If you think belly fat is a big deal, you're right. And the reasons have nothing to do with vanity. Belly fat is the staging area for diabetes, high blood pressure, even stroke and heart attack.
Also known as visceral fat, belly fat harbors damaged cells. It produces excess hormones and inflammatory substances and contributes to the production of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides. Too much belly fat also triggers a pre-disease state called "insulin resistance," in which the hormone insulin cannot adequately control blood sugar levels. This can put you at the risk for blood clots.
The good news is that you can prevent belly fat — and its resultant cascade of harmful processes — through your food choices. What you eat affects the healthy expression of genes, and a nutritious eating plan can give you sustainable health. Changing your diet can literally change your life.
1. Avoid containers with BPA.
While most of the blame for rising obesity numbers is due to poor exercise and bad eating habits, researchers report that another culprit may be bisphenol A, better known as BPA. This is found in everything from the lining of canned foods to plastic containers.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that children who were obese have high amounts of BPA in their bodies — a compelling reason to keep BPA products out of our homes and away from our children. Unfortunately, detectable levels of BPA were found in 93% of more than 2,500 urine samples of Americans in a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the CDC.
2. Add foods with folate.
Folate-rich foods will reverse and prevent the effects of obesity-causing foods and substances like BPA. In fact, research shows that folate can protect you from the damaging effects of toxins like BPA and other estrogenic-like chemicals that have been linked to various cancers, most notably breast and prostate cancers.
3. Eat cruciferous vegetables.
Cruciferous vegetables are packed with folate. Pick from Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli and bok choy. The more you consume, the better your chances of reducing your risk for developing obesity, cardiovascular disease, dementia, cognitive impairment, and depression.
4. Skip the charred meat.
Forget char-grilling meats – they contain cancer-causing chemicals known as nitrosamine.
5. Replace soda with water or tea.
Sodas are major contributors to excess weight and have been linked to all sorts of scary health outcomes. They contain high-fructose corn syrup, which has also been implicated in elevated triglycerides. Even diet soda has been found to disrupt the good bacteria in your gut, leading to insulin and leptin insensitivity as well as inflammation.
6. Eat breakfast.
Starting your day with breakfast is an important step in ensuring that you burn calories. Why? While you've spent the past 6 to 7 hours sleeping, your body has been working diligently to repair and rebuild itself, which takes up a lot of energy. Skipping breakfast slows down your metabolism because the last thing your body wants to do when it's hungry is burn more calories, so it goes into energy conservation mode.
7. Make yogurt a regular snack.
Yogurt is a great source of calcium and a healthy breakfast choice. Lately, there's been a lot of buzz about Greek yogurt because it contains more protein than other yogurts. Protein not only takes a longer time to be digested by the stomach, which helps keep you fuller longer, but the body also burns more calories breaking up proteins.
Greek yogurt is a wonderful breakfast or snack option. I suggest that my patients buy the low-calorie options, which have little (or no) fat and are low in sugar. If you like a bit of texture, consider adding walnuts, almonds, or fruit to your Greek yogurt.
8. Enjoy tea and coffee.
The benefits of green tea are numerous. It contains EGCG, a catechin that helps to boost metabolism. Coffee contains caffeine, which has been show to increase the heart rate, which means you're burning more calories. (As with exercise, if you speed up your heart rate, then you burn calories.) Another advantage of drinking hot beverages is that you consume them much slower than other beverages, which also slows down the caloric intake for that meal and helps to maintain blood sugar levels.
As with all lifestyle choices, balance is the key! The diet and lifestyle tips in my new book, The Gene Therapy Plan, are designed to restore and maintain health, prevent disease, and bring vibrancy and joy into daily living — at the genetic level. To learn more, here's a primer: