Here’s the reality: it doesn’t matter how hard you train in the gym if you don’t put the same time, effort and focus into what you do in the kitchen. The old saying that “you can’t out-train a bad diet” is something of a cliché, but like many clichés it’s rooted in truth. If you want to make big changes to your body fat percentage – and as quickly as possible – then you need to start thinking more about mealtimes.
When you want to lose body fat you need to cut down on foods you know will add to the size of your gut rather than shrink it – so you eliminate alcohol, takeaways and sugar-packed snacks. But which foods should you be eating more of in order to shift belly fat faster? And why do certain foods help your body burn off its fat stores rather than add to them? All will be explained with our list of the very best fat-burning foods, so fill up your shopping basket and start eating smarter.
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1. Onions contain chromium, an element that helps your body regulate blood-sugar levels so you don’t suffer energy slumps and reach for fattening sugary treats to fill the void. They are also high in quercetin, a type of flavonoid that can inhibit inflammation.
2. Spinach contains plenty of the essential mineral manganese for an effective metabolism that helps mobilise fat for energy. It also boasts lots of iron for healthy blood and calcium to repair and strengthen bone tissue. Unlike lots of other veg, we actually recommend boiling or steaming spinach because it helps free up unwanted acids, allowing them to leach into the water, and it also helps bring out a sweeter taste. Just make sure you boil for no more than a minute.
3. Sourdough bread. All right, carbs from bread might not be the best option to whittle down your beer belly. But if you’re a fiend for the dough – and, frankly, it’s hard to get through a day without encountering bread at some point – this variety is your best bet. It helps improve gut health that will aid digestion and reduce the amount of other foods you eat being stored as fat, and it’s full of air holes so you usually end up consuming less overall.
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4. Cinnamon is another spice with fat-burning effects, thanks to a compound called cinnamaldehyde. As well as giving cinnamon its flavour, the compound stimulates the release of stored fat so it can be easily metabolised, according to research published in the Journal Of Nutritional Science And Vitaminology. Add it to black coffee for a pre-workout fat-burning drink, or to yogurt for a belly-busting pudding.
5. Apples contain antioxidant polyphenols, which help to prevent your body from storing fat, according to a German study. There’s also evidence that sharper varieties – like the Granny Smith – aid the production of “good” gut bacteria, helping to keep hunger in check.
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6. Sweet potatoes are a low-GI food that helps you avoid fat-promoting spikes in blood sugar. Use them to make potato wedges: Whack them on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with paprika, then cook for 25 minutes (or until they’re crispy).
7. Grapefruit can keep your belly at bay. In a 12-week study overweight subjects were given half a grapefruit to eat before their three daily meals. After three months the fruit eaters had lost 1.6kg, while a placebo group lost just 0.3kg, according to the Journal Of Medicinal Food. It is thought that compounds in grapefruit prevent insulin levels from rising too high, and stable levels allow better fat burning.
8. Green tea compounds in the tea-house favourite called catechins help speed up your metabolism. They do this by reducing your levels of the enzyme catechol-O-methyltranferase, which degrades the fat-burning hormone norepinephrine. Too much science? Don’t worry about it: just try to get two or three cups a day.
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9. Yoghurt is another great food to add to your shopping list. One study published in the journal Obesity Research found that people who consume around 1,200mg of calcium per day from dairy lost 64% more body fat than those who ate half that amount. Even better, most of that fat loss was from the belly. The weight-loss effect was greatest in those who were following a calorie-controlled nutrition plan.
10. Chilli peppers contain capsaicin, which helps protein structures in your body break down fat. Chop and chuck them into your morning eggs.
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11. Oats are full of fibre and low in calories so a bowl of porridge in the morning is perfect for getting your metabolism into gear and preventing unnecessary snacking by keeping you feeling full for a long time.
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12. Coconut oil should take pride of place in your cupboard because it’s high in medium-chain triglycerides, chemical compounds that encourage the body to burn fat for energy. Cook with it, or put a spoonful in coffee instead of grabbing breakfast on the go.
13. Oily fish influences a hormone in your body called leptin, which directly affects your metabolism’s choice to store calories as fat or burn them off. Tinned tuna, mackerel, salmon and sardines aren’t just convenient, they also have one of the best protein-to-weight ratios of any food. Smaller oily fish like sardines are better than tuna because they contain more omega 3s and less mercury. Use them in salads, or on toast or crackers. They’re a perfect post-workout meal.
14. Strawberries are rich in polyphenols, helping improve blood sugar control and reduce fat storage and are also high in vitamin C, which helps clear the stress hormone cortisol after exercise to speed up recovery.
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15. Eggs are full of healthy proteins that the body expends a lot of energy trying to process. They’re also packed full of healthy cholesterol and actively reduce the level of bad cholesterol in your blood.
16. Avocados encourage fat burning thanks to their rich supply of monounsaturated fats. They also contain mannoheptulose, a near-unpronounceable compound that inhibits the breakdown of glucose, aiding fat loss in the process.
17. Lean meats contain protein, which has a thermogenic effect, causing your body to burn more calories to digest it. The effect is greatest with meats that are low in fat such as chicken or turkey.
18. Blueberries are super-efficient fat fighters. A study in the US discovered that they can disrupt the development of fat cells by up to 73%.
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19. Peas are a fantastic source of fibre: 100g contains 5g, as well as 5g of protein – which will keep you feeling full and reduce sweet cravings – and vitamins A, B6, C and K, iron, copper and zinc.
20. Cayenne pepper won’t just spice up your meals. It has a duo of benefits to help your wage war on your belly. First, consuming cayenne pepper can spike your metabolic rate, according to the Clinical Nutrition journal, meaning you burn more calories without doing anything else. Second, the spice can improve rates of fat oxidation, meaning your body is better equipped to burn fat cells as fuel, according to the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition.