There’s no way around it: Belly fat is annoying. Unfortunately, a pooch doesn’t just make your jeans tighter—it can also seriously compromise your health. Research has shown that extra belly fat is linked to everything from a higher risk for heart disease to increased odds of developing cancer. With that in mind, we reached out to nutritional biochemist Shawn M. Talbott, PhD and nutrition expert Stratten Waldt for their feedback on the foods that burn belly fat. Combine these with regular exercise and you can kiss that pooch goodbye in no time.
Yogurt contains four different bioactive compounds that can help shed belly fat, says Talbott. Not only that, its probiotics are good for your general digestion and help you feel full. Yogurt also contains calcium and magnesium, which reduce the stress hormone cortisol. “Cortisol is a potent and direct signal for belly fats to store more fat—so reducing it helps with belly fat loss,” says Talbott.
Apples and Pears
Water-rich fruits are high in soluble fiber and vitamins, both of which can burn belly fat. “Just make sure it’s a whole fruit and not a juice or a sauce,” says Waldt. Apples in particular are good because they help you feel fuller longer. Studies have shown that people who eat an apple before a meal eat 15-percent less calories overall, and less calories means your body will turn to your stored fat for energy, reducing your pooch.
Grapefruit and oranges help inhibit the belly fat storage hormone hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (HSD). This hormone is an enzyme inside of belly fat cells that “reactivates” the stress hormone cortisol to serve as a fat storage signal, says Talbott. Citrus fruits and their high content of polyphenols can slow the growth of HSD, burning belly fat in the process.
Green tea is one of the most effective natural fat-burners, according to Talbott, mostly due to its EGCG, a naturally-occuring flavonoid that encourages your cells to burn more calories—and specifically burn more calories from fat. Aim to drink at least one cup a day for optimal belly fat-burning benefits.
Yes, walnuts are high in fat, but adding a small portion to your daily diet is actually a good way to burn fat, says Waldt. Like apples and yogurt, they help fill you up and leave you feeling fuller longer. A recent study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who added walnuts to a 2,000 calorie per day diet experienced weight loss and a drop in blood sugar levels. Waldt advises just eating a small amount and avoiding walnuts that are coated in salt or sugar.
This spice is great for burning belly fat because it reduces oxidation and inflammation inside of fat cells. “If oxidation or inflammation are too high in the body, they set the stage for additional belly fat accumulation,” explains Talbott. Once the belly fat is there, it starts to create its own compounds to set off oxidation and inflammation, he says. That creates a vicious cycle of more belly fat which is hard to get rid of until you control the oxidation. Add turmeric to your eggs in the morning, make a turmeric-heavy curry, or sprinkle it over your chicken at dinner.
High-Fiber Grains and Cereals
Cereals that are loaded with fiber are a great way to make your body feel full and burn off fat. Waldt recommends looking for ones that have whole grains or oats, which contain a quarter of your daily fiber in one serving. Eat them early in the day—they’ll help keep you regular, which is directly linked to weight loss, and help you feel more full throughout the day. Quinoa is also a great option: It contains eight grains of protein and five grams of fiber per serving, both of which are ideal for fat-burning.
Consider this your wonder spice: Cinnamon improves your ability to metabolize fat and suppresses your appetite, too. Talbott recommends using it liberally to help keep your blood sugar levels from fluctuating too high, which slows fat-burning, or too low, which makes you feel hungry. Sprinkle it on your coffee or over top of steamed apples for a healthy—and delicious—dessert.