Wanting a smaller waist and flatter belly isn't all about looking good in your jeans. People sporting large amounts of visceral fat (the type of internal fat that dangerously hugs organs) are more likely to have a higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, especially true if a woman's waist circumference exceeds 35 inches. There is no true magic bullet when it comes to belly fat. But research shows filling your plate with foods that fight abdominal fat—as part of an overall healthy diet—can help. Here's what to dig into to help beat belly fat.
Read More: 8 Foods to Help You Banish Bloat
Recipe to Try: Berry-Kefir Smoothie
This fizzy yogurt-like fermented milk is chock-full of probiotics, healthy bacteria that colonize your gut. Sipping kefir has been linked to greater weight loss and reduction in waist circumference compared to a control drink, per research. Could it be the probiotics? In another double-blind randomized trial published in the British Journal of Nutrition, when participants (who tended to carry fat around their waists) consumed a fermented milk drink containing probiotics for 12 weeks, they benefited from a lower BMI and a smaller waist and hip circumference. Probiotics may protect against inflammation in your GI tract, which has been linked to abdominal fat storage. Kefir can be tangy, but try to avoid flavored kefirs packed with added sugars; sweeten it naturally by adding it to a fruit smoothie.
Read More: 7 Must-Eat Fermented Foods for a Healthy Gut
2. Green Tea
Recipe to Try: Matcha Green Tea Latte
Another top-notch sip for a flat belly is green tea. Green tea packs catechins, antioxidant plant compounds that have been shown to have anti-obesity properties. The brew also contains caffeine (in lesser amounts than coffee, so it won't have as big of an impact on your sleep), which can help turn up the volume on your metabolism. In one 2012 study on Chinese adults with a high amount of visceral fat, researchers found that drinking green tea containing catechins reduced this dangerous type of fat after 12 weeks compared to a control beverage. The bonus is that, as long as you don't add sugar to it, green tea is calorie-free, so you can sip it at your leisure.
Related: Can Tea Help You Lose Weight?
Recipe to Try: Baked Eggs, Tomatoes & Chiles (Shakshuka)
Including sufficient protein in your diet is essential in staying lean. Not only does it help you feel fuller at meals, but it can also bump up your metabolism a bit and help your muscles grow (and then more muscle tissue revs your metabolism even further). People who regularly ate what are defined as "quality protein sources," or foods that supply about 10 grams of essential amino acids (like eggs, beef and milk) at each meal had a smaller amount of fat around their waists, reported research in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism. However, it's all too common to eat most of your protein at dinner. The problem with that is that your muscles can only use so much protein to rebuild at a time, so for the best fat-burning results, aim to divvy up these high-quality sources throughout the day, and exercise regularly too.
Recipe to Try: Artichokes with Lemon & Dill
This veggie has a lot going for it, but one of its biggest perks is its fiber content. You get 7 grams of fiber in a medium cooked artichoke, making it one of the top fiber-rich veggies—that's more than one-quarter of what a woman requires every day. Getting more of these fiber-eating opportunities when you can is important: the more fiber you eat, the less likely you are to pack on belly fat over time, reports research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Other fiber-rich veggies include Brussels sprouts and legumes, like lentils and split peas.
Recipe to Try: Vegan Buddha Bowl
Could you go for some guac right now? You're in luck. A recent review found that avocado eating can help improve markers (like a large waistline and increased blood pressure and high blood sugar) associated with metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors which increases your odds of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Avocados contain healthy fats, as well as other nutrients, like magnesium and phytosterols, that may help improve blood lipid profiles and blood pressure. An earlier study in 2013 suggested that avocado lovers slash their likelihood of metabolic syndrome in half.
Read More: 4 Healthy Reasons to Eat Avocado
Recipe to Try: Chile-Lime Peanuts
Many legumes are low on the glycemic index, which measures the impact a food has on your blood sugar. Peanuts rank as one of the lowest in glycemic load (GL), meaning they help keep your glucose at an even keel. Here's why that's important: in a study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, researchers concluded that overweight men and women who followed a low-GL diet for 8 weeks had 11 percent less visceral fat compared to those on a high-GL diet. That may be because low-GL foods prompt less insulin release and thus less fat storage. Separate research also showed that eating nuts (including peanuts) was associated with a slimmer waistline and lower BMI.
Recipe to Try: Garlic Hummus
Whether you like them roasted and crunchy, whirled smooth into hummus or tossed atop a salad, chickpeas are a low-glycemic-load food and provide a good amount of fiber (5 grams ) and protein (5 grams) and just 105 calories per 1/2-cup serving. All those factors help keep your blood sugar levels steady and keep you full and satisfied longer. Hence, why people who eat chickpeas and hummus are 53 percent less likely to be obese, and have waists that are about 2 inches smaller than those who don't eat the bean, a 2016 review points out. When buying canned chickpeas, remember to rinse the beans—or buy low-sodium or no-sodium-added versions to cut down on bloating salt.
Video: Watch How to Make Avocado Pesto