If you are an elite athlete or just want to achieve a very low percentage of body fat, there are no magic foods, but there are ways of eating that can help you reach your goals. However, 7 percent body fat is a very low amount and may not be healthy for everyone. To be safe, talk to your doctor about your weight loss and percent body fat goals and what the best dietary approach is, based on your overall health.
Healthy Percent of Body Fat
Maintaining a low percent of body fat reduces your risk of arthritis, back pain as well as heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer. However, going too low creates its own problems as your body needs some fat to survive and to function properly. A healthy range of body fat for men is between 10 and 22 percent; for women, the range is between 20 and 32 percent, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Elite athletes may go lower, but women should maintain enough essential fat, which is between 10 to 13 percent, and men should go no lower than 5 to 10 percent. At these low levels, it is important to have regular exams to detect any health problems associated with not enough body fat.
Guidelines for Healthy Fat Loss
Body fat is not lost as quickly as body weight especially if your percent of body fat is already low. The closer you are to your goal, the more difficult it is to shed those extra pounds and fat stores. A general goal is that a 1 percent loss of body fat per month is generally safe. You should only test yourself every few months, as most methods of testing percent of body fat will not detect small losses, reports the American Council on Exercise. In addition, if you want to lose body fat, it is essential to combine exercise with diet. Dieting alone can cause a loss of both fat and muscle, but if you perform strength-training exercises, you can maintain your muscle mass while losing the fat.
Eating to Decrease Body Fat
Trying to lose weight or decrease your percent of body fat too quickly can be dangerous to your health and can rob your body of important nutrients. In severe cases, it can even be fatal. The bottom line in losing both weight and body fat is to eat fewer calories then you burn off, no matter what type of food you are eating. Aiming to lose 1 to 2 lbs. of body weight per week will encourage fat loss, not muscle loss, says Cleveland Clinic. Since 1 lb. of body fat equals 3,500 calories, start by decreasing your daily caloric intake by 250 calories and increasing your physical activity by 250 calories. This will equal a daily 500-calorie deficit or a 1 lb. loss per week. If you can safely decrease another 250 calories per day and burn off another 250 through exercise, then you can increase your weight loss to 2 lbs. per week. Cutting back or exercising any more than this should only be done under medical supervision.
General Dietary Guidelines
A low level of body fat is important to prevent disease, but it is even more important to keep the amount of belly fat you have low, even if you are at a healthy weight. Excess belly fat raises the risk of chronic disease even more than excess fat in other areas of the body. Getting regular exercise is the best way to reduce both belly and body fat even if no weight loss occurs, notes the Harvard Medical School. It is also essential to eat a well-balanced, calorie-controlled diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy. This should be combined with reducing intake of foods that encourage belly fat deposition, such as those that contain trans fats, hydrogenated vegetable oils and foods and drinks sweetened with fructose.