First, it is important to understand you cannot “spot reduce.” In other words, there are no foods or exercises which will magically lead your body to preferentially burn abdominal fat versus fat in other parts of the body (though there are some supplements which research shows can help specifically with abdominal fat loss). Where you store fat is largely genetic, so thank your parents for better or worse, and only a sound nutrition and exercise plan can permanently reduce fat. But even if you tend to store most of your fat around your belly, you can still eliminate the fat layer over your abs if you lose enough fat overall. Being in a calorie deficit is the only way for mostly all people to lose fat. (Why mostly and not all? People with carbohydrate sensitivity can sometimes lose substantial body fat without lowering calories by increasing protein and fat at the expense of carbs in the diet- I’ve seen it happen.) Below are 6 foods that can help you do this. There are obviously more than 6 out there, and there are many others that could have just as easily made my list, but these 6 are seriously worth considering. I use them all. As always, ignore these suggestions if none of is feasible within your lifestyle. But if that is the case, I urge you to ask yourself if it is really not feasible, or are you just saying that?
- Low or nonfat Greek Yogurt: Greek yogurt is filling and has almost twice the protein as regular yogurt. It is rich in calcium, and research has shown that people with high intakes of calcium from dairy sources lose more weight than those with lower intakes despite an equal amount of calorie restriction. Furthermore, it comes in single-serving containers which can be very convenient and adaptable for a busy person. Different brands have different calorie and sugar counts, so make sure what you are using fits within your nutritional plan.
Dr. Charlie’s Suggestion: Mix Greek yogurt with berries and sprinkle with flax seeds for an easy, nutritious and filling breakfast.
- Wild Alaskan Salmon: First off, it tastes fantastic. It is very high in protein and contains an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to not only support heart and brain health, but can also cause an increase in lean muscle and decrease in body fat independent of any other dietary changes and activity. Supplementing with omega-3 is often appropriate, and most of my patients at Limitless Longevity are on them, but whenever you can get your nutrients from nature, you should, and it doesn’t get much better than wild salmon. Additionally, the Alaskan salmon fishery causes minimal environmental impact, is sustainable and yields fish which are low in toxins like Mercury.
Dr. Charlie’s Suggestion: For dinner, try broiling a piece of salmon brushed with a small amount of honey and serve it with a black bean and jalapeño salsa and a big salad.
- Zero Calorie Sweeteners/Diet Iced Tea: I hesitated to put this one on the list, as I know it is very controversial. Or perhaps that’s why it’s on the list. I believe that incorporating diet drinks into a fat loss plan is a good idea for a lot of people. If you have a sweet tooth and can satisfy it by drinking a sweetened, non-caloric drink, go for it. As I always try to reinforce, finding out what is best for you maximizes your chances of long-term success. Yes, plain spring water is by far the best option , but if you have said to yourself before, “I am going to completely cut out all sodas and juice. Only water from now on,” and three days later you are right back on your 2 o’clock Coke or Latte with cream and sugar, consider an afternoon MiO in a liter of water. To all of you who believe that artificial sweeteners are the devil and trick your brain, make you crave sugar more, make you fat and what have you, I just disagree. My patients, essentially all of whom lose a significant amount of fat and drastically change their bodies, more often than not drink calorie-free beverages as part of their nutrition plans. They will disagree too. Again, I practice in the real world, and the chances of dying from an obesity-related illness are far greater than your chances of dying from consuming artificial sweetener. Do what you need to do to minimize your body fat and maximize your muscle.
Dr. Charlie’s Recommendation: Flavor a big bottle of water with MiO and drink throughout the day. (I like the strawberry watermelon- it tastes like a Jolly rancher). Use the orange for breakfast if you are a current big glass of OJ guy or girl.
- Whey Protein Powder: Increasing protein intake is probably a good idea for most people (barring pre-existing kidney disease). Once thought of as exclusively for athletes or people already in great shape, protein drinks are gaining traction amongst people looking to shed fat, and for good reason. Not only is whey a very high quality source of protein (the nutrient most people don’t get enough of their diets), but research shows that it can specifically suppress appetite (even more than other kinds of proteins), probably increases insulin sensitivity, helps increase exercise performance and burn body fat when taken prior to a workout and promotes muscle recovery when consumed post workout. It may also improve mood. All of these things make whey an extremely beneficial addition to a healthy eating plan.
Dr. Charlie’s Recommendation: Consume whey to boost any meal’s protein content (i.e. mix in your cereal, yogurt, smoothie), drink it both before and after your workouts (taking into account the calories it provides), and use it either alone or combines with, for example, fruit or almonds as a meal replacement.
- Quinoa: Quinoa is a seed (actually related to beets and spinach) which contains a good amount of complete protein (the only grain-like food that does), fiber, iron and magnesium. It is also gluten free. When cooked, it takes on a light, fluffy texture. It does have a mildly nutty taste, but adapts well to a variety of preparations and is a better choice nutritionally than rice or couscous, for which they can be substituted.
Dr. Charlie’s Recommendation: Use quinoa in place of rice. Pick a protein and some vegetables. For example, add cooked chicken or shrimp to a giant pan of vegetables (spinach, onions, zucchini, squash, peppers) to prepared quinoa and toss with vinegar and olive oil and maybe some grated low fat hard cheese.
- Blueberries: Blueberries contain compounds which can protect against diseases including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. They are very tasty, low in calories, high in fiber, and most importantly for our purposes, can help fat loss significantly. Catechins in blueberries (the same thing in green tea) activate fat burn processes. Additionally, the natural sweetness can often be an effective substitute for high-sugar foods you are now consuming. I.e. you’re stressed in the morning as you walk or take the bus to work. When you, say, bite into a donut, your brain gives off dopamine, causing a good, calm feeling in middle of your stressful morning. Blueberries have been shown to increase dopamine. Use them to your advantage.
Dr. Charlie’s Recommendation: Blend them into yogurt or a smoothie, cook them down in the microwave and freeze for a great fruity dessert.