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HEALTH CONCERN? BioHealth Health Concerns

Another Consequence of Stress: Fat Belly

Contributing Author: Fajcsak, Zsuzanna C.N.S.

Zsuzsanna Fajcsak is a dynamic, adaptable, research focused, and multilingual competitive athlete, schooled in Clinical Nutrition and Exercise Physiology, and committed to improving peoples' lives through nutrition and lifestyle changes. Zsuzsanna, a Certified Nutritional Specialist, attended school in Europe and the USA. She earned a Master's degree in Teaching Physical Education, Exercise Physiology and Clinical Nutrition. Her textbook, Aerobics: Theory and Practice, was published in Hungary in 1995, and has been used by the Hungarian Aerobics Federation in its certification courses. 


Increased fat in the trunk area may be the result of an inability to cope with stress. Chronic stress triggers high cortisol levels, causing hormonal imbalance, adrenal exhaustion, and fat accumulation in the trunk area. (We have two types of fat in our trunk area. The first is the fat layer under skin. The second type of fat is inside the abdominal cavity under the muscles and surrounding the organs.)

Mental/emotional stress and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) from a poor diet raise cortisol levels. Chronically high cortisol levels promote fat deposit in the abdominal cavity and thus form the fat "belly." Accumulated abdominal fat is the major cause of unhealthy levels of blood cholesterol, sugar, and insulin, leading to heart disease and other degenerative problems.

We can always blame genetics on our tendency to grow a belly; however, you can do something about it. Although genetics is a given, you can certainly do something about your diet and lifestyle. With this article, we start a new series of discussions on the prevention and treatment of abdominal fatness. We will begin with the dietary part and continue with lifestyle.

The prevention or treatment of unhealthy cholesterol levels, a growing belly, and heart disease begins with your diet. Diet is a very powerful factor in maintaining your blood sugar (glucose) and insulin levels. By measuring blood sugar (glycemic) responses after meals, scientists have found a great difference between foods. Some foods, such as bread, potato rice, and refined grain products, raised blood sugar and insulin to very high levels. Whole grain products, fruits, vegetables, and legumes kept blood sugar and insulin responses low. In 1981, Dr. Jenkins was the first to discover the so-called glycemic index, which ranks foods from zero to 100, depending on how much they raise blood sugar level after consumption. Today, thousands of foods are measured for their glycemic index, or GI.

Diet studies found that a high GI diet (a diet high in potatoes, rice, and refined grain product) results in unhealthy cholesterol levels and fat accumulation, mostly in the abdominal cavity. Glycemically favorable diets, through balanced meals and snacks, promote consistent blood sugar levels and normalize blood cholesterol levels in diabetic individuals as well. Low GI index diets normalize blood cholesterol levels even without considerable weight loss. Summarizing the research on GI, Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller found that a low GI diet is a practical and easily manageable approach. Exchanging 50% of the carbohydrates in your diet with low GI foods dramatically reduces GI and promotes fat loss from the abdominal cavity.

Low GI < 55

Intermediate GI 55–70

High GI > 70

Above ground vegetables

Basmati and long rice 56–58

Inst. boiled rice 87

Legumes 10–50

Whole wheat bread 69

Potato bread 101

Pasta, parboiled 45–55

Pita bread 57

French fries 75

Converted rice 44

Banana, unripe 55

Saltine crackers 74

Pumpernickel bread 51

Cantaloupe 65

Pretzels 83

Sour dough bread 52

Pineapple 66

Rice Krispies 82

Cooked oat meal 51

Coca-Cola 63

Watermelon 72

Toasted muesli 43

Vanilla ice cream, 10% fat 61

Corn flakes 84

Apple 44

Couscous 65

Pumpkin mashed 75

Yam 51

Hamburger bun 65

Gatorade 78

Barley 25

Oat bran muffin 60

Power aid 73

Cherry 22

Raisins 65

Total cereal 76

Grapefruit 23

Popcorn 55

Vanilla wafers 77

Chocolate bar 53

Taco shell 68

Tapioca pudding 81

Marmalade 48

Shredded wheat 62

Kaiser roll 73

Whole milk 27

Fruit syrup, diluted 66

Jelly beans 80

Chana dal 8

Mars Almond bar 65

French baguette 95

Potato chip 54

White bread 70

Bagel 72

Yogurt/fruit 33



It may be difficult to acknowledge that the solution of our problem lies right in front of us: our diet. You can gain great control over your life and how you feel by learning to built balance meals, which is the focus of the next article.

Recommended reading: Dr. Jennie Brand-Miller: Glycemic revolution, 1999