Imagine you had the chance to peek into the kitchens of the world’s best nutritionists and dietitians—the people who know exactly what to eat for a fitter body, slimmer belly and a longer life. You probably wouldn’t be surprised by what you see: Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, some olive oil—nothing surprising there. But what might surprise you is what you won’t see—the common, so-called “healthy” foods that probably populate your own pantry, but which those in the know have long banned from their own homes.
We assembled a panel of experts, and got a sneak peak into the eating habits of those who live and breathe nutrition daily, so you can lose weight fast, compliments of the new Zero Belly Cookbook.
And don’t stop with these! See how Maria Menounos, Padma Lakshmi, Insanity trainer Shaun T and others blast dangerous belly fat fast with these 50 Best-Ever Weight-Loss Secrets from Skinny People!
Rice cakes are an old-school diet staple. But the simple carbohydrates rank notoriously high on the glycemic index (GI) — a measure of how quickly blood rises in response to food on a scale of one to 100 (rice cakes come in at 82). High GI foods provide a rush of energy, but can leave you hungry within a few hours. Researchers at the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center found high-GI snacks caused excessive hunger and increased activity in craving and reward area of the brain — the perfect storm for overeating and weight gain.
Zero Belly Tip: Adding healthy fats or protein to a meal lowers its glycemic load. Swap a two cake mini-meal for one rice cake topped with a generous swipe of nut butter. The combo will keep you fuller for longer and has the added benefit of being a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids.
Giant Cups of Coffee
“I try to avoid excessive caffeine,” says Dr. Mamta M. Mamik, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “An adult can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day—which is equivalent to four 8-ounce cups of coffee—but drinking any more than that can cause calcium excretion, which, over time, may lead to osteoporosis. Avoiding excess caffeine also helps to ward off uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like lethargy, insomnia, headaches and irritability.”
Zero Belly Tip: Drink tea instead! White tea packs a particular one-two punch that can actually attack belly fat. A study referenced in The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse showed that white tea can simultaneously boost lipolysis (the breakdown of fat) and block adipogenesis (the formation of fat cells). The tea’s combination of caffeine and epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) seems to set fat cells up for defeat. Try The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse now—test panelists lost 10 pounds in one week!
“Although I love them, I try to stay away from cream-based soups. They not only bother my stomach, but are also loaded with empty calories and often have concerning fillers like hydrolyzed proteins, food dyes and corn syrup that I find out about later!” says, Dr. Taz Bhatia, integrative health expert and author of The 21-Day Belly Fix.
Zero Belly Tip: Look for protein-based soups. “I visit Subway once a week with my oldest son on his way home from a long day in after school activities,” says Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, Real Nutrition NYC. “We grab a sandwich for dinner and I love the healthier choices they have introduced in the past few years. My other go-to at Subway is simply a bowl of the black bean soup and the veggie delight salad with added fresh avocado. Loaded with fiber, this meal is vegetarian, filling, flavorful, heart-healthy, void of all refined flour and full of antioxidants."
“I try to avoid foods that contains trans-fats, corn syrup and added sugars," says Eugenia Gianos, MD, cardiologist, Co-Clinical Director, Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Often listed as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, synthetically engineered trans-fats increase your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and decrease your good (HDL) cholesterol levels, upping your risk of heart attack and stroke." While plain steel-cut oats fit into Dr.Gianos' diet plan, Quaker Instant Oatmeal Fruit & Cream is an example of a product that does not. Every single flavor pack that comes in the box contains ingredients on her "do not eat" list.
Zero Belly Tip: In need of a flavor boost? Add fresh fruits, a touch of honey or an ounce of nuts to your bowl instead. And click here for The 55 Best-Ever Ways to Speed Up Your Metabolism!
“I avoid soymilk,” notes Gonzalez-Lomas. “Yes, the horror stories linking overconsumption of soy products to estrogen-like effects–like the development of enlarged breasts in otherwise healthy males–are exceptional. However, the fact is that soy mimics estrogen and activates estrogen receptors in the body. Do you want to take that risk?”
Zero Belly Tip: “There are plenty of other milk substitutes—like almond milk—that don't carry the same potential side effects.”
“As a plastic surgeon, I'm always thinking about my figure,” says New York City-based physician, Lara Devgan, MD. “To that end, I never eat energy bars or granola bars. Although they can be tasty, for the amount of calorie-dense carbs and fat they contain, you might as well eat a candy bar. Many of these bars are packed with simple sugars, and they aren't quite filling enough to substitute for a meal or snack.”
Zero Belly Tip: We develop habits—like grabbing nutrition bars—because they save us time and energy, and because they give us a sense of comfort and reward. But neurons in the brain actually judge the rewards and costs of habits, which means they might be easier to change than you think, according to new research at MIT. Click here to discover the 40 Bad Habits That Give You Belly Fat —and learn how to beat each one!
“This is as far removed from a natural egg as you can get,” says Dana James CDN, a nutritionist from Food Coach NYC. “Heat pasteurized and made from factory-farmed eggs, this product is processed so much that makers actually have to add in synthetic vitamins to boost its nutrient density.
Zero Belly Tip: “Go for the real thing instead,” says James. Choline, found in eggs, lean meats, seafood and collard greens, attacks the gene mechanism that triggers your body to store fat around your liver, according to Zero Belly Cookbook. One test panelist, Morgan Minor, made our egg hash her go-to breakfast, and after just 3 weeks on the program, the female firefighter lost 11 pounds and 4 inches from her waist! The more eggs you eat, the less egg-shaped you get.
High-Cal Fruit Smoothies
A fruit smoothie sounds like a virtuous choice for an afternoon pick-me-up, but be forewarned: Many store-bought options are blended with high-calorie dairy bases and cheap sweeteners that make them more dessert-like than diet-friendly. A small Baskin Robbins Mango Banana Smoothie packs 440 calories, nearly a third of what the average woman on a 1500-calorie weight loss diet needs in an entire day. Not to mention 96 grams of sugar — that’s more than you’ll find in 7 scoops of the chain's Rainbow Sherbet. Adding insult to injury, banana doesn’t feature once on the ingredients list.
Zero Belly Tip: Click here for The Best-Ever Smoothie Recipe!
“Talk about turning a good food bad,” says Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN a New York City-based Registered Dietitian. “When you transform produce into juice, you take away its fiber—one of the major benefits of consuming whole fruits and vegetables. What you wind up with is a drink that’s so concentrated with sweetness, it can have as much sugar as a soda.”
Zero Belly Tip: More and more research has begun to show that some fruits are actually better at fighting belly fat than others. And the master fruits all have one thing in common: they’re red, or at least reddish. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries—they’re packed with polyphenols, powerful natural chemicals that can actually stop fat from forming, according to research in Zero Belly Cookbook.
“I don’t drink soda. A long time ago cola had cocaine in it, and it's arguably gotten even more unhealthy since then,” says Guillem Gonzalez-Lomas, MD, sports medicine specialist and assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Most sodas contain phosphorus, which binds to calcium and increases calcium loss, which is terrible for bone health. Plus, just one can is filled with 40 grams of sugar—the equivalent of 20 sugar cubes—which makes it challenging for the body to maintain healthy glucose and insulin levels. And diet soda is potentially worse. Diet beverages contain low doses of carcinogens and artificial sweeteners that have potentially dangerous effects on the brain and metabolism. While everything in moderation is reasonable, I steer clear of sodas—high risk, no reward.”
Zero Belly Tip: Click to see What Happens to Your Body When You Give Soda!
“One of the leading health food impostors!” says Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of The NY Nutrition Group. “One tiny cup of granola has nearly 600 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 24 grams of sugar. That’s the equivalent of starting your morning with two slices of cheesecake.”
Zero Belly Tip: "If I want a crunch cereal, I’ll go for a lighter alternative like Cheerios or Special K. They pack the same satisfying crunch with a fraction of the calories, fat and sugar,” she says.
“I eat a very clean, plant-based diet so the avoid list is long for me. However, even for those who eat meat, the processed varieties are a bad choice,” warns David L. Katz, MD, MPH, Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. “While the link between meat and chronic disease is fairly tenuous, the connection between salt-, sugar- and chemical-laden processed meats and chronic disease risk is strong and consistent. If you eat meat, it should be pure—like you want your own muscles to be. If you eat the highly processed, adulterated meats they may pay it forward to the meat on your own bones.”
Zero Belly Tip: For a list of the purest proteins, click on this essential list of The 29 Best Proteins for Weight Loss.
Low-Fat Packaged Baked Goods
“I avoid any product marketed as ‘low-fat.’ Typically, these items are extensively processed and packed with chemicals that are added to try to achieve the consistency or reproduce the flavor of the full-fat models on which they are based,” explains Rebekah Gross, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. “I’d rather indulge in a smaller portion of a food naturally high in fat or sugar than ingest an artificial substitute.
Zero Belly Tip: “In most cases, the real deal tastes better, is more satisfying, and doesn’t cause the gastrointestinal upset that can be associated with highly processed foods,” says Gross.
“It’s called ketchup because, over time, it’s going to catch up to you,” jokes Moskovitz. “Just two measly tablespoons has up to 8 grams of sugar and 40 calories. And most of those calories come from high fructose corn syrup, which has been shown to increase appetite and, over time, lead to health problems such as obesity and diabetes.”
Zero Belly Tip: If you really can’t live without the stuff, use an all-natural version with no added sugar, chemicals or HFCS,” says Moskovitz.
"There isn’t a food I avoid entirely. One cheeseburger never killed anybody unless they choked on it," says Blase Carabello, MD, Chairman of Cardiology at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital. "However, I do limit myself to one per month since the dish is high in heart disease-causing saturated fat and served in a processed bun made with refined carbohydrates."
Zero Belly Tip: Top your burger with watercress—it has a high nutrient density than kale!
“Most cold cereals—even the ones that seem healthy—are carb-laden, sweet and highly processed. They are definitely not the breakfast of champions—at least not thin champions,” says Lauren Slayton, MS RD, founder of Foodtrainers.
Zero Belly Tip: “Starting your day with lean protein, like eggs, is the best way to ensure that you’ll stay energized and full into early afternoon,” says Slayton. And keep blasting fat fast thanks to these 28 Ways to Get Skinny From Weight-Loss Experts!
Flavored Coffee Creamer
“I avoid flavored coffee creamers because they are filled with fake ingredients that can do more harm than the flavor is worth: trans fats, artificial sweeteners, carrageenan and artificial coloring,” says Gina Consalvo, MA, RD, LDN, Pennsylvania-based owner of Eat Well with Gina. “Over time, your morning shot of non-dairy creamer can raise dangerous LDL cholesterol levels and increase the risk of blood clots and heart attack.
Zero Belly Tip: “Lighten your coffee with a half and half that only lists milk and cream as ingredients,” she says.
“Nutella is one of those foods that people believe to be healthy because it contains a nut,” says Kaufman. “But check the ingredients: spreads like Nutella are primarily sugar and palm oil, with almost no actual nuts involved. With over 20 grams of added sugar and only two grams of protein, the spread just winds up at your waist.”
Zero Belly Tip: Speaking of guilty pleasures, click here to read Every Menu Item at Domino's—Ranked!
Americans typically eat only one-third of the recommended daily intake, so you may be surprised to hear us knock any form of vegetable. Unfortunately, we’ve got to go there. Why? Some veggies of this variety are stored in cans that are laced with BPA, an industrial chemical used in various food and beverages containers. “There is a lot of controversy around BPA,” says Consalvo. “It is thought to pose some health risks in fetuses, infants and young children's brain development.” She notes that there are many brands that are now using BPA-free cans and hard plastics.
Zero Belly Tip: We suggest going with fresh or frozen veggies, which tend to be healthier and free of salt and preservatives, too.
Sure, roasted nuts are delicious. But the high-heat cooking method does nut'n for your waistline. Raw almonds caused stomach acids to swell (in a good way) and were slower digesting than roasted almonds, creating a greater feeling of fullness that lasted longer, one study in the journal Food Biophysics showed. Moreover, store-bought varieties are often roasted in oil and then tossed in salt and preservatives. Emerald Nuts Dry Roasted Almonds may be oil-free, but you’ll find 18 other ingredients on the label, including monosodium glutamate (MSG), a controversial flavor enhancer linked to weight gain in some studies.
Zero Belly Tip: Go raw or go home. Brownie points if you opt for in-shell varieties. Named “The Pistachio Effect,” research shows the act of shelling nuts can slow you down and give your body a chance to register fullness 86 calories sooner than you would otherwise.
“We've been conditioned to look for low-cost food instead of the high-quality food. Now, to eat organic seems like a luxury when it really isn't. For both moral and health reasons (it’s free of growth hormones), I always buy and eat free-range organic chicken.” — Dan Roberts, celebrity trainer and creator of Methodology X
(Start shedding pounds today with Dan’s exclusive Eat This, Not That! Rapid Weight Loss Workout.)
Nutrient- Stripped Breads
“White bread has been bleached and stripped of its bran and germ, the elements of the grain that contain beneficial nutrients. For this reason, white bread isn’t very filling, has almost no nutritional value and is converted into sugar once you eat it. Like table sugar, it then spikes insulin levels, which promotes fat storage.” — Jim White RD, ACSM HFS, Owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios
“Watch out for breads that list bleached flour on the ingredient list. Bleaching adds chemicals to the bread and strips away vital nutrients. Also, don't get caught up in phrases like, 'made with whole grains'. This catchy phrase can make you think your bread is a healthy choice, but it only means that the bread is made up of a mixture of whole-wheat flour and some other less nutritious flour that won’t benefit your health.” — Jay Cardiello, NSCA, personal-trainer to the stars
“Although protein bars are packed with energy, they’re not as good for you as you think. They’re often high in excess calories, sugar, fat and carbohydrates and are filled with an endless list of chemicals. Frequently I’ll see people treating protein bars as "snacks" when they really should be considered a meal replacement. Eating bars in this way can lead to weight gain.” — Lori-Ann Marchese, fitness celebrity and owner of Body Construct LLC
Can’t imagine giving up bars all together? Check out the best nutrition bars for weight loss.
Sugary Drinks and Candy
“I enjoy my daily cup of coffee, but I refuse to drink sugar-sweetened coffee drinks like Starbuck's Frappuccinos. Even the smallest sizes pack an average of 300 to 400 calories, which would take me about 40 minutes to jog off on a treadmill. These sugary drinks are also full of artificial colorings and preservatives that have been linked to childhood attention deficit disorders and allergic reactions. Instead of grabbing a Frappuccino, consider a tall 2% plain latte made with organic shade-grown grounds, sprinkled with some cinnamon on top to add a kick without the calories!” — Dr. Sean M. Wells, DPT, PT, OCS, ATC/L, CSCS Owner and PT, Naples Personal Training
“Consuming fruit juice on occasion isn’t terrible for you, but drinking them too often can have a negative impact on health and body composition. A cup of grape juice, for example, contains nearly the same amount of sugar as two Glazed Cake Donuts and a large OJ from McDonald's has as much sugar as 25 Lifesavers Gummies. Processed juices also contain significant amounts of high fructose corn syrup, which can cause weight gain and elevated cholesterol levels. When it comes down to it, many juices are just as bad as soda.” — Jim White RD, ACSM HFS
“Tossing back a handful of candy may not seem like a big deal, but it’s the equivalent of chowing down on pure sugar. I would never do that and neither should anyone else.” — Lori-Ann Marchese
If you must indulge your sweet tooth, be sure to pick one of the best candies for weight loss.
“You may think that you’re getting a healthier slice when you opt for turkey over regular bacon, but that’s definitely not the case. Although it contains 13 fewer calories per slice and slightly less saturated fat, it typically has more sodium, which can be harmful if you have high blood pressure. Pork also offers more protein and heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids than turkey bacon, making it the better pick if you’re going to indulge.” — Jay Cardiello, NSCA, personal-trainer to the stars
“Double Protein” Restaurant Orders
“Thanks to the Paleo craze, many people hoping to lose weight and gain lean muscle mass now eat more meat. While some extra protein can be beneficial for those who are very active, the protein still needs to come from healthy sources to be beneficial. Unfortunately, the meat craze has pushed some fast-food places to offer burger patties stacked on top of hot dogs and bacon, none of which are quality sources of protein. In fact, consuming a diet high in animal proteins has been associated with higher rates of cancer. Avoid the fast-food meat stacks and boost your protein intake with vegetable-based alternatives, such as beans, spinach and nuts instead.” — Dr. Sean M. Wells, DPT, PT, OCS, ATC/L
“For starters, alcohol negatively affects the entire body: the brain, liver, heart and emotional well-being. And because it makes you sluggish and dehydrated, it can also make your cardio and weight training less effective and slow your progress. Although alcohol is a carbohydrate, it does not convert to glucose like other carbs. Instead, it becomes a fatty acid, which is more likely to be stored as fat.” — Jim White RD, ACSM HFS