Last week, I was invited to the Fox 10 News studio to chat with hosts Andrea Robinson and Rick D’Amico about “Foods that Blast Belly Fat.” It’s a popular topic, especially during the summer “beach body” season. (I’m of the ilk who think that any body is a beach body, by the way.) Nevertheless, belly fat is an important issue for all of us, no matter what size swimsuit we wear; remember, it’s about wellness, not weight.
So, there are actually two types of belly fat. Subcutaneous fat is the layer right under our skin that seems to bother us the most, mainly for cosmetic reasons. But it’s the second type, called visceral fat, that is the real metabolic troublemaker. We can’t “pinch an inch” of visceral fat because it’s located deep under our skin around our abdominal organs, like our stomach, intestines, and liver. Visceral fat is only visible by using DEXA or a similar type of scan.
While subcutaneous fat is relatively harmless to our metabolic profile, visceral fat is linked to higher risks of type 2 diabetes and premature death from cardiovascular disease. We do want to reduce visceral fat as much as possible. It’s possible to have low amounts of subcutaneous fat and still have a lot of visceral fat, by the way. So even though someone may appear to be lean, they can be overly fat in the visceral sense. Therefore, it’s important for everyone to eat a diet that’s healthy AND exercise enough to keep visceral fat amounts low. When visceral fat is low, subcutaneous fat will be low.
Making changes in what we eat can help reduce both visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. The other key ingredient is physical activity. Getting active is necessary in order to preserve muscle tissue and promote fat loss.
To reduce belly fat, focus on resistance training. Do some cardio most days of the week, but not too much; too much cardio can send appetite hormones into overdrive. You’ll know how much is “too much” by paying attention to your eating patterns. If you’ve been sedentary, then thirty minutes of cardio at a time is enough to reap the benefits of increased muscle mass, accelerated calorie burn 24/7, better-quality sleep, more energy, and endorphins. Use your extra time doing healthy meal prep, menu planning and making sure your grocery list includes a variety of belly fat-busting foods.
Foods that help to keep visceral fat low include:
1) monounsaturated fats: try replacing the solid fat (butter and animal fats) in your meals with 1/4 avocado, 1 tablespoon of a nut butter, a handful of nuts or olives, or 1 teaspoon of a plant oil like olive oil, safflower oil, or canola oil. Three to four servings of a healthy fat helps to mobilize fat in the belly area.
2) high-fiber foods: keep your belly healthy and happy with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes. Fiber keeps you feeling full; it’s an essential component in any weight-loss and fat-loss program. Plus, fiber encourages digestive regularity, which in turn prevents bloating from intestinal gas.
3) high-protein foods: choose legumes and lean turkey, chicken, beef, pork, and remember that seafood (like salmon) has healthy omega-3 fats plus high-quality protein. Protein is satiating (promotes a feeling of fullness), so it’s essential to eat protein with every meal and snack. Protein also has a higher “thermogenic” effect than either carbohydrates or fats, so you’re increasing your calorie burn when you eat foods with protein.
4) fermented foods: probiotics are one of the key ingredients of a healthy metabolism: a healthy gut flora profile is linked with digestive wellness, immune health, and leanness.
To get the benefits of probiotics, try fermented foods like buttermilk, kefir, miso, kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt, and my new favorite condiment…the Korean sauce gochujang, a fermented chile-sesame sauce that is out-of-this-world delicious and a great source of probiotics. Gochujang is my new go-to! I enjoy drizzling a teaspoon of it avocado toast, eggs, meats, veggies, whole grain dishes…look for it at an Asian supermarket or order it online.
5) dairy foods: research shows that diets high in dairy foods are linked with lower amounts of belly fat. Try adding plain Greek yogurt with a whole piece of fruit and nuts for a belly fat-blasting snack that contains all the elements – healthy fats, fiber, protein, probiotics, and dairy!
So there you have it, folks. Keep your bellies happy and lean…eat and get active and you’ll be blasting that visceral fat in no time.