Everywhere you look someone is offering you the secret to losing belly fat fast. The real secret is to start by improving your diet. The great news is that there are certain foods that can help you make this happen without much trouble.
Now, it’s important to face up to the fact that even the best belly-fat fighting foods aren’t going to save you if the rest of your diet is crap and you are frequently overeating.
Fortunately, the foods on this list are nutrient-rich and will reduce hunger to fix both of these problems. They will also help you have less stress and decrease your body’s output of cortisol—a hormone that is consistently associated with belly fat gain in stressed-out people.
A recent study found that the most consistent indicator of low belly fat percentage was eating high-quality protein containing a minimum threshold of 10 grams of essential amino acids (EAAs) at every meal. Beef reaches the 10-gram threshold but bison has even more protein, and it provides more omega-3 fats and less saturated fat than beef.
The better nutritional profile can fight the inflammation caused by adipokines, which are cell-to-cell signaling proteins released by belly fat. For example, a recent study showed that men who frequently ate bison had less inflammation and lower triglycerides than those who ate conventionally raised beef.
Of course, bison may be hard to come by if you don’t live in the Western United States, in which case opt for pasture-raised beef, or check out U.S Wellness Meats (http://grasslandbeef.com) for free-range bison and other sustainably-raised animal protein sources.
Avoid This: Hot Dogs
Avocados have been called “anti-obesity” foods by food scientists due to their ability to improve satisfaction from a meal and keep blood sugar steady. In one study, people who ate avocados at lunch had a more robust release of hormones that fight hunger, which led them to eat fewer calories over the course of the day.
A second huge study of 17,567 people found that those who ate avocados frequently had less belly fat and less risk of metabolic syndrome than people who weren’t avocado eaters
Don’t be afraid of the fat in avocados—they contain healthy monounsaturated fats that will vastly increase the absorption of key metabolic nutrients like magnesium, zinc, and vitamins E and K. Eat them on salads or with other vegetable-rich dishes for a leaner waistline and better health.
Avoid This: Hydrogenated Trans Fats
Salmon is well known for being rich in the healthy omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, which promote hormone balance for less belly fat:
First, they improve insulin sensitivity so that the body is better able to sustain protein synthesis to build muscle and use glucose in the bloodstream for energy.
Second, fish oil has been found to fight inflammation and reduce cortisol in a series of studies. It works like this: When you’re stressed and your cortisol goes up, your body “feels” threatened. It shifts into fat-storing mode so that you’ll have a quick energy source for the future to keep you going when crisis hits. Fat gets deposited in the belly region because this is an easily accessible area for the body to burn.
When buying salmon, go for wild caught and look for sockeye salmon because it is particularly high in omega-3s. If you have to go for the canned version, look for BPA-free cans and know that salmon is always a superior choice to tuna, which tends to be very high in mercury.
Avoid This: Canned Tuna
#4: Probiotic Dairy—Yogurt & Fermented Milk
Fermented dairy foods that contain live probiotic bacteria can fight belly fat by improving metabolic health and lowering both mental and physiological stress for lower cortisol.
Interestingly, when students who were under intense academic stress drank milk fermented with yogurt cultures daily for 3 weeks, they experienced a smaller spike in cortisol and better immune function than a control group that didn’t get the beneficial bacteria.
Better stress management will lead to better metabolic health over time. The result is that people lean up around the mid-section: One study found that when subjects consumed fermented milk containing probiotic bacteria for 12 weeks they lost 4.6 percent belly fat, had leaner waists (by 2.1 cm), and lost about a kilo of total body fat.
Probiotic rich dairy foods include high-quality yogurt, kefir, and fermented milk and cheese.
Avoid This: Sugar-Sweetened Yogurts
#5: Cooked & Cooled Potatoes or Sweet Potatoes
Root vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes are extremely satisfying foods and they are packed with nutrients and fiber that can aid belly fat loss.
One drawback is that they are not exactly low in calories and they are fairly high in carbs. At first glance this can appear problematic, but it just so happens that if you cook, cool, and re-cook tubers and other high-carb foods, you increase the amount of something called resistant starch. Resistant starch doesn’t respond to the normal enzymes in our guts that digest them, which means that the blood sugar response to these foods is much lower.
What it comes down to is that foods high in resistant starch lead you to absorb fewer calories and improve insulin sensitivity at the same time—a win-win situation.
For belly fat loss, there’s no need to abolish carbs—just stick to complex carbs and always increase their concentration of resistant starch by cooking them, letting them cool, and then reheating them. Other easy sources of resistant starch include unmodified potato starch, oats, green bananas, and peas.
Avoid This: Potato Chips
Just like salmon, halibut provides a nice dose of cortisol-lowering and inflammation-fighting omega-3 fats, but it’s higher in protein—the average 4-oz. serving has a whopping 30 grams of protein and all the essential amino acids to maximally stimulate protein synthesis for a better metabolism throughout the day.
Halibut is high in magnesium, which fights stress and helps calm you down. In addition, it’s rich in B vitamins, which are necessary for speedy elimination of waste products from the body for less inflammation. Other beneficial nutrients of halibut include niacin, the antioxidants selenium, potassium, and phosphorus.
Avoid This: Tilapia (or any fish) From China
#7: Rainbow Chard
We know that the body’s glycemic control, which is the ability to metabolize carbohydrates for energy, is essential for leanness.
Swiss and rainbow chard can improve glycemic control because they contain some of the more exotic antioxidants. In fact, chard is used in Turkey to treat diabetes.
Something as simple as having a serving of sautéed rainbow chard in a little bit of coconut oil with every meal can help keep your belly lean. Try kale, collards, dandelion, and other green leafies for variety.
Avoid This: Iceberg Lettuce
#8: Fenugreek Seeds
With the growing popularity of quinoa and chia, seeds are finally hitting the mainstream, which is great because they are packed with fiber and other nutrients that fight belly fat.
Be aware that naturally occurring fiber is not overrated! Low-fiber foods, particularly carbs are very quickly digested which causes a large spike in blood sugar. The body has to do something to bring blood sugar levels down quickly, which it does by storing carbs as belly fat.
Simply adding fenugreek seeds to a high-carb food such as bread or cereal can prevent this. For example, one study showed that bread baked with fenugreek produced better insulin response and glucose tolerance compared to regular bread.
Other seeds to add to your diet include sesame (helps metabolize estrogen and provides the powerhouse antioxidant combination zinc and copper) and pumpkin (reduces stress due to their high magnesium content).
Avoid This: Low-Fiber Carbs
#9: Vinegar—Balsamic & Apple Cider
A recent study found that when Japanese subjects drank a beverage containing 15 mL of vinegar For 12 weeks they lost weight and significantly reduced waist circumference and belly fat. Researchers concluded that simply adding vinegar to carbohydrate-rich foods is an easy way to prevent obesity and metabolic syndrome because it improves insulin health.
Another benefit of vinegar is that it enhances stomach acid levels for better digestion. The result is less acid reflux and better absorption of key nutrients involved in keeping you lean and healthy. Start your meal with a salad drizzled with apple cider vinegar or simply take a swig right before you eat.
Avoid This: Commercial Salad Dressings
Despite their high calorie count and rich concentration of fats, almonds and other nuts are consistently associated with less belly fat and a better body composition and people who eat them frequently.
Almonds are packed with naturally occurring fiber, belly fat-fighting protein, and healthy monounsaturated fat to improve hormones that keep hunger in check. They also contain other key nutritional elements including magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin E, all of which can help quell the inflammation associated with high belly fat and metabolic diseases like diabetes.
Avoid This: Granola Bars
#11: Tart Cherry Juice
The amount of sleep people need is very individualized, but lack of it makes it almost impossible to lose belly fat. Studies show people feel hungrier, make poorer food choices, and eat more (as much as 300 calories a day) when they are tired.
One solution is to improve circadian rhythms by raising levels of the hormone melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland after dark. It also has anti-inflammatory effects, and it triggers a cascade of hormones involved in fat burning and metabolic rate.
It’s easily altered by excessive light, such as when you are using a computer, kindle, or other techie device.
Enter tart cherries—these nutrient-packed fruits can actually raise melatonin for better sleep. For example, a study from the UK found that giving tart cherry juice to 20 healthy young volunteers for seven days significantly improved sleep quality and duration in healthy young men and women.
Tart cherries are hard to find out of season, but you can get a concentrated tart cherry juice without added sugar year round—add about a tablespoon to sparkling water or throw it into your post-workout protein shake.
Avoid This: Sugar Sweetened Fruit Juice
#12: Green Tea
Both green tea and coffee can be useful when trying to lose fat, but green tea takes the cake because it contains extremely high levels of the catechin antioxidants that promote fat loss.
The catechins can reduce hunger so you eat less, and they inhibit lipase, causing your body to absorb less fat. They also improve the body’s ability to use fat for fuel, and raise your metabolism via greater thermogenesis so that you burn more calories every day.
Drink tea daily—avoid adding sweeteners or milk.
Avoid This: Alcohol