We all have our weight gain “hot spots”—those places on the body where extra pounds seem to shuttle, no matter how many crunches we crank out or leg lifts we perform. These trouble areas can depend on your body shape or genetics, but for many people, the belly area is prime real estate for excess fat.
Extra fat around your belly doesn’t just make it tougher to fit into your skinny jeans—it can come with significant health risks. Carrying added pounds around your midsection is associated with metabolic disruptions and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Here’s why belly fat is especially dangerous.
Your diet has a lot to do with how much fat builds up (or doesn’t) on your belly. Certain foods and nutrients have been conclusively linked with the development of belly fat—and that’s actually a good thing! With a little education, you can steer clear of the items that tend to make fat creep up in your middle.
Here are nine foods experts say to avoid if you’re looking to trim your waistline, and for more healthy tips, check out our list of 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
You’ve heard of the famous “beer belly.” Turns out, there’s actually truth to the idea that drinking alcohol can lead to more abdominal fat. Some studies have linked lifetime alcohol consumption with “central” obesity (the kind that collects in the center of the body). But this doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in a glass of wine or mug of beer with dinner. Moderation is key. One study showed that the more drinks people had per day, the more belly fat was likely to accumulate. In fact, people who drank daily (but kept it to one or fewer drinks per day) had the trimmest stomachs of all.
In case you’re curious, This is How Much Wine is Safe to Drink Per Day.
Let’s talk trans fat. This unhealthy macro has been associated with a host of problematic issues, including a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and—yes—belly fat.
In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that partially hydrogenated oils—a primary source of trans fat in the American diet—could no longer be added to processed foods. Until 2021, however, we’re in a bit of a limbo period where some foods continue to contain these oils. One common culprit? Microwave popcorn.
Thankfully, there’s a simple trick for spotting trans fats in your favorite movie night treat.
“Trans fats’ quantity must be listed on the nutrient label of packaged goods, so we have an easy way to determine the content,” says dietitian Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN. “The biggest ‘watch out’ ingredient in my opinion is hydrogenated oils, as these are a source of trans fats.” Do a quick scan of popcorn’s ingredient list to check for anything hydrogenated.
Is Microwave Popcorn Really Toxic? Here’s the answer.
Delicious and convenient as they may be, packaged pastries like danishes, muffins, and donuts may also continue to harbor trans fats for the time being. One study found that eating bread rolls high in trans fats increased body fat and weight circumference in postmenopausal women who were already overweight. Get label savvy by checking for hydrogenated oils in these breakfast foods.
Fried fast foods
The list of trans fat offenders continues with fried options at fast-food chains. Research shows that corn oils contain more trans fats than other vegetable oils—and, as of 2010, the majority of fast-food chains used corn oil to fry their French fries. For the sake of your waistline, opt for a green salad instead of fries, or simply make fast food an occasional indulgence. And if you do plan on getting takeout, snag one of these 20 Surprisingly Healthy Fast Food Orders.
Soda’s effects on your figure aren’t so sweet. Over and over, these beverages have been linked to a rounder middle.
“One study published in the journal Circulation evaluated over 1,000 adults and found that those who had a daily sugar-sweetened drink experienced a bigger increase in abdominal fat over a six-year period,” says Manaker.
Even diet sodas don’t get a pass. In a study of nearly 750 older adults, the average range of waist circumferences was almost triple in diet soda drinkers than non-diet soda drinkers. Here are 6 Surprising Reasons to Finally Give Up Soda.
Sweetened coffee drinks
While you’re limiting your intake of fizzy sweet drinks, keep an eye on your coffee shop order, too. Flavored coffees often pack even more sugar than soda. (Lookin’ at you, PSL.) When it comes to beverages and belly fat, your body doesn’t discriminate about whether it’s getting sugar from a can of Coke or a fancy latte.
“Data suggests that sugar-sweetened beverage intake is linked to increase in deep abdominal fat,” says Manaker.
Instead, make one of these 12 Tastiest Homemade Coffee Drinks From a Nutritionist.
Increasingly, research has shown that processed meats, such as pepperoni, sausage, deli meats, and bacon have some major drawbacks for health. (Yeah, we’re sad about it, too.) Not only do they increase your risk for colorectal cancer, but they can also increase inches on your waistline. Multiple studies have found that a diet low in processed meats and other processed foods (and high in fruit and dairy) helps prevent the accumulation of abdominal fat.
Translation: Pepperoni pizza on a Friday night is probably fine here and there, but if you’re aiming to lose belly weight, think twice before making it a regular choice.
You probably know that white breads don’t have as much fiber and nutrients as their whole-grain counterparts, but the downsides of refined grains don’t stop there. A large study of over 2,800 adults found that higher intakes of refined grains, like those in white bread, were associated with higher visceral (aka abdominal) fat.
Whenever possible, opt for whole wheat bread over white. Their slow-digesting complex carbs will keep you fuller longer, which may also aid your weight loss efforts.
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise. To minimize belly fat, keep your distance from the candy bowl! With loads of un-filling simple carbs, it’s all too easy to overdo it on sugary sweets like fruity or chocolatey candies.
“These foods may contribute to belly fat accumulation if they are eaten in excess and aren’t being used as energy,” says Manaker. “Carbs are primarily an energy source, but if they aren’t used up, they will be stored as fat—possibly in the belly area.”
Now that you know what not to eat, here are the 40 Best Belly-Shrinking Foods.