You probably don’t think about body fat very much — other than how to get rid of it — so you might be surprised to learn that there are different types of body fat, which function in various ways throughout the body. While we tend to think of fat as an inert blob, it actually functions more like an organ — fat produces certain hormones and other substances that can affect our health. Too much fat, particularly in the abdominal region, can disrupt the balance and function of these hormones and lead to numerous health issues. Here’s a look at the different types of body fat, their role in your health, and which ones you should be concerned about.

White fat

White fat is the most abundant type of fat in the body. White fat stores energy for your body to use later, and is responsible for producing certain hormones — including one called adiponectin, which helps regulate your sensitivity to insulin. If you have too much white fat, though, your production of adiponectin slows down, putting you at risk of health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. (Some people are also genetically predisposed to have lower levels of adiponectin.)

Brown fat

Brown fat is actually beneficial, but far less abundant than white fat. Brown fat helps us burn calories and generate body heat. It’s more plentiful in children and tends to decrease with age, but you can create more by exercising and getting quality sleep. There’s also a type of fat called beige fat, which is in between white and brown fat, and which you can generate through eating certain fruits or even drinking red wine.

Aside from brown, white, and beige, fat can also be classified according to where it’s located in the body:

Subcutaneous fat

Subcutaneous fat is located directly under the skin — this is the fat that you can pinch with your fingers. Subcutaneous fat typically isn’t something to worry about, but too much of it in the belly region can be a cause for concern.

Visceral fat

Visceral fat, also known as “deep” fat, is the type of fat that surrounds the internal organs. Men tend to accumulate visceral fat throughout their lives, while it usually isn’t a problem for women until middle age. This is the type of fat to be most concerned about. Visceral fat can increase your risk of health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease, cancer, and even dementia. In women, visceral fat is also associated with breast cancer. Scientists have discovered that visceral fat creates compounds called cytokines, which can cause inflammation and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The good news is that visceral fat is fairly easy to get rid of through diet and exercise. Subcutaneous fat, even in the belly region, can be more difficult to target, but isn’t as much of a health threat in normal-weight people. Reducing visceral fat can lead to positive health changes, such as lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.

Belly fat

Belly fat can consist of both visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Figuring out how much you have of each kind isn’t really important — what’s important is realizing that having a large belly is associated with numerous health risks.

In a study that examined the medical records of 6,500 people over more than 30 years, researchers found that those with the most belly fat had a higher risk of dementia. This was true even in people who had an overall normal weight but excess belly fat.

How to get rid of visceral fat and belly fat

The first step to reducing dangerous visceral fat and belly fat is exercising regularly to get your weight under control. Try to get at least thirty minutes of moderate activity every day. Exercise doesn’t have to be intense — do anything that gets you moving, such as walking or gardening. Strength training can help reduce abdominal fat, as well — muscle tissue burns more calories than fat, so the more muscle you build, the more calories you can burn. Spot exercises such as sit-ups can help strengthen abdominal muscles, but won’t reduce abdominal fat.

Eating a healthy diet is also important. Excess sugar in the bloodstream — whether from sweets or simple carbohydrates like bread and pasta — is converted into fat so that it can be stored in the body. Focus your diet on complex carbohydrates — such as non-starchy vegetables and greens — along with healthy fats and quality sources of protein.

Fasting mimicking diets have also been proven to help reduce abdominal fat. Individuals who participated in the ProLon 5-day fasting mimicking diet lost an average of five pounds, which mostly came from abdominal fat, and also lost more than one inch in waist circumference. The ProLon diet consists of plant-based foods designed to nourish the body while positively impacting risk factors associated with aging. Learn more about ProLon and find out if it’s right for you.