If you can’t seem to lose that stubborn fat from your belly, it might not be because of the calories you’re eating—it could be the salt. A study conducted by the University of Helsinki linked obesity and sodium intake so closely that cutting down on salt might be the absolute best way to shed belly fat fast. The research reports that increasing sodium intake showed a positive correlation with an increase in thirst. Since salt increases thirst by dehydrating the body, it caused study participants to gulp down calorie-ridden beverages, therefore hiking up the number on the scale. Another study in the journal PLOS One concluded that salt intake may be associated with an increase in thirst and appetite, which boost daily caloric intake—a marker for obesity.
Need help divorcing your salt shaker? Here are five of the easiest ways to go sodium-free and get that flatter tummy.
Focus on Pepper
Most of us use a few more shakes of salt than we do pepper when we flavor our meals. If you reverse that ratio, you’ll also reverse your weight gain and actually lose belly fat. In a 2011 animal study, mice who supplemented their high-fat diet with piperine—the active compound in pepper—significantly reduced body weight, triglyceride levels, and total cholesterol levels.
Follow the 140 Rule
In order to be considered a “low-sodium” food, the FDA requires eats to contain no more than 140 milligrams of salt per serving—and that’s a solid guideline for any processed food you pick at the supermarket. If the sodium content tops that number, look for another similar product. For example, if you swap a one-ounce serving of Rold Gold’s tiny twists with Lay’s Baked Original potato crisps, you’ll save a respectable 290 milligrams of sodium.
Beware of Sneaky Sources
You probably already know that if you’re tearing open a bag of Doritos, all bets are off! But, surprisingly, chips and pretzels aren’t the culprits responsible for most of our salt intake. According to a CDC report, more than 70 percent of the salt we eat comes from processed foods and restaurant meals. In other words, we get more salt from the bread, cold cuts, and cheeses we choose to stock our fridges with than we do from the salty snacks in our pantry. Opt for using chicken breast in lieu of processed deli meats in sandwiches and look for 100 percent whole-grain bread that packs in less than 80 milligrams of salt per slice. And when dining out, steer clear of these 20 Saltiest Restaurant Meals On The Planet.
Up the Spices
Tangy spices such as mustard seed, turmeric, and horseradish can mimic the tongue-tantalizing effects of salt but pack in loads of belly-flattening benefits. Mustard seeds are high in fat-fighting omega-3 fatty acids while compounds in turmeric and horseradish have been shown to reduce inflammation, a key obesity marker.
Go For Yogurt
A naturally low-sodium food, yogurt makes a smart substitute for products like mayo, which brings the fat but none of the belly-cinching probiotics of yogurt. Plus, yogurt is a great source of energy-maintaining iodine, which is added to table salt for health benefits. Iodine is one of the few positives of eating salt, but yogurt can help make the additional sodium a thing of the past. Just make sure to choose one of our Eat This-approved picks in 25 Best Yogurts for Weight Loss.