Belly fat is dangerous fat to carry because it makes it harder for your body to regulate blood sugar, blood fats, and blood pressure. Plus, the deeper the fat, the more danger it poses to your organs and your health over time. Research has shown that belly fat does not just hang around your belly without consequences. On the contrary, belly fat is highly active and secretes both hormones and toxins. It can even elevate LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. With all this activity, it should come as no surprise that belly fat is a big risk factor for diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.
The good news is that belly fat is highly responsive to lifestyle changes, especially physical activity. Exercise appears to hit the abdomen first by shedding belly fat – prior to shaping up hips or thighs.
So, the first line of defense is movement.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that we get active for at least 150 minutes per week. That's about 30 minutes on five days a week. Combine aerobic exercise like walking or jogging with anaerobic exercise like strength training.
Eating for a Svelte Tummy
Want to get rid of that belly fat?
Managing stress is a big factor in reducing belly fat because cortisol, a stress hormone, causes fat to accumulate around your middle. Also, inflammation is kept at bay with a flatter belly. So choose foods that fend off stress and inflammation, such as unsaturated fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds and fish. Unsaturated, omega-3 fats can reduce internal stress, as well as inflammation. Omega-3-rich foods include cold-water fish, like salmon, halibut, trout, and tuna. Don't like fish? Then get an ounce of omega-3 nuts and seeds everyday – like walnuts, flax, chia, and hemp seeds.
Protein-rich foods may boost metabolism too, because it takes a bit more energy to burn them. Remember, fatty red meats and full-fat dairy products contain more calories and saturated fat, which defeats the purpose of eating protein to get rid of that extra fat. Instead, choose lean protein sources like chicken or turkey breast, pork loin, buffalo, or even ostrich meats. Also, choose low-fat dairy. Better yet – eat more plant-based proteins like beans, legumes, tofu, and whole grains like quinoa and amaranth. In general, add more fruits and vegetables to your diet for lower-calorie, fiber-filled meals and snacks that will keep your tummy flat and happy!
By Victoria Shanta Retelny, RD, LDN, author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.