Worst Foods for Belly Fat

Photo Credit: Brittany Carlson PD US Army
We all know that excess body fat can be a threat to our health. Excess fat around your waist can be a bigger threat to your health than fat anywhere else on your body. Belly fat has been associated with heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Some people have a tendency to put on belly fat due to their genes, but poor eating habits and lifestyle choices often lead to extra fat around the midsection. High-fat foods alone are not to blame for belly fat. Foods high in fat are not helpful, but eating foods high in calories and low in nutrition are more of a threat than high-fat foods alone. The best way to prevent or to get rid of excess belly fat is to reduce the amount of food you eat and eat healthier foods. Eat a nutritious diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and incorporate exercise into your daily routine. 
Alcohol is a major contributor to belly fat. Alcohol has almost as many calories per serving than most high-fat foods. Drinking alcohol can also leave you feeling more hungry than normal. Also, your liver is too busy ridding your body of the alcohol to burn fat calories, so you end up storing calories as fat. This is the reason many people develop what is commonly called “beer belly.” Drink moderately and avoid eating when you drink. 
Foods that contain trans fats, especially hydrogenated oils, add fat to your waistline. Trans fats are found in cookies, crackers, fried foods, margarine, shortening and processed foods. Packaged and convenience foods, such as cake, biscuit and pancake mixes are usually high in trans fats. Condensed canned soup and dried noodle soups are also high in trans fats. Frozen foods, including frozen fish sticks, pizza, pot pies and frozen pies and cakes are high in trans fats, too. Watch out for excess trans fats in baked goods. Donuts, cakes, breads and cookies found at your supermarket bakery are usually prepared using shortening or margarine and processed flour, all of which are high in trans fats. Baked foods that are prepared using whole grain flour and butter are lower in trans fat, 
Fast food is one of the worst options for trans fats. Burgers, French fries and sauces on sandwiches offered by fast food restaurants are high in trans fats and calories. Many people also overeat fast food, which leads to even more calories and fat in your diet. The occasional fast food treat is probably okay, but when eaten frequently, fast food adds to belly fat and overall weight gain. Choose low-calorie or reduced fat options when available. 

Soft drinks can really pack on the belly fat because most contain high-calorie sweeteners. Many soft drink manufacturers have replaced refined sugar with high-fructose corn syrup for sweetness. High-fructose corn syrup is high in calories. Limit the amount of soda in your diet or choose sugar-free sodas. Try drinking some green tea instead of soda. Green tea, when combined with exercise and healthy food choices, can help you reduce belly fat and lose weight. 
Keep your waist trim and avoid the health risks of excess belly fat by eating a diet low in trans-fats, high in fiber and rich in nutrients. Choose brown rice over white rice. Select fresh foods instead of frozen treats. Drink less soda and alcohol. Combine healthy foods with exercise and the belly fat should soon start to melt away.

How to Avoid Mindless Eating

It’s easy to snack without thinking about it. Some of us do it in front of the television, while talking on the telephone or while sitting at our desk at work. That bowl of potato chips or popcorn is just too tasty to ignore. Once you start munching without thinking, it is easy to eat an entire bag of chips or a bowl full of popcorn before you realize what you have done. A few simple changes can help you avoid mindless munching, which can lead to excess calories and weight gain.
Photo Credit: Renee Comet PD
Remove all candy, chips and other fat-laden or sugary snacks from your television room. The best practice is to not eat while watching television. If you must snack while watching your favorite television programs, choose grapes, raisins, nuts, baked whole grain crackers and cheese, fresh vegetables or sliced fruit. Instead of sipping on a soda, have a glass of green tea on ice. Keep a bowl of mixed nuts or your favorite nuts on the table on the television room instead of chips or cookies. 
Clean out your desk at work and give away or toss out all the fattening, sugary and greasy snacks you have hidden in your special snack drawer. Try to avoid snacking while working on your computer. Set a specific time for your snacks and stick to the schedule.  A light, healthy snack in the early morning before lunch and again in the afternoon can help keep your metabolism stimulated and keep you from over-eating at lunch or dinner. Replace unhealthy snacks with small packages of nuts, granola bars, dried fruit or fresh fruit options. Stay away from the soda machine at work. Ask your employer to offer low-calorie, sugar-free alternatives to sweet soda or bring your own drinks. Keep some bottled water in your desk and drink that instead of hitting the soda machine. If your company serves donuts or other sweets at meetings, drink a glass of water and eat a piece of fruit before the meeting, so that you will not feel the urge to pick up a sugary treat to munch on while the manager drones on about sales figures. 

Pay attention to the foods you put in your mouth. Rather than mindlessly grabbing a handful of whatever is in the bowl in front of you, stop and look at the food. If it’s a handful of candy or chips, put it down. Move the bowl out of your reach or get a healthy snack instead. 

Are Empty Calorie Foods Undermining Nutrition?

Photo Credit: LittleGun  CC-BY-SA-3.0 2011
When you consume food, you expect it to provide energy and nutrition. The energy content of food is measured in calories. Some foods are high in energy, but low in nutrition. Low nutritional value but high calorie foods are said to contain empty calories. Foods and snacks that are high in fat and sugar provide energy, but do not provide the vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy. Most of the processed foods and drinks in the American diet contain empty calories. Solid fats and added sugars increase the caloric content of foods without adding any nutritional value. People who consume too many empty calories and who do not exercise regularly may be overweight and still suffer vitamin or mineral deficiencies in their diet. Even if a person is exercising and burning as many or more calories than they consume, they may appear lean and healthy but still be at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiency-related illness. Always eat a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, plant protein and lean meats and fish. 
Foods that have low nutritional value but high calories include butter, animal fats and shortening. Processed foods that contain these solid fats have a higher calorie to nutrient ratio than fresh foods. Foods with added sugars are also higher in calories than they are in nutrients. Foods that contain the most empty calories include cakes, donuts, cookies, pies and other pastries. Sweet snacks and deserts usually have both added sugars and solid fats. Sodas, fruit drinks that are not 100% natural juice and energy drinks often contain added sugar.  Processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausage and ground beef are high in calories due to the solid fats contained in the food. Bacon is mostly solid fat. Even some ice cream has solid fat added to make it creamy. White bread and margarine contain highly processed ingredients and more calories than nutrients. Get the most from your calories by eating foods that are also nutritious.

For more information about calories and balancing your caloric intake, see:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Balancing Calories

Diet Saving Super Bowl Snacks

Photo Credit: Gunkarta CC-BY-SA-3.0 2011
Millions of Americans will be sitting in front of the television today, watching the Super Bowl. Super Bowl parties often include diet-busting foods, such as beer, pizza, chips and dip. Your Super Bowl party does not have to be a diet disaster. Forget the take out pizza and opt for some healthier, tasty party foods that everyone will enjoy. 
Chicken is a low-fat, high protein food. Buffalo wings are a traditional Super Bowl party fare that are easy to prepare and healthier than pizza loaded with cheese and pepperoni. Skinless chicken wings basted in a spicy buffalo sauce are less than 300 calories per serving.
A veggie platter can be prepared quickly and easily. Celery, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, tomatoes and carrots make a colorful, healthy snack platter. Skip the high-calorie bleu cheese dip and serve a light spinach dip made with low-fat cream cheese, low-fat yogurt or reduced calorie cottage cheese.  
Serve your Super Bowl party guests baked chips and low-fat dip instead of fried potato chips. Prepare a delicious low-calorie guacamole dip. A layered bean dip with baked tortilla chips contains plenty of fiber, vitamins and minerals, but won’t bust your diet with extra calories. 

Serve a light beer and offer sugar-free soda. To avoid over-indulging, remember to drink a glass of water before the game and have a cup of water between beers. Remember to drink in moderation and enjoy the game!

For some tasty Super Bowl party recipes, see:

Healthiest Fast Food Breakfasts

Photo Credit: H M Bascom © 2011
You know how important it is to eat a healthy breakfast. What if you are running late for work and don’t have time to prepare  your own meal? Busy people can find healthy fast food breakfast foods. Some fast food breakfast menus offer nutritional items that are high in fiber and protein, but may still be loaded with saturated fats and sugar. Many fast food restaurants make nutrition information available to their patrons by printing the information on the food packaging or providing nutrition information leaflets. Take the time to do a little research and you will be prepared to make wise fast food choices on the run.
McDonald’s is a popular fast food stop for people on the go. The fast food giant offers a wide variety of breakfast foods. According to  Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, writing for the WebMD website, the Egg McMuffin is the best McDonald’s breakfast choice with 300 calories, 12 grams of fat and 2 grams of fiber. The McMuffin does contain more than 800 mg of sodium. The hotcakes at McDonald’s is the next best fast food breakfast choice. If you skip the margarine and syrup, your hotcakes breakfast contains about 350 calories, 3 gram of fiber and 590 milligrams of sodium. 
Burger King offers some fast food menu items that contain fewer calories than the McDonald’s choices. The King’s ham omelet sandwich contains only 290 calories, but 13 grams of fat and 870 milligrams of sodium. The French toast stick breakfast contains fewer calories, about 240 but it has 13 grams of fat and 2.5 grams of saturated fat. These tasty breakfast goodies have zero cholesterol, 250 milligrams of sodium and only 1 gram of fiber.  
Dunkin’ Doughnuts offers some delicious breakfast bagels. The sweets specialist offers customers wheat, blueberry and honey bran raisin muffins. The blueberry and wheat bagel contain about 330 calories. The honey bran raisin muffin has more calories and sodium, about 40 milligrams of each, and 15 grams of fat. The blueberry bagel has 600 milligrams of sodium but is lower in fat than the other healthier breakfast options. 
It is important that you always eat breakfast. Don’t skip breakfast unless you cannot avoid it. Your body needs the nutrients and energy to function. If you have no time to make breakfast or stop for a meal, drink some juice on your way out the door. Drink a glass of orange juice or low-fat milk instead of coffee if you have to opt for a fast food breakfast.
For more information about fast food breakfasts, see:

WebMD, Best and Worst Fast-Food Breakfast, by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD, 2011

Start the Day Off Right!

Eating a healthy breakfast every day can help jump-start your metabolism, help you feel energized and give your body the nutrition it needs to start a busy day. The best way to lose weight is to keep your body burning calories instead of storing fat, so make sure you begin your day by eating something nutritious to fire up your metabolism for the whole day. If you skip breakfast, you miss out on a prime opportunity to boost your body’s calorie burning engine. If you are not eating breakfast, you may not be getting  all the nutrients your body needs to remain healthy. 

Remember, you have not eaten anything while you were sleeping. After 7 or 8 hours of sleep, your body needs food. Breakfast is essential to replenish your nutrient stores and stave off hunger, which can cause you to over-eat at lunch. Fasting by skipping breakfast can also increase your body’s insulin, which results in fat storage. Hunger can also tempt you to eat donuts or candy, which may temporarily stave off hunger pangs because they are loaded with sugar, but contain practically no vitamins and minerals. Avoid fast food breakfast sandwiches. Most are loaded with sodium, sugars, chemical preservatives and fat. 
Photo Credit: Parkerman & Christie CC-BY-2.0 2008
You will feel more energetic during the whole day if you eat a healthy breakfast of high fiber, high protein and low-fat foods. Oatmeal, whole wheat cereals, fruits like bananas, blueberries and strawberries and yogurt are high fiber foods that contain fewer calories than a bagel or a muffin. Multi-grain and whole grain cereals with low-fat milk, some fresh fruit such as bananas or strawberries and a cup of orange juice is low in calories, but packed with nutrients and fiber. Whole-grain waffles with fruit and low-fat sweeteners, such as natural corn syrup, provide energy and taste great.

For more information, see:
WebMD, Lose Weight: Eat Breakfast, by Jeanie Lerche Davis, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD, 2010

Food Pyramid or Food Plate?

Photo Credit: Harvard Food Pyramid Public Domain 
A healthy diet includes a variety of foods. Fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, meats, and nuts are all part of a nutritious diet. How much should you eat from each food group? Should you use the old “pyramid” to guide your food choices or is the new “my plate” a better choice? Your dietary choices should be made based on nutrition. Other factors to consider are your goals and primary objective, such as weight loss, muscle mass, lowering cholesterol or maintaining bone strength. The key to any diet plan is getting all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that your body needs to stay healthy. 
Your diet should include enough protein to maintain healthy muscles and bones. Meat is one option for protein. Plant-based proteins can be found in beans, rice, nuts, eggs and dairy. Meat and animal proteins usually contain more fat and cholesterol than plant proteins. If you are trying to lower your cholesterol, consider substituting meat protein for soy products or other vegetable protein sources. Whether you follow the food pyramid or food plate, you should make food choices based on nutritional value and your personal needs. A doctor or dietitian can help you create a diet that works for you.

The food plate diagram recommends one half of each meal consist of fruits and vegetables. Healthy oils like olive oil and canola oil are included in the vegetable section, but not fatty oils like butter and oils that contain trans fats. French fries do not count as a vegetable. Choose a variety of vegetables of all colors and flavors to keep meals interesting as well as nutritious.

Photo Credit: USDA Public Domain

The other side of the food plate consists of healthy proteins and whole grain foods. Healthy proteins include fish, poultry, beans, peas, nuts and small portions of lean red meat. Avoid sandwich meats, bacon, sausage, hot dogs and other processed meat products. Whole grains include whole wheat bread, unprocessed oats, whole grain pasta, grits, bulgur wheat, cornmeal muffins and brown rice. Avoid pasta and bread made with bleached white flour and white rice. Dairy should be limited to one serving per meal. Drink an 8 ounce glass of whole Vitamin D enriched milk or water and a serving of fresh yogurt or cheese. Those who are lactose intolerant can substitute vitamin enriched soy milk for dairy products. 

Whether you choose to follow the food pyramid, food plate or your own diet plan, choose healthy foods and eat a variety of foods every day. Avoid too much caffeine found in coffee, tea and most sodas. Limit your sugar intake and get plenty of exercise. 

Pre-Workout Fuel

It is critical to keep your body well nourished and fueled to get the most benefit from your workouts. But what should you eat and when should you eat it? What and when you eat depends on the kind of exercise you are going to do. 
People who exercise in the morning should rise early enough to eat a healthy breakfast before running, jogging, walking or other exercise. You will need to replenish your blood sugar and hydrate your body. Drinks some water when you first wake up and eat a variety of fresh fruits and whole grain foods. Eat breakfast about 2 hours before you plan to start your morning exercise routine. If you are going to eat 1 hour or less prior to exercising, eat a light breakfast of fresh fruit like bananas or grapefruit, orange juice and whole wheat toast.  
Photo Credit: Aleph CC-BY-SA-2.5 2007
Many people like to take advantage of their company fitness center during their lunch break. Before heading to the fitness center or gym on your lunch break, eat a small whole-grain pasta salad and drink a glass of water no sooner than 2 hours prior to working out. If you don’t have time to digest a light lunch before your workout, eat a snack of whole wheat crackers and hard cheeses or fruit and yogurt before exercise. These foods can provide the complex carbohydrates and other nutrients your body needs. Carbohydrates are essential for energy, so don’t skip a snack before a workout. For late afternoon workouts, add some protein to your pre-workout meal. Natural peanut butter, turkey, white meat chicken or beans are a good source of protein. 
Avoid eating a heavy meal less than 3 hours before working out. The less time between the time you eat and the time you plan to begin your workout, the less you should eat. If you’re in a rush, grab some fresh fruit, cheese and whole grain crackers. Carbohydrate-rich foods are easy to digest and provide all the energy your body needs for stamina. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your workout to avoid dehydration.

Fast Food Facts

It isn’t always easy to eat healthy, home-cooked meals every day. Our busy lifestyles frequently require that we eat on the run. This is especially true during the holiday season when we have social commitments like parties and family gatherings. Many Americans who work in an urban setting may choose fast food for their lunch because most fast food restaurants are conveniently located and the prices are usually cheap. Unfortunately most fast fast food and some sit-down family style restaurants offer food choices that are high in fat, sugar, salt and carbohydrates. Add a sugary soda and you can consume almost a day’s worth of calories on your lunch break, but you won’t get all the nutrition your body needs. 
If you typically have a sandwich for lunch, select a restaurant that offers deli-style foods that can be made to order. Some fast food sandwich chain restaurants offer submarine sandwiches on whole wheat bread or low-fat whole wheat bread wraps. Avoid the cheese and mayonnaise because these add extra calories, fat, sodium and sugars. Skip the French fries and onion rings. Opt for a side salad with no dressing or a low-fat dressing. 
Photo Credit: Public Domain US Government
Grilled sandwich meats are less fatty than fried foods. Choose a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a cheeseburger. Be careful not to undermine the grilled food choice by loading the sandwich with cheese, special sauces and mayonnaise. Choose a whole wheat bun if it is available. Select mustard over mayonnaise for extra flavor without all the added calories and fat.
Many supermarkets in America offer fresh foods, peeled, sliced, cut, cooked and placed in convenient containers ready to eat. Supermarkets offer washed and cut fresh vegetables and fruits as well as lean meats and cheeses. The deli section in supermarkets is a great place to find prepared lunch foods. Some supermarket prepare single serving fresh salads, fruit cups, wrap sandwiches, sushi and lean meat sandwiches.
For more information about calories, sugar and fat content of popular fast foods see:

WebMD, MedicineNet, Fast Food Sandwiches Picture Slideshow: Good and Bad Choices for Your Diet, Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on August 29, 2011

America’s Healthiest, America’s Top 10 Healthiest Fast Food Restaurants, Tracy Minkin, et al. February 2009