If you want a slimmer stomach, cutting calories and exercising are must-dos. But new research also shows some foods may have waist-shrinking (and consequent health-boosting) properties. Here are 5 tummy tamers to add to your diet. Download a FREE 5-Day 1,500-Calorie Meal Plan to Lose Weight!
—Karen Ansel, M.S., R.D.
Already dubbed a heart-healthy cooking oil, canola now touts another boon: when Brazilian researchers fed rats a diet containing either canola or soybean oil for two months, the soybean-oil eaters gained nearly 20 percent more fat in and around the organs of the belly (also known as visceral fat) than those that chowed on the canola-oil-enriched diet. While researchers can’t say exactly how much canola oil people would need to include in their diet to achieve this effect, they believe that canola oil’s high omega-3 content lowers insulin levels, ultimately discouraging fat storage in the abdomen.
Swapping animal proteins in your diet for vegetarian proteins like beans may do more than help your heart (and the planet): a 2011 Diabetic Medicine study found that a six-month-long calorie-controlled vegetarian diet was more effective at blasting belly fat and stimulating weight loss in diabetic volunteers than a calorically equivalent nonvegetarian diet. The vegetarian diet burned more deep (visceral) abdominal fat, as well as that extra layer just under the skin (subcutaneous fat), explains lead researcher Hana Kahleová, M.D., of the Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Prague.
Milk (and other low-fat dairy products) will help you build strong bones, but if you want to whittle your waistline and gain calorie-burning lean muscle you may need to up the ante. In a 2011 Journal of Nutrition study, dieters who ate 30 percent of calories from protein, including six to seven daily servings of dairy, chiseled off more belly and total fat—and gained more lean muscle—than women who trimmed the same number of calories but ate less protein and dairy. Researchers think the whey protein in dairy, which boasts the amino acid leucine, is particularly important in stimulating the formation of new muscle proteins.
When researchers from Pennsylvania State University placed volunteers on a three-month weight-loss program and instructed one group to eat only whole grains for their grain servings and the other group to choose only refined grains (and avoid whole grains entirely), the whole-grain eaters melted significantly more abdominal fat. While the fiber in whole grains may deserve some of the credit, researchers note that whole grains are rich in magnesium, a mineral instrumental in regulating fat metabolism.
In a recent Journal of Nutrition study, Dutch researchers asked 374 men about the foods they ate most frequently. They found that those whose diets contained the most beta carotene and lycopene (phytochemicals that make carrots orange and give red peppers and tomatoes their brilliant hue) had the smallest waists and the least abdominal fat. Because beta carotene and lycopene are potent antioxidants, researchers think they may mop up the harmful compounds that promote fat storage. Peppers are also packed with vitamin C, a nutrient needed for fat burning.