If you're hoping that a single fruit or vegetable will melt away a spare tire or muffin top, think again. Spot weight loss is a myth -- you can only lose fat from all over your body -- and no single food melts belly fat. But fruits and veggies are great to include on a weight loss diet, and by reducing your overall body fat percentage, you'll lose fat from your midsection as well.
High-Calcium Vegetables May Burn Belly Fat
In calcium content, dairy products typically take center stage, but fruits and veggies can up your calcium intake, too. And several studies have found that people who get more calcium from their diet are more likely to maintain a healthy weight, according to a review published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2003.
Look to leafy greens as rich sources of calcium. A cup of chopped kale, for example, has 14 percent of the daily value for calcium, while a cup of chopped dandelion or turnip greens each offer 10 percent of the daily value. Enjoy a cup of sliced okra, and you'll take in 12 percent of the daily value for calcium, or add a cup of shredded bok choy to your meal plan to get 7 percent of the daily value.
Use calcium-rich greens as the base for your salads, throw a handful of greens into vegetable soup, or add chopped greens to scrambled eggs or omelets to start your day with a boost of vegetables.
Hydrating Fruits and Vegetables Are Lower-Calorie
Vegetables and fruits are packed with water, which not only makes them great for staying hydrated, but also for losing pounds. Water doesn't have any calories, so it lowers the energy density of your food -- the number of calories per gram. Following a lower energy density diet helps you lose weight, according to Penn State University, and including more low energy density foods means you're more likely to naturally consume fewer calories per day without feeling as if you're "dieting."
Any fresh or frozen fruit or veggie will have a significant amount of water -- dried fruits have most of their water removed, so they're not good for hydration -- but some of your most hydrating options include cucumbers, napa cabbage and other leafy greens, turnips, celery, radishes and tomatoes. For water-rich fruits, reach for grapefruit, rhubarb, watermelon and pineapple.
Fiber-Rich Produce Helps With Weight Loss
Fruits and vegetables are great sources of fiber -- a type of carb you'll want to get more of to help you burn belly fat. In fact, just eating more fiber is a simple route to weight loss, according to Harvard Medical School. Even if you don't make any other changes to your diet, getting 30 grams of fiber is enough to help you lose pounds.
Basically any fruit or veggie will contribute to your daily fiber intake, but some produce is better than others. A cup of guavas, for instance, contributes 9 grams toward your daily fiber goal, while a 1 cup serving of raspberries or blackberries each offer 8 grams of fiber. A cup of canned pumpkin, raw parsnips or butternut squash will boost your fiber intake by 7 grams, while spinach, turnip greens, cauliflower and carrots each contain 5 grams of fiber per cup.
Using Fruits and Veggies to Burn Belly Fat
While it's easy to obsess over the intricacies of your diet, you don't need to micromanage your fruit and vegetable intake -- you're better off thinking about whether you eat enough fruit and veggies, period, than whether you're eating the "right" ones. A 2014 study published in Obesity, which looked at the diets of more than 400,000 adults in America, found that less than 4 percent of adults actually ate 9 serving of fruits and veggies daily, and more than three-quarters of U.S. adults get fewer than 5 servings per day. And the same study found that eating fruits and veggies was linked with better weight control, even without other factors that can help weight loss, like getting enough exercise. So simply including fruits and veggies at each meal puts you ahead of the curve on your plan to burn belly fat. Choose your favorite produce to create a weight loss meal plan you truly enjoy, so you're more likely to stick to it long-term.
Boost your fruit and veggie intake by adding a handful of veggies to your soups, casseroles and pasta dishes. Try starting each meal with a small leafy green salad, and puree extra vegetables into your tomato sauce when you serve pasta. Use mashed bananas or unsweetened applesauce in baked goods to boost your fruit intake, and carry hardier fruits, like apples and oranges, in your bag so you have a healthy snack on hand.
Putting It All Together
While fruits and veggies are helpful for your weight loss journey, simply adding vegetables to a diet that's otherwise made up of processed and packaged foods won't make you lose weight. You'll need to eat vegetables as part of a balanced diet comprising unprocessed foods, like lean protein -- chicken or turkey breast, fish, nuts and beans -- low-fat dairy, healthy fats, whole grains and plenty of water.
Ultimately, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn, so your body starts burning fat to make up the calorie deficit. Aim to burn 500 to 1,000 more calories than you eat each day to lose an average of 1 to 2 pounds of fat weekly -- a rate of weight loss that's more likely to give you long-term results than crash dieting. Adding a regular exercise program to your routine, with your doctor's permission, also helps you burn more calories -- which helps you meet your weight loss goals -- and boosts your overall health.