Most people would say they try to eat healthy and exercise often because they are trying to lose weight, but sometimes weight loss doesn’t completely represent the healthy changes that are occurring in the body. In a new study from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, published in the journal Circulation, scientists investigate internal body fat redistribution, the Mediterranean diet, and their relation to diabetes and heart disease.
"Weighing patients or using blood tests to detect changes, hasn't, until now, given us accurate pictures, literally, of how different fat deposits are impacted disproportionately by diet and exercise," explained the study’s primary investigator Iris Shai. "These findings suggest that moderate exercise combined with a Mediterranean/low carb diet may help reduce the amount of some fat deposits even if you don't lose significant weight as part of the effort."
The Mediterranean diet focuses on three main food groups: fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Other important additions are legumes, nuts, and seeds; olives, olive oil, wine, and spices. Occasionally, the diet includes seafood, yogurt cheese, poultry, and eggs. The Mediterranean diet is also considered a low-carbohydrate diet, and it is rich in unsaturated fats.
In their study, called CENTRAL MRI, researchers used MRI imaging technology to visualize changes in various body organ fat storage pools while participants followed either a Mediterranean/low-carb (Med/LC) diet or a low-fat diet, with or without moderate physical exercise. In a randomized, controlled trial that included 278 moderately overweight to obese sedentary men and women and which lasted 18 months, researchers aimed to associate specific lifestyle habits directly with certain body fat deposits.
“The CENTRAL study demonstrates that improving nutritional quality and being physically active can improve cardio-metabolic risk markers through changes in visceral/ectopic fat deposits that are not reflected by changes in body weight alone," Shai explained.
Specific results from the trial showed that the Med/LC diet was “significantly superior” to a low-fat diet for both moderate weight loss and decreasing fat storage pools. But for some fat deposits, only weight loss changed them, not specific lifestyle changes.
“Moderate, but persistent, weight loss may have dramatic beneficial effects on fat deposits related to diabetes and cardiovascular diseases," Shai explained.