This food group not only builds strong bones, it can help in the battle of the bulge. A recent study found that overweight premenopausal women who consumed a high-protein high-dairy diet (meaning six to seven servings of dairy per day, representing 15 percent of daily calories, with total protein making up 30 percent of daily calories) lost twice as much abdominal fat as those who followed a lower-protein low-dairy diet. Dairy's high levels of whey protein might prompt the release of appetite-suppressing hormones, researchers say. In addition, dairy is rich in vitamin D and calcium, which play important roles in fat metabolism, encouraging the body to burn more fat as a fuel source.
• Put more dairy in your diet: Opt for 2 percent Greek yogurt (20 grams of protein; 150 calories)
Eating the right kind of fat can help you shrink your belly. Oils and other foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) boost the body's production of fat-fighting hormones. Consuming some fat helps you feel full, too. Plus, there's a link between a diet rich in PUFAs and lower rates of belly fat and disease. Such fats lower "bad" LDL cholesterol while elevating "good" HDL, and they help maintain insulin levels.
• Put more good fats in your diet: Opt for olive oil (119 calories per 1 Tbsp.), canola oil (124 calories per 1 Tbsp.), chopped walnuts (191 calories per 1/4 cup), sliced avocado (117 calories per 1/2 cup) and ground flaxsweed (75 calories per 2 Tbsp.)
Green tea might be a fat fighter. Subjects in a study who exercised and drank two or more cups per day lost about six times more belly fat than those who drank none. Catechins, compounds found in high amounts in green tea, might boost your ability to burn fat, researchers theorize.
• Put more tea in your diet: Opt for unsweetened green tea, either iced or hot
Soluble fiber, found in oats, apples, citrus fruits and other produce, can help you beat tummy bulge. Research suggests that for every 10 grams of soluble fiber you consume daily, your visceral fat (see "Belly Fat Basics," below) could go down 3.7 percent in five years. A high-fiber diet that includes both soluble and insoluble fibers (like those in nuts, beans, veggies and whole grains) helps maintain stable blood-sugar levels—which keeps your appetite in check. Are you 50 or younger? Aim for at least 25 grams of fiber daily. Women older than 50 should eat about 21 grams per day.
• Put more fiber in your diet: Opt for whole fruits (with the peel), vegetables, beans, nuts, oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice, whole-wheat bread and pasta
BELLY FAT BASICS
• Subcutaneous fat is found just beneath the skin. Most of us carry some in our bellies, as well as in our thighs, hips, arms and backs. It's unwelcome, but it poses only moderate health risks.
• Visceral fat is found deeper in the body, around the abdominal organs. It can lead to heart disease and diabetes. The upside: Deep belly fat is often the first to go when you ramp up weight-loss efforts.
So how do you know which type you have?
In general, women with waistlines bigger than 35 inches have some visceral fat along with subcutaneous fat.