Breakfast is often called the most important meal, but you might be wondering what makes a healthy breakfast and which food types can help you lose belly fat. Many people reach for quick options, like oatmeal or a bagel, but carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, can make belly fat worse.
If you want to slim down, especially in your tummy, you're better off incorporating lower-carbohydrate, higher-protein options like eggs and a healthy source of fat, like avocado, into your weight-loss breakfast.
Although there are no "fat burning foods," these types of foods may help you lose excess belly fat over time. This may go against everything you thought you knew about nutrition, but the good news is that science supports the recommendation.
If you're trying to lose belly fat, your best bet is to build a weight-loss breakfast of high-quality protein, healthy fat and complex carbohydrates in the form of nonstarchy, fiber-rich vegetables. Refined carbohydrates and ready-to-eat breakfast cereals contribute to weight gain and belly fat.
The Dangers of Belly Fat
Your motivation to lose belly fat might be purely for aesthetic reasons, but slimming your waistline doesn't just change the way you look, it also helps improve your health. There are two major types of fat in your body: subcutaneous fat and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat lies just beneath the skin. It's the type of fat you can poke and wiggle. If you see your belly bouncing as you walk, that's subcutaneous fat.
Visceral fat is a different type of fat that lies below the surface. It's found deep in your abdomen, in the spaces between your liver, intestines and other organs. While 90 percent of the fat on your body is subcutaneous, the remaining 10 percent is visceral, according to Harvard Health. If your belly is getting bigger and your waistline is expanding, there's a good chance that the amount of visceral fat you have is also growing.
The problem is that visceral fat doesn't just affect the way you look. It's a biologically active tissue that messes with the way your hormones work. Visceral fat increases the amount of inflammatory proteins, called cytokines, that your body pumps out.
This can lead to chronic inflammation, which is the underlying cause of many modern diseases, like heart disease and autoimmune disorders. Visceral fat also increases the risk of insulin resistance, which can eventually lead to Type 2 diabetes if you don't take care of it.
Opt for Protein Over Carbohydrates
Although there's no tried and true way to tell if you have a lot of visceral fat, a large belly is one indication. If your waist is larger than 35 inches, it's a good idea to start thinking about ways you can reduce the amount of belly fat you have.
One of the things that makes a big difference is your diet and, more specifically, what you choose to eat in the morning. According to studies, eating more protein than carbohydrates can have a positive effect on the amount of visceral fat you have and help you slim down your waistline.
One study that was published in the British Journal of Nutrition in December 2015 compared eating high-carbohydrate foods, like potatoes and cake, to eating high-protein foods, like eggs, and found that, while the high-carbohydrate foods increased visceral fat, the eggs helped get rid of it. Another study in a December 2016 issue of BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care looked at how different types of macronutrients affected those with Type 2 diabetes.
Researchers pointed out that typical recommendations are for diabetics to stick to plant-based foods that tend to be higher in carbohydrates, but they found that when Type 2 diabetics included two eggs a day in their diet for three months, they lost more visceral fat and their waist size went down. On the other hand, excluding eggs from the diet increased insulin resistance (which is associated with more belly fat).
Choose Complex Carbohydrates Over Refined
That doesn't mean that a healthy breakfast is completely devoid of carbohydrates, though. You can still add carbs to your breakfast. Just make sure they're complex carbohydrates instead of refined. A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity in November 2018 looked over surveys from more than 1,000 breakfast eaters and found that, while all of the breakfasts were fairly high in carbohydrates, the type of carbohydrates made a significant difference.
People who ate fruit, unsweetened and unprocessed cereal, yogurt and nuts and seeds had less belly fat than those who ate processed, sweetened cereals or bread. Researchers noted that it was because, even though the breakfasts were higher in carbohydrates, they also contained a significant amount of fiber, which can contribute to weight loss and blood sugar control.
That may seem like an obvious conclusion, but it's important to note that many cereals marketed as "healthy" contain significant amounts of sugar. You may think you're making a good choice picking up a packet of oatmeal, but even organic varieties contain 12 grams of sugar if they're sweetened.
A Healthy Breakfast With Fat
Now here's where you may get surprised: eating high-fat foods in the morning may also help you lose belly fat. The previous school of thought was that high-fat foods made you gain weight, but the actual research suggests otherwise.
Researchers from a study published in Nutrients in April 2019, had participants consume a high-fat breakfast meal replacement for eight weeks. They were surprised to find that including fat during breakfast didn't cause weight gain, but it did help participants feel more satisfied (and left them feeling full longer), so they ate less and took in fewer calories during the day.
An important thing to note, though, is that high-fat meal replacements were used instead of actual high-fat foods, but emerging research is showing that unsaturated fats and some types of saturated fats, like coconut oil, can be part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Make sure you're choosing healthy fats, though. Trans fats, which are found in commercially processed foods and some fried foods, directly increase visceral and belly fat, while also increasing bad cholesterol levels. The good news is that the FDA banned trans fats after learning about how bad they are for your health and is phasing out all partially hydrogenated oils from processed and manufactured foods by the year 2021. Examples of healthy fats include:
- Avocado and avocado oil
- Coconut and coconut oil
- Olives and olive oil
- Fatty fish (salmon and mackerel)
- Circulation: "Effect of Distinct Lifestyle Interventions on Mobilization of Fat Storage Pools"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Association of Food Consumption With Total Volumes of Visceral and Subcutaneous Abdominal Adipose Tissue in a Northern German Population"
- BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care: "Egg Ingestion in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes: Effects on Glycemic Control, Anthropometry and Diet Quality — A Randomized, Controlled, Crossover Trial"
- International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity: "Association Between Breakfast Composition and Abdominal Obesity in the Swiss Adult Population Eating Breakfast Regularly"
- USDA Branded Food Products Database: "Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Taking Aim at Belly Fat"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Final Determination Regarding Partially Hydrogenated Oils (Removing Trans Fat)"
- Nutrients: "High-Fat Breakfast Meal Replacement in Overweight and Obesity: Implications on Body Composition, Metabolic Markers and Satiety"