Okay, don't sniff at the messenger, but are you ready for some sobering news? The fat we store in our midsections might be the most detrimental to our health. Why? According to studies, it's this stubborn (and common!) area that can pose the greatest risk factors regarding potential health issues like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and more —all things serious enough to make us take pause before our next Uber Eats order. To truly burn fat, experts say a balanced fitness regimen infused with quality cardio is key. That said, if you hate cardio, a low-impact workout could pose as a good alternative.
However, there are other ways you can jump-start the process—namely, your diet. We asked two health professionals—Alexandra Samit, Be Well health coach at Frank Lipman’s Eleven Eleven Wellness Center, and Nicole Granato, a women’s health specialist—for the healthy and delicious foods we can nosh on in order to keep our bellies in balanced homeostasis for the sake of our health. After all, a long and healthy life is the ultimate goal, right? Here are 10 foods experts say can help get rid of even the most stubborn belly fat.
1. MCT Oil
A spoonful of MCT oil makes the belly fat go down is what we’re singing to ourselves. What is MCT oil exactly? According to Samit, medium-chain triglycerides are a unique form of fat that requires less energy and fewer enzymes to be digested. “As a result, they are readily available sources of energy, leading to an increase in metabolism and providing quick energy replenishment,” she says.
And unlike other dietary fats, MCTs don’t get stored as fat in the body—rather, they get burned for energy. A study found that over a 12-week period, subjects who got MCT oil lost about two pounds more than the control group. Add a tablespoon to your morning smoothie for a fat-burning boost. You can purchase MCT Oil ($28) right from the interwebs.
Beyond MCT oil, Granato says to add whole foods full of healthy fats to your diet—think avocados, sweet potatoes, beans, legumes, nuts, and oily fish (like salmon). “Healthy fats are essential when trying to lose weight, especially in the stomach region,” she says. “Your body needs protein and fats to function at its best. When we do not give our bodies the proper amount of carbohydrates and healthy fats, it begins to find them from a secondary source, like our muscles.”
Sauerkraut haters, it’s time to tell your taste buds to get over themselves. Samit recommends eating sauerkraut by the spoonful if losing weight in your belly region is a goal. “A happy gut is a happy life,” she says. “The bacteria in your gut can affect your metabolism.” Along with taking a daily probiotic, she recommends adding in foods that naturally contain probiotics like sauerkraut, kimchi, or bone broth. (Another side effect of taking probiotics? Glowing skin.)
4. Whole Grains
We’re carb lovers through and through, but it’s time we swapped our white bread for whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, black rice, and barley. According to Granato, removing refined grains from your diet and subbing in whole grains will help reduce belly fat, as well as fight inflammation and prevent heart disease. “Studies show that eating a whole grain diet can greatly reduce belly fat,” she promises. “Feeding your body with whole foods is essential to preventing snacking and bouts of hunger.”
5. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is the beauty multitasker—but have you been drinking it? If not, you should. Both Samit and Granato recommend drinking apple cider vinegar to jump-start weight loss. “Women who frequently gain weight in the abdominal and stomach area do so because of digestion issues, hormonal balance, and bloating,” Granato explains. “This super tonic balances healthy bacteria in the gut, promoting better digestion, balancing pH levels in the body, and killing any viruses and unwanted bacteria.” Samit agrees, saying that ACV helps increase stomach acid (which improves digestion) and aids your body’s absorption of key nutrients from food. She recommends mixing one tablespoon of ACV with water, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a drop of stevia to taste; Granato says you can take one to two tablespoons daily for optimal health benefits.
While a variety of foods (think peas, beans, and lentils) fall under the legume umbrella, lentils, which are high in fiber, might be some of the best for burning up belly fat. Plus, they have extra tummy perks to boot. For instance, are you getting enough iron?
Over 20% of women are not, and your body needs iron to carry out its calorie-burning processes effectively. Iron facilitates the flow of oxygen throughout the body, which helps increase energy and your metabolism. Just one cup of lentils provides 35% of your daily iron needs, plus protein and fiber, which aid in digestion.
7. Sweet Potatoes
Filled with fiber (which is great for your gut), sweet potatoes are a healthy source of carbohydrates and vitamins your tummy will love. According to nutritionist Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, fiber is "the key to staying full without lots of calories," while also "keeping you regular, which leads to a flatter belly." Plus, a cooled or hot sweet potato is an excellent vehicle for healthy, fat-filled toppings like almond butter, ghee, or coconut oil, all of which are great for burning belly fat.
The high-protein content of nuts makes your body burn more fat in order to digest them. They’re also a low-glycemic food, which means eating them keeps your blood sugar very stable. However, to keep bloating to a minimum, opt for raw and unsalted forms in lieu of roasted, candied, sugared, and spiced—all of which are harder on your digestive system, aka might incite bloat and belly disturbances.
Instead of reaching for sugar-filled sweets (which have been linked to weight gain around the midsection ), experts like Farah Fahad, MS, RD, recommend switching in healthy fat–infused fare instead. Fatty fish like salmon are especially great as they also have a high ratio of protein, which will keep you fuller (and less prone to impromptu snacking) longer.
"Healthy fats (like avocado, fatty fish, nuts, and dark chocolate) are an important part of your diet. Refined sugar is not and should be limited," Fahad warns. "I am not talking about fruits, raw honey, or maple syrup, which are natural sources. But watch out for processed sugar, as it's usually a combination of glucose and fructose, if you're looking to cut belly fat. "
Beans (think red, white, and black, not refried) are a belly fat-scorching and metabolism-boosting food loaded with fiber, which lowers insulin levels after eating and improves insulin sensitivity over time. The result? Your body stores less fat. Plus, the B vitamins and zinc in beans boost testosterone, which helps increase energy and build calorie-burning muscle. A win-win-win, no?
Harvard Health Publishing. Taking Aim at Belly Fat. Harvard Health.
Assunção ML, Ferreira HS, Dos santos AF, Cabral CR, Florêncio TM. Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Lipids. 2009;44(7):593-601. doi:10.1007/s11745-009-3306-6
Kikuchi Y, Nozaki S, Makita M, et al. Effects of Whole Grain Wheat Bread on Visceral Fat Obesity in Japanese Subjects: A Randomized Double-Blind Study. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2018;73(3):161-165. doi:10.1007/s11130-018-0666-1
Hlebowicz J, Darwiche G, Björgell O, Almér LO. Effect of apple cider vinegar on delayed gastric emptying in patients with type 1 diabetes mellitus: a pilot study. BMC Gastroenterol. 2007;7:46. doi:10.1186/1471-230X-7-46
Coad J, Conlon C. Iron deficiency in women: assessment, causes and consequences. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011;14(6):625-34. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834be6fd
Rebello CJ, O'neil CE, Greenway FL. Dietary fiber and satiety: the effects of oats on satiety. Nutr Rev. 2016;74(2):131-47. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nuv063
Westerterp KR. Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004;1(1):5. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-1-5
Stanhope KL. Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci. 2016;53(1):52-67. doi:10.3109/10408363.2015.1084990
Turner TF, Nance LM, Strickland WD, Malcolm RJ, Pechon S, O'neil PM. Dietary adherence and satisfaction with a bean-based high-fiber weight loss diet: a pilot study. ISRN Obes. 2013;2013:915415. doi:10.1155/2013/915415