But brewing up a pot belly in later life can raise the risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, according to a study published in the Annals of Neurology.
The research suggests those with the highest amount of fat around the waist in their 50s have smaller brains than those with the smallest amount, which correlates with a greater risk of developing dementia.
Fat around the waist is already known to pose more of a health risk than around other parts of the body, not least because it surrounds organs and can lead to increases in blood pressure.
But it can be fairly easily minimised, according to Dr John Briffa, author of Waist Disposal, who says carbohydrate intake plays a significant role in waist management.
He points out that foods that release large amounts of sugar into the bloodstream can lead to increased levels of insulin, which can then lead to the accumulation of fat (as well as causing tiredness and cravings while increasing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes). So choosing foods that help stabilise blood sugar levels is crucial to losing weight.
And that means going for foods low on the glycaemic index (GI) – the measure of their effect on blood sugar.
Starchy carbs, including bread, potatoes, even cornflakes, are often high and therefore help destabilise blood sugar.
Dr Briffa recommends a low-carb diet as being the most effective method of weight loss – eliminating or at least cutting down on starchy foods as well as those rich in sugar, even naturally (honey, bananas, grapes).
He says that the body has the capacity to convert protein and fat into glucose for energy. Protein helps satisfy the appetite more effectively than carbs anyway – and helps build muscle.
Including healthy fats in your diet is also important, as it slows the rate at which the stomach empties and can prolong fullness.
Just don’t get them from trans fats in processed food or excessive amounts of refined vegetable oils – omega-3 fats are healthier as they also benefit the brain and cardiovascular system.