Spanx isn’t your only solution to getting rid of belly fat. Science has found that, along with weight loss and exercise, eating certain foods can help you specifically whittle your middle.
Bonus: Adding these foods to your healthy diet won’t just help you slip into a little black dress or fit into your high school gym shorts. Paring those particular pounds—the ones that hang over your belt—may also help you reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers.
Like the proverbial iceberg, there’s a lot lurking under the surface of every spare tire, love handle, beer belly and muffin top. If you have a large waist (35 inches and over for women, 40 and over for men), you probably have an overabundance of fat cells congregating under the muscles of your midsection. These cells release chemicals that can wreak havoc on your metabolism. Some may be slowing down your body’s ability to regulate insulin and blood sugar. Others can increase inflammation in the body, which has been linked to everything from heart disease to cancer to dementia.
If you’re losing weight, you’re losing that squishy fat just under your skin as well the hidden belly fat deep inside that’s surrounding your organs and doing its worst. Put these foods on your shopping list—they target both:
1. Almonds and other nuts
Nuts used to be a diet no-no because of their fat content, but no more. The fat they contain is monounsaturated fat (MUFA) which has been shown in many studies to curb appetite and prevent central body fat—that apple shape linked to disease. In one study done by Yale researchers, women who switched to a 1,600-calorie, high MUFA diet lost a third of their belly fat in less than a month.
A five-year study by researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina found that for every 10-gram increase in the amount of soluble fiber you eat—like that found in legumes (beans) and other vegetables—you reduce deep belly fat by 3.7 percent. That goes up to 7.4 percent if you add moderate exercise. You can get an extra 10 grams of soluble fiber in a half cup of pinto beans (think chili!). Lentils, split peas, lima and black beans also dish out a good amount of this nutrient, as do fruits like raspberries, apples and pears (just be sure to leave the skin on as that is where most of the fiber can be found). Veggies like broccoli and green peas also serve up a dose of fiber. Like good fats, fiber also helps you feel full, so eating these foods can curb your appetite, helping you lose pounds all over.
3. Low-fat, vitamin D-fortified dairy
A 2013 study of overweight college students found that those whose weight-loss diets were supplemented with 600 IU of calcium and 125 IU of vitamin D lost about the same amount of weight as those on the same diet without the extra nutrients, but the calcium and D group lost more body fat mass and, importantly, belly fat than their counterparts. While the study participants took pills, you can get calcium from low-fat sources like D-fortified skim milk. Nondairy sources of calcium and vitamin D include canned salmon (with bones), calcium-fortified orange juice, and calcium-fortified tofu.
Sipping tea throughout the day, may help you lose weight by revving up your metabolism, but it also specifically targets belly fat, according to a study done in 2014 at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. At work here may be a plant chemical called catechin which, in other research, stifles sugar and fat intake in the intestines—two things that can aid weight loss.
The “magic” ingredient in poultry is an amino acid called l-arginine, which has been shown in several studies to burn belly fat, particularly that pesky centrally located fat. Most studies use supplements. One, by Mayo Clinic researchers, found that women who took three grams of l-arginine, three times daily for 12 weeks experienced a loss of belly fat. However, there are plenty of good food sources for the amino acid, including low-fat poultry like turkey breast, nuts and seeds, soybean products, fish such as orange roughy and tilapia, and shellfish such as Alaska king crab and shrimp. Foods high in arginine are also linked to lower risk of hypertension and stroke, according to Harvard research.
It’s not just the calcium in yogurt and fermented dairy products that attacks belly fat. It’s the probiotics, “good” bacteria that keeps your gut healthy and your tummy flat. Several studies have found that the beneficial bacteria in yogurt and yogurt-like products such as kefir, a drink that contains even more healthy germs than yogurt, promote weight loss and specifically target that deep, dangerous fat. They may also lower blood pressure and cholesterol, according to a 2014 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.