Carbs are not the enemy. Not whole-grain carbs, that is. People who ate three or more daily servings of whole grains (such as oats) had 10 percent less belly fat than people who ate the same amount of calories from processed white carbs (bread, rice, pasta), according to a Tufts University study. It’s theorized that this is due to whole grains’ high fiber and slow-burn properties, which keep you satiated longer.
If you thought losing weight would mean giving up all your indulgences, look no further than dark chocolate. Louisiana State University researchers found that gut microbes in our stomach ferment chocolate and boost our body’s production of gut-healthy polyphenolic compounds, including butyrate, a fatty acid that encourages the body to burn fat as fuel and turns off genes linked to inflammation. (Add fruit to the chocolate to boost fermentation and the release of the compounds.) Make sure you go with chocolate that has a cacao content of 70 percent or above—these have the highest concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols.
Don’t pass up on this cheap trick. “One of the most under-appreciated magic fat-burning elixirs is water,” says Ajia Cherry, ACE, CHC, CPT, personal trainer and Founder at Functional Innovative Training. “The more water you drink, the fuller you will feel, the easier it is to cut back on unnecessary calories. That’s an essential element of weight and fat loss,” she explains. Water is necessary to keep your metabolism functioning optimally. For even more of a kick, add a lemon to your glass. D-limonene, an antioxidant in lemon peel, has been shown to have a therapeutic effect on metabolic disorders in mice with high-fat-diet-induced obesity.
Foods rich in the amino acid leucine can help build the lean muscle mass that’s needed to trim excess fat from your frame, according to Jennifer McDaniel, MS, RDN, CSSD, LD. It literally jumpstarts the process of developing muscle mass—and red meats are one of the best sources around. Go grass-fed to get the added benefits of omega-3s and conjugated linoleic acids—these two fatty acids help to decrease the inflammation in your body that causes fat storage.
The probiotics in yogurt can support a healthy gut and your overall wellness. “When your immune system is working well, your gut and brain talk to each other. If you struggle a lot with stress eating, maintaining good digestive health helps nourish a healthy gut so you feel calmer and avoid stress eating,” says Cording. Similar to milk, your best bet is to skip the low-fat varieties—go for full-fat Greek yogurt or Skyr instead.
Whether it’s turning off fat genes, helping to build muscle that robs energy from adipose cells, revving your metabolism and ability to burn fat, or helping you feel fuller longer so you consume fewer calories, these foods have been proven to show an increased rate of fat loss. So stop these bad habits that give you belly fat, and instead, incorporate these healthy fat burning foods into your diet to whittle your waist and bring your midriff back in line.
Kickstart your morning—and your metabolism—with this warming spice. Cinnamon contains powerful antioxidants called polyphenols that are proven to alter body composition and improve insulin sensitivity (which means it keeps blood sugar stable, preventing hunger-inducing spikes and crashes). Japanese researchers found that mice who ate a daily helping of cinnamaldehyde (the ingredient that gives cinnamon its flavor) lost belly fat, while those who skipped the spice did not. Add it to your overnight oats or sprinkle some in your coffee to reap the benefits.
Red is one of the best colors for weight loss. That’s because the color is due to higher levels of nutrients called flavonoids—particularly anthocyanins—which calm the action of fat-storage genes, according to Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity research. In fact, red-bellied stone fruits like plums boast phenolic compounds that have been shown to “turn off” fat genes. Plus, their pectin—a gelatin-like type of fiber found in the cell walls of fruits—limits the amount of fat your cells can absorb, as shown by a Nutrition & Metabolism study.
Instead of satisfying your sweet tooth with some refined sugar, turn to berries and enjoy a slimmer waistline in no time without exercise. Berries are loaded with antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation throughout the body, and research from the University of Michigan reveals that rats given a cherry-rich diet shaved off a significant proportion of their belly fat when compared to a control group. Berries like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are also loaded with resveratrol, an antioxidant pigment that has been linked to reductions in belly fat and a reduced risk of dementia, to boot.