Abdominal fat is a common problem area for most people.
Carrying around that extra weight in our midsection is not only annoying when trying to fit into skinny jeans but it can result in health problems as well.
When it comes to stomach fat, the American diet is to blame for some of those great belly-busters.
Although exercise, specifically strength training, is thought to be the only way to target specific areas for fat loss, a change in our eating habits is necessary to get rid of that muffin top as well.
Let’s look at some foods to steer clear of if you want to achieve a flatter tummy without endless crunches.
Why Would You Want to Lose Abdominal Fat?
There are many reasons someone would want to cut down on their abdominal fat including health and vanity.
Dressing in the morning is a lot easier when you don’t have that extra weight getting in the way, not to mention the confidence boost of a nice body.
It’s no surprise that abdominal fat or overall weight gain would result in low self-esteem.
Unfortunately, low self-esteem combined with excess weight can increase the risk of mental illness.
Elevated total body weight can also wreak havoc on our metabolism and increase our health risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, and even cancer.
Belly Fat And Health Issues
It used to be thought that body mass index (BMI) was an optimal tool to assess weight-related risk factors however, abdominal fat is becoming more concerning for health risks than overall obesity.
To better determine risk, waist circumference tools are being used to assess us for our amount of belly fat.
There are two types of fat, visceral fat, and subcutaneous fat.
Visceral is concentrated around our abdominal organs, and subcutaneous is directly beneath the skin’s surface.
Subcutaneous fat is seen as harmless and can even have some health benefits to a certain degree.
Visceral fat, on the other hand, has multiple endocrines, immunologic and metabolic functions.
Because of this, high amounts of this type of fat are a risk factor for metabolic disease, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.
Weight Loss And Body Type
In the 1940s Dr. William H. Sheldon created a taxonomy of body types, known as somatotypes.
These somatotypes have been used to help design more individualized plans for diet and exercise.
Unfortunately, not everyone falls perfectly within one category or the other, oftentimes we are a mixture of two.
The three somatotypes are:
- Ectomorph: Characterized by low body fat and a hard time gaining weight.
- Mesomorph: Characterized to have low difficulty with weight loss or gain, often not underweight or overweight
- Endomorph: Characterized by high body fat and difficulty losing weight but not gaining.
One’s body type is a matter of genetics but lifestyle plays a role as well.
Studies examining the different body types related to disease have found a relationship between dominant mesomorphs and marked endomorphs.
These somatotypes are at higher risk for developing certain chronic diseases if body weight is not well controlled.
Food To Avoid for Belly Fat
There are no foods that burn belly fat specifically but some foods are worse than others when it comes to centralized weight gain.
Let’s look at the list of foods you should avoid helping lose belly fat and slim down that waistline.
Sugar is the worst offender of belly fat.
A lot of this has to do with its abundant use as simple sugars in highly processed and convenience foods.
A high-sugar diet can also lead to insulin resistance.
This is when your body’s ability to recognize insulin is impaired which can lead to elevated blood sugar levels.
When left untreated, drug administration may be required to control your glucose levels safely.
Insulin is a hormone whose major role is to regulate our blood sugar levels and prevent a blood sugar spike.
High amounts of circulating insulin can cause symptoms of increased appetite and can lead to visceral fat accumulation in our abdomen.
To avoid accidentally purchasing unhealthy snacks with high sugar content, such as desserts, candy bars, and the like, be sure to read the nutrition labels on the back of the package.
The nutrition label will always show the sugar content as well as the ingredients list.
This is an effective way to look for added sweeteners and keep your sugar intake in check.
Be careful though, sugar can be hidden in the form of other names such as high fructose corn syrup.
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 25 grams of added sugars a day for women (6 teaspoons) and no more than 38 grams for men (9 teaspoons).
A 20-ounce bottle of regular Coke contains 65 grams of added sugar, almost 2 times the recommended daily amount.
To put it into perspective, this is about 15.5 teaspoons of sugar.
The average American consumes about 77 grams of sugar per day, well over the recommended limit.
Sugary drinks like soda, soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juices, and other sweetened beverages are often to blame and should be limited due to their high amount of liquid calories.
High in carbs and often loaded with sugar, baked goods are another treat to limit.
This includes anything from bread, bagels, muffins, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, pastries, and other refined carbs you might find in the bakery section at your local grocery store.
A study on different types of bakery products and their effects on visceral fat in a healthy population of 120 people showed a positive correlation between baked goods and increased abdominal fat.
Those in the study who chose whole-grain options had less visceral fat gain than white-baked goods (6).
Because of the high sugar and fat content of most baked goods, they tend to have high calories and low amounts of nutrients.
If eaten often, this is a slippery slope that can have a harmful effect on your overall health.
Choose whole-grain products instead.
These complex carbs contain more grams of fiber that can help with satiety and a flatter belly.
You can even make some of your favorite baked goods at home with wheat flour or brown rice flour for healthy alternatives.
Like baked goods, fries are high in carbs.
They are also high in unhealthy fats and sodium, as with most fried foods cooked in a lot of oil.
This can cause you to pack on the fat fast as well as raise your blood cholesterol levels and cause you to hold onto water weight.
Fries are calorically dense, low in protein and fiber, and easy to over-eat.
This combination is a deadly one for those looking to cut down on their belly fat.
These fried potatoes, along with potato chips also contain acrylamide, a compound that forms naturally from chemical reactions to starches in certain foods during cooking.
This compound is concerned to be a potential carcinogen.
This means it could increase your risk of developing certain cancers however, further research is warranted (7).
In the meantime, it’s best to steer clear.
Of course, it’s not realistic to give up fries forever but instead, choose in moderation and replace them with nutritious foods as often as you can.
Cracker And Potato Chips
Crackers and potato chips made the cut as foods to avoid due to their highly processed nature.
A common culprit to weight gain, they are high in carbs and unhealthy fats with little essential nutrients or anything that might promote satiety.
And to make matters worse, big food manufacturers continue to make larger packages available putting more susceptible adolescents at risk for developing bad habits.
Swap our crackers for cut-up veggies such as carrot or celery sticks instead or fresh fruit such as plums, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, or grapefruit.
These foods are a good source of fiber and when combined with at least 5-10 grams of protein they will satisfy your appetite more than chips or crackers would.
Add in a small portion of peanut butter, greek yogurt, or a hard-boiled egg to increase feelings of fullness and crush those hunger pangs.
White Bread And Pasta
Often loaded with massive amounts of carbs, white bread and pastas can contribute to overall body fat if eaten frequently.
It’s recommended that 45-65% of your daily calories should be coming from carbohydrates.
This means if you consume a 1500-calorie diet, you should be eating between 169-243 grams of carbohydrates a day.
However, the average person consumes a lot more than that in a day, making weight loss more difficult in the long run.
The average slice of white bread contains 13-15g of carbohydrates.
Consider all the foods that contain bread or pasta that can add up in a day- buns for your burger or hot dogs, sandwiches, toast with breakfast, etc.
Swap our refined carbs for complex carbohydrates such as whole grains.
Whole grains contain more dietary fiber than refined ones, which can contribute to heart health and improve our metabolism.
By adding in more of these healthy foods in place of highly processed or refined grains, our body can function at its best for fat burning.
Try brown rice instead of white or swap for quinoa.
Other whole grains include oats and oatmeal, Kamut, and whole-grain pasta.
Granola bars, as well as many kinds of cereal at the supermarket, are marketed as healthy options but contain sinister additives in their ingredient list that can sabotage your dream of a flat tummy or visible abs.
One good reason for this is sugars.
Too many sugar-sweetened products in one’s diet can increase the risk for insulin sensitivity and abdominal fat storage.
Look at the ingredient labels for granola bars or protein bars that don’t have a lot of added ingredients and preservatives or simply make your own bars instead.
Sweetened Dried Fruits
Although fruits are good for you, dried fruits with sugar added may as well be candy.
When the water is removed from the fruit, the natural sugars become more concentrated.
Add more sugars to the mix and you have what used to be a healthy piece of fruit that is not similar in nutrition to a piece of candy.
Unsweetened dried fruits can be enjoyed in small portions, such as in trail mixes, but should be moderated like any other high-sugar snack food.
Although wine contains polyphenols such as resveratrol, frequent refills of that petite Sirah will cause you to pack on fat fast.
That goes for other types of alcohol as well, including vodka, tequila, whisky, beer, and of course mixed drinks.
Alcoholic beverages can add tons of extra calories without you even realizing it.
Why do you think it’s often called a “beer belly”?
This is because liquid calories aren’t as satisfying to our brains as calories from solid foods.
Alcohol intake can also increase our appetite.
A 5-ounce glass of wine contains on average 120-150 calories.
What’s more, flavored alcoholic drinks tend to carry high calories and affect your waistline.
Swap the booze for a glass of water or a club soda to quench your thirst and cut out a ton of empty calories with ease, bringing you closer to a flat belly.
Common processed meats include deli meats, salami, sausage, and bacon.
Often containing a lot of preservatives and high amounts of fat, these meats should be eaten in moderation to avoid increased fat storage in the belly and clogged arteries.
Limit red meat to moderation as well and choose lean meat instead
Good lean meat sources include poultry, fish, or plant protein such as tofu, tempeh, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
These protein sources will often have fewer total calories and less saturated fats, also known as the “bad fat” that can increase the risk of heart disease.
Ice cream is one popular dessert often on the list of foods to avoid losing weight.
With a significant amount of fructose (sugar) and calories, it’s one of the worst foods (worst sweets!) to over-indulge in on a frequent basis.
Instead, swap out your sweets for a healthier option such as a small amount of dark chocolate with natural peanut butter, fresh fruit, or yogurt.
Removing these unhealthy foods from your diet will help you achieve a flatter belly.
Foods to Eat to Lose Weight In the Stomach
Just as there are foods to avoid when trying to slim down our midsection, there are foods that can help to prevent the accumulation of belly fat.
Let’s look at some of the best foods for a healthy diet that can help decrease your risk for abdominal obesity.
Omega-3 fats are considered essential, healthy fats in our diet.
This means we are not able to make them and must obtain them from the foods we eat.
Omega 3s have been shown to provide significant benefits to our health by reducing inflammation and lowering our risk for chronic diseases including heart disease and even cancer risk (8).
Because these fats are digested slower than other nutrients such as carbs, they keep us feeling full and can help reduce our urge to overeat.
Good sources of omega-3s include salmon, tuna, and other fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, such as walnuts, and seeds, such as chia and sunflower seeds.
Probiotics, known as good bacteria can help to target weight loss by improving the health of our digestive system.
However, it’s more than just avoiding constipation that makes probiotics favorable.
New research shows the benefits of probiotics on multiple aspects of health including decreasing inflammation, improving our immune system and of course, improving digestion (9).
Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium probiotic strains have been shown to improve weight, specifically belly fat.
Various studies have shown promising anti-obesity effects, specifically with Lactobacillus gasseri due to its suppression of fat absorption (10).
Probiotic-rich foods include fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir, kimchi, miso, tempeh, pickles, and sauerkraut.
If you don’t get a lot of these foods in your diet, a probiotic supplement may be a good idea.
To get the most benefit, it’s important to include prebiotics in your diet as well.
Prebiotics are the compounds found in foods, such as garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, and asparagus, that help the growth of good bacteria.
You can find these in a supplement as well if you are unable to get them from your diet.
Sometimes referred to as a superfood beverage, green tea, derived from the Camellia Sinensis L plant, is rich in polyphenol catechins.
Because of its many health benefits including promoting heart liver and brain health, reduced cancer risk, and improving complexion, it’s often categorized as an antioxidant (11).
These catechins, namely epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) combined with caffeine are believed to also help promote weight loss by increasing energy expenditure and promoting fat oxidation (12).
Fat oxidation is the process of breaking down fatty acids released from fat cells, sometimes referred to as burn fat.
Oolong tea has also been studied for a similar effect.
Not much of a tea drinker? Black coffee (excluding those high-calorie coffee drinks with a lot of sugar)is another healthy drink that can burn fat fast.
Eggs are one lean protein food you want to add to your weight loss diet to up your protein intake.
It contains essential nutrients and vitamins that can boost your health. It also contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein source.
It’s also one food that supports muscle building and muscle mass.
Choline, found in egg yolks, is an essential nutrient to boost metabolism, one the average diet often falls short in.
One large egg contains 145mg of choline, about 1/4 the recommended daily value according to the National Institute of Health.
With high protein and healthy fats, eggs are a budget-friendly, convenient addition to any meal or snack for weight loss.
Avocado, renowned as one of the more popular health foods, is certainly one to favor.
When trying to lose weight in the belly area, choosing more satisfying foods is the best way to start, and avocados are one of those foods.
Packed full of healthy fats, avocados also have a surprisingly high fiber content at about 10g per 1 cup serving.
Light in flavor, you can add these nutrient-packed gems to many different meals or just snack on them plain.
Eat More Veggies
Wholesome veggies and fruits carry a high level of dietary fiber and other essential nutrients and vitamins.
In particular, vegetables like cauliflower, spinach, asparagus, mushrooms, and broccoli help boost metabolism and reduce belly fat.
Eating a diet high in those low-carb veggies will help you not only in regulating and managing weight and body fat but also to live a longer, healthier life.
Including them in your garden soups is a delicious and easy way to eat plenty of nutritious vegetables in the fall.
Chili Pepper – Capsaicin
Capsaicin, a compound found in chilis, hot peppers, and red peppers, plays a critical role in metabolism and has shown significant benefits in the reduction of obesity (13).
Red peppers also contain high amounts of carotenoids and vitamin C, both beneficial antioxidants that are important for immune health.
Peppers don’t have a lot of calories but they do have a lot of flavors, making them easy to add to dishes such as soups, casseroles, and stews.
A good source of probiotics, calcium, and protein, Greek yogurt is an easy, convenient addition to any diet.
Filling and versatile, it’s a great replacement for sugar-laden treats that can also help keep down the snacking.
Add it to your morning smoothie for a protein boost or enjoy it with blueberries and other berries.
You can also replace it in recipes that use sour cream or mayonnaise for a lighter version.
Rich in soluble fiber, lentils are a great addition to a healthy diet that can help keep our appetite under control.
High-fiber foods like lentils cause you to eat fewer calories throughout the day. Eating fewer calories can help you lose weight and take inches off your waistline.
Soluble fiber, also found in whole grains, oats, black beans, chickpeas, apples, citrus fruits, carrots, barley, and psyllium, creates a gel in the digestive tract that makes us feel more full during our meals.
It also decreases our risk of various chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer.
Nuts and nut butters such as pecans, walnuts, peanuts, and almonds are great sources of protein, healthy fats, and dietary fiber.
A rich source of magnesium, nuts can help to regulate blood sugar levels, specifically for those with insulin resistance.
They aren’t magic food but sprinkling these on meals such as oatmeal or added as a snack in between meals is a great way to boost weight loss.
Coconut Oil’s Medium-Chain Triglycerides
Studies show that some of the fatty acids found in coconut oil can help regulate appetite and increase abdominal fat loss (14, 15).
Abdominal fat (more precisely, visceral fat) is a type of body fat located within the abdominal cavity, near organs.
MCTs found in coconut oil appear to be effective in reducing this type of belly fat, compared to LCTs.
Drinking Bulletproof coffee is one way you can incorporate coconut oil’s medium-chain triglycerides into your diet. You can simply add a tablespoon of MCTs to your morning coffee.
Alternatively, you can use them in your cooking by adding 1 tablespoon to your salad or soup.
And, no, you don’t necessarily have to eat a high-fat diet to incorporate MCTs into your everyday meals.
One of the best ways to cut down on belly fat is to eliminate or moderate junk food in your diet.
This includes sugary treats such as desserts, and candy bars, and highly processed carbohydrates such as white rice, french fries, and other foods with empty calories.
Reach for more whole foods, rich in antioxidants, protein, fiber, and healthy fats to keep you satisfied.
Swap out your alcoholic drink for water and ditch the sugary drinks for solid food to see your waistline shrink.
Toss out those sugary treats instead of whole fruits.
The goal is to increase the nutritional value of your diet and cut down on the number of calories to aid in weight loss.
If you continue to struggle with unwanted belly fat, consider meeting with a Registered Dietitian (R.D.) to help you with your weight loss efforts.