Even if you're of normal weight, a wide middle can be a serious health concern. This belly fat -- particularly visceral fat, which surrounds abdominal organs -- secretes inflammatory hormones into the body and puts you at a greater risk of serious health problems, such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Regular exercise and healthier eating habits can help trim your waist, especially if you include specific types of foods. The top foods for reducing belly fat are all-natural, provide essential nutrients and help you feel full for a lengthy period of time.
All fat doesn't automatically lead to belly fat. Consuming poly- and monounsaturated fats, such as those found in nuts, avocados, salmon and olive oil, in place of trans and saturated fats can actually help you lose fat. In a small study published in "Diabetes Care" in 2007, participants who consumed a monounsaturated-fat-rich diet did not store fat in their belly as did participants consuming a carbohydrate-rich diet. An earlier study, published in "Diabetologia" in 2002, found that when people switched from a diet heavy in saturated fats to one rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, their abdominal fat was reduced. In this study, the fat reduction occurred in the subcutaneous layer that lies directly under the skin -- not in the deep visceral layers. Because unsaturated fats are among the best foods to flatten your belly, they are a cornerstone of trendy diets that promise flat abdominals, such as the Flat Belly Diet.
Whole Grain Goodness
Eating more whole grains, especially as part of a low-calorie diet and in lieu of refined carbohydrates, helps your belly shrink. A study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2008 found that weight loss occurred among all participants who ate a low-calorie diet, but those who consumed whole grains as their exclusive grain foods for 12 weeks lost significant amounts of visceral fat. Adults between the ages of 60 and 80 also reap the belly-reducing benefits of eating more whole-grain cereal fiber, showed a study in "Journal of Nutrition" published in 2009. Whole grains include oats, brown rice, quinoa and barley. Whole grains are featured as two of the 12 "power foods," the foods most likely to help you achieve a flat belly, in the Abs Diet.
Milk Does a Belly Good
Dairy, particularly milk, may also help your belly shrink. A 2014 issue of "Pediatric Obesity" published a study which found that adolescents who drank more than two servings of milk per day had less central abdominal fat than their peers who drank fewer servings. A 2011 study published in the "Journal of Nutrition" similarly found that women who consumed high amounts of milk and protein on a low-calorie diet lost more abdominal fat than their counterparts who didn't drink milk, despite consuming the same number of calories. Milk also provides essential nutrients, such as calcium, potassium and vitamin D -- making it an especially valuable food in any diet. If you prefer yogurt to milk, it may help you shrink your middle as well. A study published in the "International Journal of Obesity" in 2005 showed that participants who consumed yogurt daily as part of a low-calorie diet lost 81 percent more belly fat than those who did not consume daily yogurt on the low-calorie plan.
Plenty of Protein
Women who followed a high-protein diet for 12 weeks lost significantly more abdominal fat than those on a standard diet, according to a study in "Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease" in 2009. Eggs, lean meats, salmon, whey protein and nuts all count as protein sources, and these foods are featured as primary foods in both the Abs Diet and the Flat Belly Diet. Protein helps you feel full, so you won't feel as hungry when trying to slim down.
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- Diabetes Care: Monounaturated Fat-Rich Diet Prevents Central Body Fat Distribution and Decreases Postprandial Adiponectin Expression Induced by a Carbohydrate-Rich Diet in Insulin-Resistant Subjects
- Diabetologia: Substituting Dietary Saturated Fat With Polyunsaturated Fat Changes Abdominal Fat Distribution and Improves Insulin Sensitivity
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: The Effects of a Whole Grain-Enriched Hypocaloric Diet on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Men and Women With Metabolic Syndrome
- Journal of Nutrition: Whole-Grain Intake and Cereal Fiber Are Associated With Lower Abdominal Adiposity in Older Adults
- Pediatric Obesity: Relationship of Milk Intake and Physical Activity to Abdominal Obesity Among Adolescents
- U.S. News and World Report: Flat Belly Diet
- Science Daily: Foods Rich in Protein, Dairy Products Help Dieters Preserve Muscle and Lose Belly Fat
- Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice: Beneficial Effect of Low Carbohydrate in Low Calorie Diets on Visceral Fat Reduction in Type 2 Diabetic Patients With Obesity
- Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease: High Protein Diets Decrease Total and Abdominal Fat and Improve CVD Risk Profile in Overweight and Obese Men and Women With Elevated Triacylglycerol