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One Food to Give Up to Get Rid of Belly Fat, Says Science

To get rid of the extra weight around your tummy, it's time to scrub your diet of this food.

Belly fat isn't like any other fat—it's worse. Scientists have found that belly fat, also known as visceral fat, is the most harmful type of fat. In fact, high levels of belly fat increase your risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, insulin resistance, and even certain cancers, according to the experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

While exercising is one of the best ways to shrink your belly fat and improve your cardiovascular health, your diet also plays a big role in the size of your waistline. Following a healthy diet rich in whole foods can help prevent the accumulation of belly fat, but eating certain unhealthy foods will cause it. One of the foods that science has most closely linked to belly fat is white bread—and it's something you should consider giving up to rid yourself of this dangerous fat. (Related: Surprising Ways Eating White Bread Affects Your Body, Says Science.)

How white bread is linked to belly fat.

In one study, Tufts University researchers tracked the food patterns of 459 middle-aged adults over an average of two years. Based on the participants' food choices, they were categorized into any of six "eating patterns." The study, which was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found an important distinction: while those participants who ate a typical "meat-and-potatoes" American diet gained the most overall weight, it was more evenly distributed around their body than just settling around the midsection. On the other hand, people who ate the greatest amount of white bread and other highly refined foods gained the most belly fat.

In a separate British Journal of Nutrition review, researchers found that eating less white bread (but not whole-grain bread) while consuming a Mediterranean-style food pattern could help decrease the amount of weight and belly fat you could gain over time. Specifically, the results showed that over four years, participants who consumed the most white bread intake gained 1.7 pounds more in weight than those in the lowest quartile and 0.5 inches more in waist circumference (belly fat) compared to those who ate the least.

Why does white bread cause belly fat?

The studies that link white bread to belly fat are observational, which means they could only show that there is a link between white bread consumption and belly fat and not why white bread leads to belly fat. However, researchers have a few hypotheses.

For one, white bread is high in calories and simple carbs but low in fiber, healthy fats, and protein. As a result, white bread is classified as a high glycemic index (high-GI) food. Studies show that consuming low-GI foods results in feeling fuller than when eating foods with a high GI. In other words, high-GI foods just don't fill you up like other foods do, which can cause overeating and weight gain.

Another way white bread can cause weight gain and belly fat is that it stimulates the release of insulin in the body. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that pulls sugar out of your bloodstream and into the liver, fat, and muscle. When you eat more simple carbs, more insulin is released, and more glucose is likely to be stored as fat and belly fat.

Will all bread make you gain belly fat?

It's true that white bread is linked to an increased risk of belly fat, but that doesn't mean that all bread is bad. High-fiber, whole-grain bread is actually linked to less belly fat when consumed with a healthy diet. The important distinction is that the fiber in whole foods can help regulate the body's response to carbs. Fiber slows down the breakdown of carbs into sugar, helping to prevent blood sugar spikes, insulin secretion, and belly fat.

So if you're looking to lose belly fat, you don't have to go cold turkey on bread, but consider swapping your white bread for whole grain, like any of these The Best Store-Bought Bread Brands, According to Dietitians.

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Olivia Tarantino
Olivia Tarantino is the Managing Editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in nutrition, health, and food product coverage. Read more about Olivia