America's toddlers are currently our biggest losers. Recent federal data shows a dramatic 43 percent drop in obesity rates among 2- to 5-year-old children during the past decade. But don't break out the celebratory cupcakes just yet. America still has a major weight problem, and now, it turns out, there are different types of belly fat to worry about -- one of which you can't even see. The distinction is important.
Subcutaneous fat refers to the visible, pinch-able fat beneath (sub) the skin (cutaneous). It may be thicker in some places than others, but for the most part subcutaneous fat is evenly distributed all over your body.
Visceral fat is even more dangerous. This deadly fat wraps around the organs deep in your abdomen, spiking your risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and metabolic syndrome. You can't see or pinch visceral fat, and it's often associated with a large waist.
The good news is you can start blasting belly fat -- both types -- today, with these five healthy habits I discovered while researching my newest book about calorie-cutting and food swaps, Eat It To Beat It!:
1. Swap Your Cup(s) O Joe for Green Tea
Sipping on green tea throughout the morning has been shown to help whittle your waist, but too much coffee has the opposite effect. What makes green tea so waist friendly are compounds called catechins, belly-fat crusaders that blast adipose tissue by revving the metabolism, increasing the release of fat from fat cells (particularly in the belly), and then speeding up the liver's fat burning capacity. In a recent study, participants who combined a daily habit of 4-5 cups of green tea each day with a 25-minute sweat session (you're already doing that part, right>) lost two more pounds than the non tea-drinking exercisers. Meanwhile, a research team in Washington found that the same amount of coffee (5+ cups/day) doubled visceral belly fat.
2. Snack on Popcorn
I'm not suggesting a movie theater binge, but without the butter and excess salt, popcorn can be an apple-shaped snacker's best friend. At only 30 calories, a cup of popped kernels provides over 9 grams of whole grains -- a dietary staple of people with the littlest middles. A Tufts University study found that participants who ate three or more servings of whole grains (oats, quinoa, brown rice, wheat) had 10 percent less belly fat than people who ate the same amount of calories from refined carbs (white stuff: bread, rice, pasta). Further research is required to figure out exactly why this is the case, but the hypothesis is it has to do with the high fiber and slow-burn properties of whole grains. When it comes to diet, being unrefined is a good thing!
3. Sprinkle Pepper on Your Meals
Meet Piperine, the fat blasting ninja! A powerful compound found in black pepper, piperine has been used for centuries in Eastern medicine to treat multiple health conditions including inflammation and tummy troubles. But recent animal studies have found that piperine may also have the profound ability to reduce inflammation and interfere with the formation of new fat cells -- a reaction known as adipogenesis, resulting in a decrease in waist size, body fat, and cholesterol levels. More pepper, please!
4. Swap Cooking Grease for Coconut Oil
If you haven't yet tried coconut oil, stop what you're doing right now, grab a pen, and add it to the top of your grocery list: virgin coconut oil. Studies suggest that just two tablespoons of the stuff each day can shrink your waist faster than your favorite Zumba class. What makes coconut oil superior to other fats is its medium chain triglycerides. Unlike the long-chain fatty acids found in animal sources of saturated fat, coconut oil doesn't seem to raise your cholesterol and is more likely to be burned as energy than stored as blubber. Its high smoke point makes it great for just about every dish, from eggs to stir-frys, and a perfect substitute for butter when baking (you could even try some on your popcorn for a double dose of belly blasting goodness).
5. Indulge in Dark Chocolate
It's every chocoholic's dream: Research now shows that eating moderate amounts of dark chocolate can reduce overall body fat and shrink the waist. A study among women with normal weight obesity who ate a Mediterranean diet that included two servings of dark chocolate each day showed a significant reduction in waist size than when on a cocoa-free meal plan. Researchers say it has to do with the flavonoids, heart-healthy compounds in chocolate that have important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Just be sure you're reaching for a bar with at least 70 percent cacao, and stay away from the "alkalized" stuff, which has a significantly reduced flavonoid content.
SHED POUNDS BY SNACKING! It's OK to indulge if you know the insider tricks. Check out 6 Proven Snack Strategies for Weight Loss.
SAVE MONEY AT THE REGISTER! Buying coconut oil? Get the best price using my 5 Best Grocery Coupon Apps.