BELLY fat can be some of the hardest to shift.
Experts say “abs are made in the kitchen” because it’s not the exercise we do, but the food we eat that shapes the stomach.
Generally the more you exercise, the less you eat, you’ll lose some pounds.
If your main goal is a flatter stomach, there are some foods you may want to cut down on as they can directly contribute to fat around the middle.
But experts say don’t get too caught up in rules and think more of a simple approach to eating healthier.
Liz Weinandy, a dietician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Eat This Not That: “I would caution people to not get caught up in having a flat stomach as much as thinking about a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and a healthy eating pattern.
“Some people are genetically predisposed to having more abdominal fat and for women who have gone through menopause, abdominal weight gain is more likely.”
With that in mind, what mistakes may be contributing to your belly fat?
1. Not eating enough fibre
In the UK most people do not eat enough fibre.
The average intake is 17.2/day for women and 20.1g/day for men, according to the British Nutrition Foundation. But the recommended average intake for adults is 30g per day.
Liz said: “Not only does it help to keep things moving through the intestinal tract better for less constipation and bloating, but it also makes you feel more full so you eat fewer calories.”
Fibre helps fill you up for two reasons – it is harder to digest, therefore reduces appetite, and it also binds to water in your gut, creating a “gel”.
Studies have shown that people who eat more fibre eat less calories and have less fat around their stomach.
You can get more fibre by eating plant foods, like fruit and vegetables. Legumes such as beans and lentils, as well as whole grain carbs like oats and brown rice are also good choices.
2. Too much sugar
Sugar is demonised in most diets because it is directly linked to obesity.
The NHS says not all are bad – those naturally found in milk, fruit and vegetables are okay.
But “added/free sugars” should be limited to 30g a day in adults.
If you want to go the extra mile, try cutting out sugar completely. That means avoiding cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks, fruit juices, chocolate and more.
Too much sugar is thought to overload the liver, which is then forced to store it as fat.
3. Too many artificial sweeteners
If you’re cutting back on sugar, it’s easy to turn to the diet versions, like sugar-free yoghurts, fizzy drinks and bars.
These could cause bloating and various studies have linked artificial sweeteners to weight gain and increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
A Canadian team looked at 37 studies involving more than 400,000 people over an average of ten years to find no consistent effect of artificial sweeteners on weight loss — with trials suggesting they may actually harm the metabolism.
Lead author Assistant Professor Dr Meghan Azad, from the University of Manitoba, said: “Researchers have suggested that non-nutritive sweeteners may have adverse effects on glucose metabolism, gut microbiota and appetite control.”
4. Having the wrong breakfast
Experts may debate on whether breakfast is the “most important meal of the day”.
But there is reason to believe that whatever you eat first can impact how you make food choices over the rest of the day.
Some foods can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, which is followed by a crash. It can leave you hungry and reaching for snacks within a couple of hours.
I would caution people to not get caught up in having a flat stomach as much as thinking about a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise and a healthy eating pattern
Sugary breakfast cereals, a lack of protein, or high calorie breakfasts with barely any nutrition such as a coffee and muffin, can leave you peckish very quickly.
Dr Mayur Ranchordas, an exercise physiologist and sport nutritionist at Sheffield Hallam, recommends a balanced breakfast of an omelette with a black coffee, and a snack of nuts and a piece of fruit if you are hungry later.
He told The Sun: “Don’t just think about the calories, but the quality of the food.
“The general rule of thumb for athletes is – does it provide you with healthy fats, good protein, minerals and vitamins, and moderate carbs? If the answer is yes, 9/10 it’s probably a healthy meal.”
5. Not drinking enough water
What you drink can also have an impact on your weight.
Fruit juices or other sugary drinks can add up in calories, which won’t help with belly fat.
Some energy drinks are high in both sugar and caffeine.
The Eatwell Guide says we should drink six to eight glasses of fluid a day. Water, lower fat milk and sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee, all count.
But stick to water as much as possible as Liz said: “Water helps that fiber move on through and can help prevent constipation.”
6. Eating low-fat products
It’s easy to think that to lose weight, we should eat low-fat foods.
But Dr Michael Mosley, author of the Fast 800, said these products are often stripped of nutrients and laden with additives.
He said: “Products high in sugar and low in fat will spike your glucose levels and leave you craving more as there is nothing to prolong the energy release.
“Eating healthy fats, rich in mono and poly-unsaturates will not only satisfy your taste buds but curb your appetite too as they slow the rate in which the stomach empties, delaying its cue to signal for more food.”
Healthy fats include avocados, nuts, olive oil and fatty fish like salmon.
7. Not portioning carbs
Carbs are an essential part of the diet and provide most of our energy.
But for losing belly fat, Liz said: “There are some studies that show a modest loss of belly fat is easier on a lower-carb diet.
“A word of caution, though—if you are eating a lot of saturated fat on a low-carb diet, it may hurt your heart by raising dangerous LDL cholesterol levels.”
If you do opt for a lower-carb diet, Liz recommends opting for lean proteins and heart-healthy fats – like olive oil, nuts, and avocados – instead of red meat, processed meat, and full-fat dairy.
The right carbs are important, too. When you do eat carbs, such as for dinner, choose wholegrain options – like brown rice instead of white.
8. Drinking too much alcohol
Alcohol is one of the most detrimental things to consume when trying to shift weight.
Not only does it have an effect on the body, but it also makes you feel rough the next day, driving you towards high calorie comfort foods.
Alcohol causes the body to retain water and in many cases the gas already in popular beverages such as beer and cider can lead to bloating.
Drinking too much can also cause constipation, which can leave people feeling heavy and bloated, and can irritate the gut.
Most cocktails are laden with sugar, and just a few will push you way past your daily limit.
If you still want to enjoy a drink then experts say you should stick to spirits such as vodka and gin and have it with a diet soda or tonic.
9. Not eating gut-friendly foods
Eating a healthy and balanced diet improves gut bacteria, while a diet full of junk food will cause bad bacteria to overpopulate.
Will Hawkins, an online GP service Push Doctor, told The Sun: “Refined carbohydrates, sugars and sweeteners – all things that we most likely regularly consume, and all which can have a negative effect on our gut microbiome.”
Foods that will help with a healthy gut balance include fruit and veg, whole grains, nuts and probiotics – found in supplements and fermented foods like kimchi.
Several strains of probiotics have been shown to reduce weight and belly fat. This may be because they reduce the amount of calories absorbed from food or reduce inflammation.
But the evidence isn’t very strong.
Even if it doesn’t help you shift fat, the gut plays a huge role in overall health, contributing to good skin, an immune system and digestive health.