You’ve spent hours at the gym and done so many crunches you’ve lost count, but you might feel like you haven’t made much progress with your weight loss — especially when it comes to reducing fat around your midline. What gives?
Magazines boasting the “10 Best Exercises to Blast Belly Fat” are great and all, but they may not be addressing a key part of weight loss: Your diet. The good news is, you don’t need to spend an eternity on an ab machine. The foods you eat can play an important role in your efforts to lose weight, but knowing where to start is a great first step.
Watching your portion sizes and eating more nutritious foods could help you reduce belly fat. And some, as it turns out, might be better at the job than others. Read on to find out 7 of the best foods to reduce belly fat and support your health.
Types of abdominal fat
To understand how to reduce belly fat, it helps to recognize that the body stores three basic types of fat: ectopic, subcutaneous and visceral.1
Subcutaneous fat is the type you’re probably most familiar with. It sits just beneath the skin, and you can feel it when you pinch a soft part of your body. Ectopic fat occurs in relatively small amounts inside your organs, and visceral fat packs itself around your organs, acting as unwanted insulation for your liver, stomach, and intestines. This is the fat that pushes the abdominal wall outward to create what’s commonly called a beer belly. It’s also the fat you should be most concerned with.
The more visceral fat you have, the more likely you may suffer a heart attack, stroke, or certain cancers. Plus, it clogs up your body’s organic machinery and interferes with the body’s ability to use insulin, which could make you more likely to develop diabetes.2
We outline why belly fat can be harmful to your health in more detail here, but an important thing to know is that up to the point of middle age, visceral fat is most common in men.3 And the best way to reduce it is through a combination of diet and exercise. (To kick-start a workout plan, check out our story on Workout Motivation for Men.)
So to help your waistline and health, we’ve outlined the best foods you can eat to potentially reduce belly fat, specifically visceral fat. Include them as part of a reduced-calorie diet and you could see massive improvements in your health.
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In a large survey, researchers determined that people who ate beans were 22% less likely to be obese than those who skipped beans entirely.4 What’s more, bean eaters had lower blood pressure and tended to consume more nutrients. And in a separate study, researchers in Toronto told men to either restrict their caloric intake or eat more beans. Both groups grew slimmer.5
So in future meals, consider subbing a side of beans in place of fries or white rice. And have no fear of flatulence: Heroic researchers from Arizona State University have determined that people’s worries about bean-based gas is generally overblown.6
Eat it: From pinto beans and black beans to soybeans and chickpeas — there are lots of delicious options to choose from! A half cup of beans is the perfect single serving to support your weight loss goals. On their own, they’re considered an incomplete protein, so amp up the nutrient factor with a small serving of whole-grain rice and add balance with a serving of non-starchy vegetables.
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In a study of people trying to lose visceral fat, daily walnut intake offered the benefit of improving the function of endothelial cells, which help arteries relax. In turn, this can help decrease the odds of a heart attack. The research, published in Nutrition Journal, had people consume 56 grams of walnuts, or about two standard servings, per day.7
But here’s what’s most interesting: The walnuts contributed more than 350 calories to the participants’ diets, but interestingly, they led to a slight decrease in waist circumference. (That’s partly why we dubbed walnuts one of the best overall foods for men’s health.)
Eat it: Walnuts can be calorie-dense, so stick to your weight loss goals with a more manageable portion: about four walnut halves. Try one of these healthy ways to enjoy them: Toast and chop walnuts for a crunchy salad topping, mix them into a hearty bowl of oatmeal, or stir them into yogurt for extra flavor and crunch.
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In a study from China, researchers asked 300 overweight participants to eat a normal diet, a high-fiber diet, or a high-fiber diet with oats. Over two months, those in the oats group were the only ones to see a reduction in visceral fat.8
Eat it: Whether you prefer them to be quick, old-fashioned or steel-cut, oats make a delicious breakfast. Top a bowl of oatmeal with fresh berries and cinnamon to start your day off right.
Photo by Elle Hughes on Unsplash
4. Chili peppers
One study confirmed that people may be less likely to overeat when a chili pepper accompanied every meal.10 A spicy compound called capsaicin could offer a partial explanation, but the complex flavor could offer its own benefits.
Eat it: Try adding fresh chilis to a meal for a boost of capsaicin — removing the seeds and ribs will help reduce the heat. And raw peppers aren’t the only food with capsaicin: A dash of cayenne pepper is great over eggs and steamed veggies. Or, try adding it to a blend of other spices, like chili powder or a homemade Cajun-style spice mix.
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A single large egg has six grams of protein, but only 74 calories.11 Why do those stats matter? Because in a study of 27 overweight men setting out to eat low-calorie diets, those who ate more protein felt more full, and were less likely to experience late-night cravings.12 In other words, eggs are a key to keeping calories low while keeping your energy levels high. And don’t worry, research indicates they don’t lead to high cholesterol.
Eat it: Scrambled, baked or boiled, eggs are one of the most versatile, protein-packed foods out there. Serve your eggs with a side of your favorite veggies — or add them right in — for extra nutrients and flavor.
Photo by VioletaStoimenova on iStock
6. Fruits and vegetables
Eating a colorful mix of fruits and vegetables won’t just boost your vitamin intake for the day, it’ll also increase the amount of fiber you consume — a healthy component that’s been tied to reduced visceral fat. One study found that increasing the total of dietary fiber and soluble fiber in study participants’ diets and participating in vigorous activity resulted in decreased visceral fat.13 And for every 10 grams of soluble fiber added to their diets, participants actually lowered the rate that fat accumulated by over 3%.
Unlike sugar-sweetened foods that could lead to a dramatic blood sugar spike and crash, fiber-rich foods slow down digestion,14 helping you feel more satisfied (and potentially less likely to overeat). Check out more benefits of fiber and some of our favorite fiber-rich foods.
Photo by Niclas Illg on Unsplash
7. Greek yogurt
In one study from the University of Tennessee, researchers put subjects on a low-calorie diet — either with or without yogurt. After 12 weeks, those in the yogurt group lost 61% more weight and dropped four additional centimeters off their waistlines.15
The effect is due in large part to yogurt’s calcium and protein, and since Greek yogurt has plenty of both, it’s a good option for people trying to lose weight.16
Eat it: Like oatmeal, yogurt is a blank canvas for amazing flavors. For something more savory, add a handful of fresh herbs and spices to make a quick dip for fresh vegetables. Or, reach for plain nonfat Greek yogurt and add natural sweetness and crunch with fruit or nuts.
We hope that this list of best foods to reduce belly fat has given you some motivation to start incorporating some of them into your diet. Reducing your overall body fat percentage could lead to great gains in your overall health and energy. To discover more ways Jenny Craig can help you on your weight loss journey, contact us to schedule a free appointment.
 https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/gim/core_resources/Patient Handouts/Handouts_May_2012/The Skinny on Visceral Fat.pdf
Clint Carter is a reporter with more than a decade of experience in health, nutrition, and fitness, and his stories have appeared in Men's Health, Women's Health, Shape, and other fitness-driven magazines. His reporting is driven by the belief that foods are rarely ever "good" or "bad," but rather, their value depends on how they fit into an overall diet. His favorite meals are those consumed at a campsite, and much of his time is spent cycling and hiking around his home in New York's Hudson Valley.
Favorite healthy snack: sardines and avocado on toast
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
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Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig