Love handles. They plague men just as much as women (whether or not you care to call them that or prefer "spare tire"). Regardless, if you do in fact have the extra poundage hanging around your midsection, take a look at these fat-eliminating foods selected by Yuri Elkaim, holistic nutritionist and author of the All Day Fat-Burning Diet, and Jessica Cording, R.D. a clinical nutritionist at the Hospital for Special Surgery.
While these foods won’t literally incinerate the fat from your abdominal, they will promote weight loss, and aid in your long-term goals without making you feel deprived. “So many diets are bereft of proper protein,” Elkaim says. Instead, many guys count calories and eat tiny portions of high-sugar foods or juices that actually create a starving sensation, he adds.
The principle behind the selection of these foods is simple: You'll eat real food (Read: not a bunch of bars or shakes) that come from every major food group. “You want 80 percent of what you eat to be raw, whole, plant-deprived foods to support your system and create an optimized environment for health and wellness,” Elkaim says. We picked foods packed with protein, fiber, and healthy fats to keep you energized to power through every day and any workout.
Leafy greens will provide vital nutrients, cleanse your body, and fill your stomach with healthy fiber and a surprisingly high (pound-for-pound) amount of protein. Seeds and legumes will provide additional satiating plant-based protein to make sure you never have that starving sensation, which causes even valiant men to binge on Twinkies. Healthy fats from nuts and oils will help you drop the pounds (fat doesn’t make you fat), and keep your hunger at bay from meal to meal.
Adding some lean meat into the mix will help build muscle. You want organic, grass-fed meat, and sustainably wild-caught fish. Low-glycemic fruit will cater to your carb and sweets needs, though the craving will diminish drastically after about three days. You should eat meals every four to six hours and snack very minimally. Snacking, and eating in general, raises insulin levels, which is responsible for storing excess carbs and sugars as fat. Even with the best intentions, you’ll never lose weight if you slack when it comes to snack time.
Add these eating principles and food guidelines to your daily diet, and watch that extra weight slip right off your midsection.
Quinoa is a powerhouse seed that acts like a grain (when you cook it). Just one cup has 8g of protein and about 2.5g of soluble fiber, which helps reduce blood sugar levels and increase fullness—both of which aid weight loss, according to research from The American Society for Nutritional Sciences. Elkaim suggests cooking it like oatmeal with some almond milk and berries, adding it to stir-fries, and even serving it with red sauce like you would pasta.
One of the keys to unlocking a lean body and triggering weight loss is fueling your body with high-fiber foods that don't have a ton of carbohydrates. At 18g of protein per cup of cooked lentils, 16g of fiber, and 24 grams of effective net carbohydrates (the kind your body uses for energy) these little legumes are the perfect food to fill you up and trim you down. They're also just an overall excellent addition to your regular diet since they're high in folate, iron, and magnesium, which helps circulation through the body, Elkaim says.
Beans in general can help you feel more energized and satiated through the day (more so than any other food) because they're so high in fiber, which swells in your stomach, and complex carbohydrates, which take your body a while to convert into energy. "Black beans in particular deserve their popularity in the vegan and vegetarian diet for more reasons than they get credit for,” Elkaim says. “They’re an excellent source of plant-based protein, at 15g per cooked cup, but they also contain 15g of total fiber, are an excellent source of ALA Omega-3 fatty acids, copper, Vitamin B-1, manganese, iron, phosphorous and magnesium,” he adds. What's more, a 2011 study even found black beans help improve insulin resistance, a protective effect against obesity.
Get yourself a tub of hummus or toss a handful of chickpeas into your salads because they are a fantastic way to fill up. According to a research review published in the journal Obesity, people felt 31 percent fuller after eating 160 grams (that's between 3/4 cup and 1 cup) of "pulses"—a.k.a. chickpeas and other dried beans, peas, and lentils. Just one serving of chickpeas daily can lead to better weight management and weight loss because they're low on the glycemic index. They digest slowly, keep your energy up, and hunger levels stable. “There's even been research on the value of garbanzo beans to heart health, colon health, the regulation of blood sugar and even the prevention of cancer,” Elkaim says. Plus, pulses are rich in protein and can take the place of animal protein in your diet.
Just two teaspoons of chia seeds contain 4g of protein. “That might not sound like much, but when you consider the versatility of chia, you can get quite a lot of additional protein throughout the day by adding the seeds to green drinks, yogurt, hot cereals, and protein shakes,” Elkaim says. Chia is also a great source of fiber, healthy fats, and iron (which is difficult for vegans and vegetarians to get enough of in their diets alone). The anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids are great for keeping you lean, Cording adds. Plus, it's a hydrophilic food, meaning it absorbs water—growing up to 12 times its size—which helps you stay fuller longer.
“Hemp seeds contain a whopping 10g of complete protein in just two tablespoons, making it the plant-based winner as far as the nine essential amino acids are concerned,” Elkaim says. One of the other really great things about hemp seeds is they're one of the few vegan sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. A study published in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism also found that hemp seeds can help fight heart disease by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.
Pumpkin seeds are an excellent filling snack, due to their healthy fat and high fiber content. But you shouldn’t overlook them as a protein source. Pumpkin seeds contain 12g of protein per cup and it’s pretty easy to get an ounce of them just by snacking out of hand. Another great health benefit is they provide a wider array of Vitamin E than almost any other food.
"Almonds have always been considered an excellent source of healthy fats, such as Omega-3 fatty acids, but they’re also a decent plant-based source of protein, with 30g of protein per cup," Elkaim says. Aisde from having the most protein of all the tree nuts, almonds are also the highest in fiber, Vitamin E, calcium, niacin and riboflavin. Keep them in your desk or car for easy snacking throughout the day.
Brown rice is staple for vegans and vegetarians because it’s filling and inexpensive. It also contains a good dose of protein (5g per cooked cup) and fiber (3.5g per cooked cup), which helps reduce blood glucose and blood insulin levels. In a recent study at Harvard University School of Public Health, researchers found that by eating 50g of brown rice a day, people can reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by 16 percent. "Brown rice is also an excellent source of two very important antioxidants, selenium and manganese, which, among other things, prevent free radical damage, attack cancer cells and repair DNA," Elkaim says.
"High in nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but low in calories, non-starchy veggies like kale, spinach, and arugula are a great way to add volume to a meal without weighing it down," Cording says. Kale has about 1.5g of protein per chopped cup (raw), which isn’t a ton, but you can have it be the base of your salads, toss it into smoothies and greens drinks, add it to soups, or sauté it as a side dish to add a punch of nutrients. In fact, the nutrient profile of kale is enough reason to make the veggie a focal point of your diet. It has double the amount of vitamin C as oranges (120mg), a healthy dose of vitamin A (which helps protect your eyes), is high in beta carotene, vitamin K, and calcium, too.
According to Elkaim, spinach rarely gets the credit it deserves for its protein content, but one cup (cooked) contains 6g. "Add it fresh to green drinks and smoothies, use it instead of lettuce in your salad or sauté it with some garlic, onions and a squeeze of lemon and you’ll get a healthy dose of protein along with the iron and vitamin content that it’s better known for, such as vitamins K, A, B, E, C, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, calcium, potassium, fiber, phosphorus, zinc, choline, and selenium," he adds. Apart from helping you feel full, but not bloated, spinach can help raise iron levels so you have more energy throughout the day.
In 2014, William Paterson University named watercress its top superfood (out of 41 powerhouse fruits and veggies) in terms of its disease-fighting nutrient profile. The low-cal veggie (just 4 calories per chopped cup) is grown in natural spring water, and has high levels of nitrates, which have been shown to lower blood pressure, Elkaim says. The alpha-lipoic acid in watercress lowers glucose levels, and it has high levels of vitamins C, K, and A, which prevent oxidative stress. Watercress is also known for being a diuretic, a digestive aid, and for its ability to speed up recovery time post-workout.
"Chard contains very powerful antioxidants that have cardio-protective and blood sugar regulating effects," Elkaim says. The leafy vegetable is high in nitrates, helping to lower blood pressure and improve muscle oxygenation, and the pigments in its leaves provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support. The alpha-lipoic acid even helps to manage diabetes by lowering glucose levels and increasing insulin sensitivity. This is the perfect food to supercharge your weight loss.
Beet greens and their roots are exceptional for weight loss because they're low in calories and nutrient dense. "A good source of iron, which is essential for oxygen transport in the blood and in myoglobin in our muscles, beet greens can help increase your energy levels to help you power through a workout," Elkaim says. They're also rich in carotenoids, which protect against age-related macular degeneration.
"Coconut oil is readily used by the body as an energy source," Elkaim says. It's a heart-healthy fat tha's been shown to improve cholesterol profiles, reduce inflammation, and rev metabolism, too. Not sure how to incorporate it into your diet? Elkaim suggests adding 1-3 tablespoons of coconut oil into your morning tea, or melting it over salmon with a bit of garlic. It's easy to cook with (because of its high smoking point) and you’ll enjoy powerful antiviral and antibacterial benefits, as well. (Plus, if you add it to rice when you cook it, you'll cut calories by up to 60 percent!)
Avocados are the ideal healthy fat because they "keep you full by slowing down digestion," Cording says. What's more, the fruit is packed with potassium, which fights bloating, so all that hard work you've done on your abs will show. "Avocadoes have about 14 grams of healthy fat per half a fruit, so they’ll increase your post-snack satiation (meaning you’ll be likely to eat less at the next meal), and on top of its good-for-you fats, avocado consumption actually aids in the absorption of vital nutrients when eaten with other fruits and veggies," Elkaim adds. Just be careful not to go overboard—even healthy foods can pack on the pounds if you're not careful.
Red palm oil comes from the palm tree family (just like coconut oil), only it's thicker in consistency, has an earthier taste, and actually contains the highest amount of vitamins A and E of any plant-based oil. "Blend it into your morning smoothie, or melt it over meat to get satiating fats, tons of Vitamin E, and heart-protective benefits, which will fuel lifelong fitness," Elkaim says.
A study from the Federation of American Societies For Experimental Biology found too little vitamin C in the bloodstream is linked to increased body fat and waist measurements due to fat oxidation—the body's ability to burn fat as a source of fuel. What's more, vitamin C is able to reduce chronic inflammation in your stomach, restore proper hormonal balance, and help your body dispose of stored fat. Load up on oranges, Elkaim says, "vitamin C is one of the main components your body uses to create l-carnitine, a wonderful little compound that acts like a shuttle bus for stored fat."
Low-glycemic fruits like apples, pears, plums and berries are great for when you crave sweets and carbs (though try try to limit them to just two or three servings a day), Cording says. Plus, these fruits can convert excess white fat into calorie-burning beige fat because of an antioxidant called resveratrol, according to a study from Washington State University. Berries are naturally high in fiber and filling, making them the perfect post-workout snack, or midday pick-me-up.
"Protein helps you stay satisfied and helps your body build and repair muscle tissue to get you looking lean," Cording says. Chicken is especially important if you're trying to drop your love handles and build muscle because it has all the essential amino acids your body needs.
Don't just reserve turkey for holidays and sandwiches, it's one of the leanest animal proteins, and a great way to add variety to your diet without a ton of calories, sodium, or saturated fat.
"The combo of protein and fat in eggs keeps you full and focused for hours," Cording says. "And, at 70 calories a piece, eggs also offer instant portion control." In a study from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, those who ate eggs every morning for breakfast (compared to a bagel) ate fewer calories for lunch, the rest of the day, and the following 36 hours. Remember that the next time you're cramming a Pop-Tart in your mouth.
"Adequate calcium intake has been associated with improved weight loss and maintenance of weight loss," Cording says. A study published in Obesity Research found an increase in dietary calcium significantly enhanced weight and fat loss in individuals better than caloric restriction. Opt for higher-protein yogurt varieties like Greek yogurt to boost satiety; it packs twice the protein as regular yogurt, and takes care of 20 percent of your daily calcium needs, Cording adds. The probiotic bacteria also promotes good digestion, which is key to feeling and looking your best. If you want some crunch and fiber, add in nuts, dried fruit, or whole grain cereal that's low in sugar.
"Whole grains like oats, when eaten with protein, give you a slow energy burn to power you through the day and avoid a blood sugar crash that will send you to the vending machine," Cording says. And, beyond its ability to fill you up, oats contain soluble fiber, protein, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, manganese, and iron. However, choose wisely. You want steel-cut oats—and definitely not the packets—they'll keep you fullest the longest.
In a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that drinking green tea helped subjects burn more calories throughout the day and increased fat oxidation, and a 2008 British study also concluded that green tea improves insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, which enhances your body’s ability to store calories as muscle rather than fat. Swap out one of you cups of coffee with green tea, or matcha, a powder made from ground tea leaves that can be made into hot and cold beverages.