No one wants a big belly. Not only is excess belly fat unattractive and harmful to your health, it serves as a visual indicator that something has gone horribly wrong with your metabolism.
Despite being highly motivated to shrink your belly, actually doing so can be a bit of a struggle. If you research the topic online, you’ll be inundated with numerous approaches: special diets, workout programs, supplements, foods, and even lifestyle plans for reducing belly fat. Many of these approaches can work, but the often overcomplicate things. If you’re like a lot of people, you want a few things you can do today to get rid of belly fat.
We’ve identified the three most important nutrition actions you can take that will help you lose belly fat quickly and safely (so that you can keep it off). Here they are:
Rule #1: Eat High-Quality Protein At Every Meal
The most consistent indicator of leanness around the waist is a high-quality protein intake. High-quality protein is defined as containing a “threshold” amount of 10 grams of essential amino acids. This sort of protein is typically found in animal protein, dairy, eggs, and whey protein.
High-quality protein does wonders if you’re trying to lose belly fat because the amino acids trigger protein synthesis, which will build lean muscle mass and increase your resting energy expenditure. Plus, when you eat protein, hunger-reducing hormones are elevated to a greater degree than following carb-filled meals so that you feel full longer. This leads people to eat less overall.
Protein also improves your blood sugar response to a meal, lowering insulin. This is key because insulin is a “storage” hormone, depositing energy as fat. Studies show that higher insulin levels are associated with more belly fat and the metabolic problems that go with it.
Make It Happen: Protein should be your first priority when deciding what to eat, even for breakfast, which is traditionally a high-carb meal. Eggs, yogurt, fish, chicken, beef, and turkey are all top quality high-protein foods to begin a meal with. Whey protein is your go-to protein source for workouts or snacks. Avoid processed proteins, such as cereals, bars, crackers, etc., that have “added protein.”
#2: Balance High-Quality Protein With High-Fiber Fruits & Veggies
One drawback to diets high in protein is that they tend to be low in plants that provide fiber and phytonutrients that fight inflammation. This is important because American’s have a dismally low fiber intake, which puts them at increased risk of obesity and health problems such as heart disease and diabetes.
Fiber is protective against belly fat because it has a hunger-dampening effect, keeping you full longer. Including natural fiber produces a modest increase in blood glucose in response to carb-heavy meals. Additionally many high-fiber foods contain bioactive compounds that improve insulin binding for better metabolic function. Antioxidant-rich plants also improve digestion and help counter the inflammation associated with visceral fat.
One study found that in a diverse population, subjects who ate more fibrous vegetables, fruits, and legumes had significantly lower belly fat over the 5-year study period. For each 10-gram increase in fiber consumed, the rate of belly fat gain decreased by 3.6 percent over the course of the study.
Make It Happen: Every meal should include a colorful fruit or vegetable: Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli), dark colored fruits (berries, cherries), peppers, sweet potatoes, green beans, and citrus fruits are just a few of the antioxidant-rich plant foods that pair well with high-quality protein to tamp down inflammation and help you lose belly fat.
#3: Remove Refined Carbs
Very low-carb diets (such as the keto diet) are a surefire way to reduce belly fat because they restore insulin sensitivity and decrease hunger. But many people aren’t ready to cut out all higher carb foods. A more moderate approach is to replace the refined carbs that make up the majority of most people’s diets with whole carbs including vegetables, fruit, beans, and other plants.
In practice this means that you should replace bread with salads, desserts with fruit (such as berries and cream), potato chips with vegetables slices or homemade kale chips, rice or other grains with cauliflower rice, and pasta with zoodles or spaghetti squash.
By reducing the proportion of refined carbs in your diet, blood sugar is lower, and over time, the body’s cells become more sensitive to insulin. Fat burning increases and appetite regulation often improves because you aren’t on the blood sugar roller coaster anymore whereby your energy levels spike and then plummet in response to rapidly digestible carbs. You are more likely to create a calorie deficit, which is ultimately what must occur in order to lose fat.
Make It Happen: If you’ve been living on a steady diet of refined carbs, it can be hard to cut back. Getting started can be as simple as replacing your normal high-carb breakfast with one high in protein and healthy carbs. Instead of cereal, toast, or pastries, try yogurt with blueberries or a protein shake with leafy greens or strawberries. Omelets and breakfast salads with eggs and slices of turkey are another great option. From there you can branch out to other meals, re-training your taste buds to crave healthy meals instead of the processed junk associated with belly fat.
Final Words: We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that exercise is a great tool for improving a nutrition plan aimed at losing belly fat. Studies consistently show that interval training in which you work hard interspersed with rest is the best exercise for losing belly fat because it increases fat burning hormones. Intervals also give you a substantial afterburn whereby your body uses calories at an accelerated pace in the post-workout recovery period. Start with 1-minute intervals alternated at a “hard” effort alternated with 1-minute at an easy pace for a total of 20 minutes.