94cm (37 inches), respectively. Asian and Indian men – typically with skinny legs and a pot belly - have increased risk at a waist measurement of 90cm (35½ inches). For more ethnic-specific waist targets visit the Department of Health's website.

The good news is that visceral fat is the easiest to move by eating less and moving more. It’s your body’s easy access storage depot of spare fuel. It also depends on the type of food you eat. An analysis of almost 49,000 Europeans participating in the EPIC study found higher energy density and higher glycemic index (GI) diet were associated with visceral fatness. Enjoying low GI foods can help. And on the flipside, if you are larger it doesn’t mean you are – or have to be – unhealthy. Eating the right foods and exercising regularly can balance the health ledger in your favour. Stay tuned next month for more on being ‘fit and fat’...

For more great information and delicious recipes on eating to stay thin on the inside, check out Nicole’s website at eattobeatcholesterol.com.au.