Back in the day, the only kitchen ingredient that mattered when it came to weight loss was willpower.
Forget that. With this simple list, you can load up your fridge and pantry with fat-burning foods without breaking the bank or dying of boredom. Studies have demonstrated that certain condiments, fruits and vegetables and meats have clear belly-flab-torching properties that makes them the best in their class, alone or in combination. When it comes to the fridge and the pantry, these are the foods you should always have stocked. Consider this your engine-starting a la carte menu.
Some things are trendy for a reason: Coconut oil’s medium-chain triglycerides are burned as energy, not stored as fat, and it contains a fatty acid that’s been shown to torch belly fat. A study of 30 men in the journal Pharmacology found that those who consumed 2 tablespoons of coconut oil a day shrank their waists by an average of 1.1 inches in one month. You can use coconut oil almost anyplace you’d use butter—for eggs or stir-frys, for healthier pancakes, or in a belly-burning smoothie.
The sweet spice is an ideal AM engine-starter. The polyphenols found in cinnamon keep blood sugar stable, preventing hunger-inducing spikes and crashes. In a study published in The Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, Japanese researchers found that mice who ate a daily helping of cinnamaldehyde, the ingredient that gives cinnamon its flavor, lost belly fat while those who skipped the spice did not; they hypothesize that it kick-starts metabolism. Sprinkle cinnamon to your morning oats or coffee, or swirl it into a protein shake to keep hunger pangs at bay. (Note: Cinnamon Toast Crunch does not qualify.)
The definition of a good fat, olive oil should be the backbone of your pantry. A recent study published in the journal Obesity found that eating an olive-oil-rich diet creates higher levels of adiponectin—a hormone that breaks down body fat—than a high-carb or high-protein diet. Consuming extra virgin olive oil may increase blood levels of serotonin, a hormone that makes you feel fuller (and happier). Drizzle it on salads, glaze grilled meats and fish with it, or use it as the foundation of healthy dressings and sauces.
Successful flat-belly eating is the opposite of bland. Case in point: Capsaicin, the compound that makes you feel cayenne’s pleasurable pain, reduces belly fat, suppresses appetite and makes the body better able to burn food as energy. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who consumed capsaicin each day saw improved abdominal fat loss. A second study by Canadian researchers found that men who ate spicy appetizers consumed 200 fewer calories at later meals. Keep it nearby and sprinkle at will: Season grilled fish, meats and eggs with a pinch of chili pepper.
Sometimes very good things come in small, beige packages. High in nutrients and soluble fiber, legumes such as chickpeas increase satiety by releasing an appetite-suppressing hormone called cholecystokinin. Toss them into green salads, eat them on their own, or blend them into homemade hummus with lemon and olive oil.
Almonds and Almond Butter
A prime fatty food that makes you skinny, almonds and almond butter are packed with protein that builds lean muscle, which burns fat. They also contain a compound that limits the fat absorbed by the body. One study of overweight adults found that eating about a quarter-cup of almonds for 6 months led to a 62% greater reduction in weight and BMI. And eating just 1.5 ounces of almonds daily led to a reduction in belly and leg fat, a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed. You can snack on almonds, stir almond butter into your oatmeal or smoothies, spread it on toast with banana slices, or eat a couple spoonfuls as a snack.
This is your breakfast go-to: With 10 grams of protein per ½-cup serving, oats fill you up and feed your muscles. Their magic fat-burning ingredient: insoluble fiber, which increases healthy gut bacteria and triggers the release of butyrate, a fatty acid that soothes fat-building inflammation, and the hormone ghrelin, which controls hunger.
All complex carbs are weight-loss winners; their low glycemic index means they digest slowly and keep your blood sugar at an even keel, keeping your metabolism humming. A Tufts University study found that participants who ate at least three servings of whole grains daily had 10% less belly fat than people who ate the same amount of calories from refined carbs (i.e. the white stuff). First position in your pantry should go to quinoa, which is high in fiber, protein and essential amino acids. Eat it as a side dish with salmon, or beef up a green salad with a scoop.
The leafy green is reclaiming the stage from its trendier cousin, kale, thanks to its powerful appetite-suppressing compounds called thylakoids. In 2014, researchers at Lund University in Sweden found that over three months, women who consumed a 5-gram thylakoid supplement from spinach reported a 25 percent reduction in hunger and cravings and significantly more weight loss (11lbs) than the control group. Spinach is also jam-packed with energy-boosting nutrients such as vitamin A, iron and folate. Use it as the base for your salads or blend it up in a smoothie.
Plain 2% Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt brims with muscle-building protein — about 20 grams in a 7-ounce cup — and its combination of vitamin D and calcium turns off the belly-flab-producing hormone cortisol. Researchers at the University of Tennessee found that people who ate 18 ounces of greek yogurt a day lost 22 percent more weight and 81 percent more belly fat than those who didn’t. Start your morning by stirring some berries into a container of plain yogurt, or use it in recipes instead of mayonnaise or butter.
Be they blue-, rasp-, or straw-, berries are packed with polyphenols, naturally occurring chemicals which burn fat and can even prevent it from forming. In a Texas Women’s University study, mice who consumed berries had 73% less belly fat than those who didn’t. Keep them around for a healthy snack, or combine them with oats or greek yogurt for a fat-burning breakfast.
An unsung weight-loss hero, grapefruit is high in anthocyanins, a reddish pigment that has special belly-blasting properties. A study published in the journal Metabolism found the eating half a grapefruit before meals can reduce belly fat and lower cholesterol. Participants of the six-week study who ate grapefruit with every meal saw their waists shrink by up to an inch.
A belly-burning “slow carb,” sweet potatoes are high in fiber and have a low glycemic index, which means they’re absorbed slowly and keep you feeling full longer. They’re also rich in carotenoids, powerful antioxidants which help stabilize blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance, which prevents calories from being converted into fat. And their high vitamin profile (including A, C and B6) give you more energy to burn. Roast them up as a side to grilled meats or fish, or slice and bake them into healthy fries, drizzled with coconut oil.
Rich in protein and healthy fats, eggs are super-efficient at satisfying hunger — studies show that people who eat eggs in the morning consume less for the rest of the day — and their amino acids contribute to the building and preservation of lean muscle mass, which burns fat. Buy eggs in their original packaging (no cartons of processed whites) and eat the whole thing: The yolks contain choline, an essential nutrient that increases mental sharpness and stokes lipolysis, or fat burning. Just two eggs give you half the choline you need all day.
Wild salmon is one of the foods that have been shown to actually turn off your fat genes. It’s a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which fuel blubber-burning and block fat storage. Add two servings to your diet each week to get the amount of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids recommended by the American Heart Association. Just be sure always to choose wild salmon; the farmed variety can contain nasty additives and bad fats.
Yes, you can eat steak and get a flat belly. A study in Nutrition Journal found that grass-fed meat contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation, improve insulin resistance and help the liver speed fat out of the body. Grass-fed beef is naturally leaner and has fewer calories than conventional meat. For example, a 7-ounce conventional strip steak, trimmed of fat, will run you 386 calories and 16 grams of fat. But a 7-ounce grass-fed strip steak is only 234 calories and five grams of fat. So fire up the grill guilt-free: Pair it with sweet potatoes and spinach for extra flab-burning effects.