Everyone is familiar with the old saying “you are what you eat!” and this couldn’t be truer when it comes to achieving and maintaining your ideal weight! Diet is going to be one of your most important weapons in the fight against belly fat – you can lose weight through dieting alone. Experts estimate that around 80 to 90 percent of the success or failure of your fat loss will be attributed to your food intake (1).
However, diet shouldn’t translate as “stopping certain foods altogether”, rather, you should think about diet as your attitude towards food. Changing the kinds of food you eat as well as the frequency you eat them and your portion sizes!
Getting a balance of a range of different food groups remains the most important thing. You don’t want to make your body deficient in a particular nutrient, and you want your new food intake to be sustainable over an extended period of time – avoid crazy diets that only allow you to eat/drink a very limited thing! That way, you ensure that you’ll not only lose weight but go on to build a healthy body, fueling it with the right levels of nutrition for a long period of time.
The Five Principles to a Successful Nutrition Plan
- Adequacy – The amount of food you eat should match your activity level during the day.
- Balance – Avoid only eating one particular type of food. Aim for a balance across the different food groups.
- Nutrient Density – Consume more foods that are nutrient-dense, while decreasing your consumption of high energy-dense, low nutrient-dense foods.
- Moderation – Moderating your portion sizes will help you to manage your weight better as well as reducing your consumption of foods high in sugar and fat.
- Variety – Variety is the spice of life, the same motto goes for weight loss! Don’t get stuck eating the same meals or your weight-loss journey will suddenly seem much harder, and more boring.
Eat These Foods
The first rule is to simply eat real, whole foods that were grown from the ground or a tree. Processed foods (any food that comes in a box) is often low in nutrition, fibre, and high in sugar, salt, additives and preservatives. They don’t fill you up and lead to more cravings and overeating! What’s more, don’t fall for marketing gimmicks like “low fat” and “made with whole grains”. They often mean very little and are pumped full of sugar.
Below are some examples of real, whole foods that are especially good for you during the weight loss journey.
————— Fruits and Vegetables —————
When compared to other fruits like apples, avocados have a very low sugar content which is great news for insulin levels. One thing they are rich in is mono unsaturated fat which is proven to give you an energy boost and keep your metabolism going (5) making it a great pre-workout snack!
One study even found that people who eat half a fresh avocado decreased their desire to eat by 40 percent for a few hours following it (4). They would certainly make a great breakfast.
Eating berries is an excellent way to satisfy your sweet tooth without feeling guilty, and in comparison to most other fruits, berries have a relatively low calorie and sugar content (7). In general, fruit is a good source of dietary fiber when eaten whole, leaving you feeling satiated and slowing down sugar absorption (8).
If you’re not sure how to get more berries into your diet, eat them as a snack, or add them to smoothies or stirred through your morning oatmeal.
Apples and Pears
Pears and apples are two of only a handful of fruits that have low calories and high fiber. Since they are a rich source of dietary fiber, apples and pears will make you feel full without eating too much. Just be sure to eat the whole fruit, as juice alone lacks the necessary dietary fiber needed to digest and process the sugars properly!
Grapefruit is your new best friend when it comes to burning belly fat. It stimulates the production of cholecystokinin, a known hunger suppressant (9). Additionally, grapefruit lowers insulin levels of the body, which prevents our body from storing fat (10).
Again, you should always aim to eat the whole fruit as the flesh stores most of the nutrients and contains the fiber you need to digest the fruit’s sugars properly.
Sweet potato’s inherent natural sweetness makes it a very appealing ingredient for arange of recipes. It is a rich source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients that benefit our eyesight, heart and digestive system.
Compared to its close relative the potato, sweet potato has a lower Glycemic Index which measures how fast it releases sugar into the bloodstream (11), so it makes a great substitute! It’s another food that’s rich in dietary fiber steadying the pace of digestion and giving enough time for the starches to be converted into simple sugars in the digestive tract (12).
Chili peppers have one particular ingredient that suppresses appetite and burns fat – capsaicin (14). Capsaicin is responsible for that burning sensation in our mouth when we eat chili, but it also burns fat through a process called thermogenesis (literally converting food into heat) for over 20 minutes after we eat it (15).
Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and romaine lettuce are known for their rich nutrient and fiber content while being low in carbohydrates and calories. Leafy greens are one of the healthiest foods you can add to your diet because of their low energy density (low calories), meaning you can eat more without much risk of gaining weight, plus they help you feel fuller for longer (16).
This vegetable family is rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid (a crucial nutrient for pregnant women), carotenoids, and fiber, while also being low in calories and fat.
Per one hundred calories you consume, you’ll get around 25 to 40 percent of your daily dietary fiber requirement (17), this not only helps with weight loss but also aids in improving our digestive health.
————— Beans and Legumes —————
Beans and legumes are rare in that they combine high protein and fiber without the saturated fat. This is what makes them ideal for moderating or losing weight because protein and fiber go through the digestive system at a slower pace, leaving you feeling fuller for longer, as well as helping to move along any foods that might be stuck in your gastrointestinal tract.
The slower pace also helps regulate blood sugar balance, and beans lead to a production of a hormone known to be an appetite suppressant (6).
————— Meat and Fish —————
Lean grass-fed beef and organic chicken
Adding lean (keyword) beef to your diet is one way to help you lose weight because of its protein content. Studies have shown that by simply adding protein to your diet, cravings can be reduced by up to 60 percent (18).
Chicken breast is another fantastic source of protein which makes it a staple of a lot of weight loss diets. You should aim to grill meat wherever possible as frying it will add to the calorie content.
Salmon is a rich source of nutrients that indirectly help in regulating weight. This nutrient-dense fish is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids which boost brain function and contribute to improving mood. Omega-3 also helps reduce inflammation and aids digestion – better digestion means better weight regulation, reducing your chances of obesity and metabolic disease (19, 20).
New studies have also shown that salmon contains proteins and amino acids that affect insulin effectiveness and the inflammation of the digestive tract (21).
————— Additional Ingredients —————
Apple Cider Vinegar
If you love your salads, instead of using fatty or creamy dressings which can make an otherwise healthy dish pretty unhealthy, try using an apple cider vinegar based vinaigrette instead. Alternatively, you could drink it by diluting it in water.
Apple cider vinegar is rich in acetic acid, which in one study was found to suppress body fat accumulation (22) and, in others, linked to improving insulin sensitivity in people who have type-2 diabetes (23).
Plain Greek Yogurt
This is a healthier alternative to traditional yogurt because it has less sodium, sugar, and carbohydrates, but also has a little bit more protein (24). Yogurt, in general, is also a rich source of probiotics, a major factor in our digestive health, keeping bad bacteria in check. You can read more about the role of probiotics in weight management in the supplements chapter of this article.
Be sure to choose plain unflavored and unsweetened Greek yogurt for the optimal results. You can add fruits to sweeten it up naturally or add it to a healthy smoothie recipe.
Generally speaking, nuts are a rich source of healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), protein, and fiber, but not all nuts are created equal – almonds, cashews, and pistachios contain the least amount of calories so should be your go-to nuts!
Almonds, in particular, are proven to help in weight loss, in one study a 3-ounce almond supplement saw participants lose 7 percent more in terms of body weight compared to the other group that had a supplement of complex carbohydrates (25).
Macadamia and pecans contain the most calories so you should certainly try and minimize these in your weight-loss journey!
Coconut oil is a rich source of fatty acids – great for boosting brain function, lowering blood cholesterol, and potentially helping reduce seizures in people who suffer from epilepsy (26, 27, 28). Additionally, the high fatty acid content in coconut oil is great for appetite suppression (29). Use it in place of your usual oil when cooking foods – the taste usually isn’t very overpowering. Alternatively, add it to your smoothies.
These seeds are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and protein. A total of 14 percent of chia seeds’ weight is protein. Chia seeds can easily be mixed into juices, smoothies, cereal, veggies, or yogurt to add a contrasting nutty flavor.
Matcha literally means, ‘powdered tea’ and it’s a special form of green tea that is usually grown in Japan. Unlike traditional green tea where the leaves are discarded, you consume the entire chlorophyll-rich leaves that have been handpicked, steamed, dried, and ground into a fine green powder.
Matcha contains EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) a very potent antioxidant. It increases fat oxidation (fat burning) by 33 percent, as well as inhibiting fat cell development (38).
Eat More Fiber
Fiber isn’t just super healthy for your heart and cholesterol; it’s also a tummy toner. A recent study found that foods high in fiber could reduce visceral body fat – the fat cells deep in the belly. Researchers say that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber eaten per day, visceral fat was reduced by 3.7 percent over five years (2).
Where can you get soluble fiber? Vegetables, fruit, and beans. Get them in your diet!
Avoid These Foods
Hold the Salt
Salt is an essential electrolyte, especially if you’re working out and sweating a lot, but you need to avoid consuming too much of it, as this can lead to water retention, which causes bloating.
Salt is a big culprit in packaged or processed foods, so check the nutrition facts label for sodium levels, or do all of your cooking at home and carefully monitor the salt you add to dishes, as well as opting for low-sodium ingredients.
Skip the Diet Soda
Any beverages with bubbles will make you bloat, but some research suggests that diet sodas might lead to increased belly fat on top of the bloating! Studies found that people who drank diet soda gained almost triple the abdominal fat over nine years as those who didn’t drink diet soda (3).
Say “No” to Bread, Even Whole Wheat!
Most bread causes a spike in blood sugar followed by a crash, and all without any real nutritional value. Wheat has been found to stimulate hunger (30). Additionally, most store-bought breads contain hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives. Nothing you really want to be putting into your body!
Avoid Refined Carbohydrates
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Carbohydrates generally get a bad rap, but they aren’t the problem, refined carbohydrates are. Refined carbohydrates are pure sugar; they are completely stripped of their fiber leaving only simple carbohydrates behind. This makes foods containing them addictive, and plenty of emerging research is showing that refined carbs are the real culprit behind metabolic damage (31).
Look out for them in bread, white pasta, and breakfast cereals, and avoid them where possible.
Cut the Junk Out
This goes without saying, but the majority of junk foods really aren’t doing you any favors in the waistline department. In fact, one study showed that for some people with metabolic disease, just one high-calorie milkshake was enough to make it even worse, and in other people, relatively short periods of overeating could trigger the beginnings of metabolic disease ( 34).
Steer Clear from Processed Foods
So many of the packaged foods we buy from stores have been processed in some way or other. Even supposedly healthy foods, when made at such a large scale for the masses, have to be processed in some way or other. This often means adding lots of chemicals that can wreak havoc on our bodies.
One study from Georgia State University looked at the effects of preservatives on mice. In only 12 weeks, mice that had been fed with emulsifiers (a common preservative used to maintain food texture) ate more food and gained more weight. Those mice also become glucose intolerant, setting them up for diabetes and metabolic syndrome ( 33).
Flavor enhancing chemicals added to foods to make them more ‘satisfying’ can also lead to overconsumption and even addiction to these foods (32).
Lemons help minimize weight gain while also improving insulin resistance in the body. They are high in pectin fiber, which helps keep you feeling full for longer, fighting hunger pangs, and keep cravings at bay (35).
Raw Honey is a healthy alternative to sugar, and you can use it to sweeten foods and bever- ages. However, make sure when you’re shopping for honey that you don’t purchase pasteur- ized honey which is void of nutrition. Instead, opt for raw honey; it’s beneficial enzymes and antimicrobial properties will still be intact!
Cinnamon can imitate the activity of insulin in the body, regulating blood sugar levels (13).
Weight Management and Fasting
These days, most people follow a “three meals plus snacks” daily eating pattern, but this is somewhat of an anomaly when you think about it in terms of human evolution.
Before the development of agriculture 10,000 or so years ago, humans survived on more irregular food intake due to their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Fasting was a fact of life in hunter-gatherer societies. Humans evolved to function well physically and men- tally even amid fasting conditions.
Present-day scientists are exploring how intermittent fasting (consuming either 500 calories or less two days per week, or eating within a 6-8 hour period daily) may yield benefits regarding lower chronic disease rates, reduction in neurological disorders, improved weight management, and a slower rate of aging (36).
The times at which we eat appears to be an important factor in sustainable weight management. Periodic energy restriction triggers the body to produce more enzymes needed to burn fat for fuel, instead of producing glucose-metabolizing enzymes (37). Essentially, over time, the energy metabolism of the body shifts to burning fat as its primary fuel source instead of carbohydrates.
————— How To Do It —————
There are a couple of fasting techniques which are pretty easy to make part of your routine and are sustainable over longer periods of time than some of the more ex- treme fasting methods out there.
The first is taking a calorie restricted diet for two days out of seven in your week. On those days you should eat no more than 500 calories and, as with all of your eating, these calories should be made up of healthy, whole foods. You may be surprised at how far these 500 calories can go.
The other method of fasting is to do all of your eating within a 6-8 hour period every day. However, this version is perhaps a little less appealing for people with busy sched- ules or a family to feed!
Fasting has been practiced for several millennia by many different civilizations but only recently have scientific studies on fasting been conducted. Evidence continues to support the idea that the practice of periodic fasting may have various health and weight-management benefits.
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