Stubborn belly fat is the bane of many people's existence. While banishing the belly bulge is crucial if you want to fit into your favorite jeans and generally feel good about yourself, it's even more important for your health and longevity. Belly fat, more than any other type of fat, is linked with some serious health concerns such as cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance and certain types of cancer. Getting regular exercise and eating a nutritious diet -- including plenty of vegetables -- is the best way to trim your tummy and improve your health.
The Energy-Density Equation
Energy density refers to how many calories per gram a food contains. The higher the calories per gram, the higher the energy density. When you're trying to lose belly fat and overall body weight, it is best to choose foods that are low in energy density, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vegetables are the foods with the lowest energy density. As an example, a 1-cup serving of sliced red bell pepper has 29 calories and an energy density of 0.3 grams. A cup of bite-size cheese crackers, on the other hand, has 303 calories and an energy density of 4.9. You can fill up on red pepper slices for a lot fewer calories, which helps you control your calorie intake so that you can lose weight.
Fiber is the part of plants your body can't digest. As a result, it doesn't contribute any calories to your diet. However, it does help make you feel full as it moves through your stomach and digestive tract, which is why it helps you lose weight. Vegetables are particularly rich sources of fiber. Cauliflower and broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens, celery and squash top the list, with up to 10 grams per cooked cup. Artichokes are another high-fiber candidate, with more than 10 grams per medium-sized artichoke.
Watch the Starch
When it comes to losing belly fat, non-starchy vegetables are superior to starchy vegetables like potatoes because non-starchy vegetables have a lower energy density than starchy vegetables. Cooked broccoli has 0.3 calories per gram and a baked red potato has 0.9 calories per gram and fewer calories per serving, with 27 calories for a cup of cooked broccoli versus 154 calories for a medium, baked red potato. If you top your potatoes with sour cream or mash them with butter, your belly fat might be here to stay. That's not to say that starchy vegetables don't have a place in a healthy diet; you just need to be sure to eat much smaller portions and watch what you serve them with.
Putting it all Together
Fill half your plate at each meal with fresh vegetables and fruits. Fill another quarter with a lean protein source, such as white meat chicken, fish or tofu, and the last quarter with whole grains, such as quinoa or brown rice and you've got a recipe for weight loss success. When you feel hungry between meals, snack on cut-up veggies and a little homemade hummus for a low-calorie, filling snack. Remember to combine your nutritious, veggie-rich diet with plenty of water and exercise.
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About it
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Low-Energy-Dense Foods and Weight Management
- USDA: Red Peppers
- USDA: Cheese Crackers
- Health·Alicious·Ness.com: Top 10 Foods Highest in Fiber
- USDA: Artichokes
- USDA: Cooked Broccoli
- USDA: Baked Red Potatoes
- Fruits & Veggies More Matters: Fill Half Your Plate With Color