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Shrink Belly Fat with Food
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The best thing you can do to keep diabetes under control and protect your heart is to avoid putting on belly fat in the first place. "Once you've generated fat tissue, you can't destroy it, you can only shrink it," says Alan Marcus, MD, a physician in private practice in California, who specialises in diabetes management and endocrinology. But if you've already packed on a few kilos around your middle, you'll still do yourself a world of good by taking off some of it, and you can do it in part by changing your diet.

In fact, you don't have to lose much to make a difference in your health. "If you lose only 10% of your body weight, you can drastically reduce your risk for diabetes and other conditions," says Fred Vagnini, MD, director of the Heart, Diabetes & Weight Loss Centers of New York. The tips here will help you lose weight from all over your body, including your abdomen. Despite the wild claims made by infomercials, belly massagers and sit-up machines won't magically trim off belly fat specifically, but the strategies below have been proven to help reduce abdominal fat.

ASSESS YOUR AB FAT

To see where you stand in terms of abdominal fat, take a flexible tape measure and wrap it snugly (not tightly) around the widest part of your waist. Then measure the widest part of your hips. Compare the two numbers; if your waist is the same as or bigger than your hips, you're carrying too much weight on your stomach.

CREATE A BELLY-SHRINKING BALANCE

To fight excess abdominal fat and keep it off, the American Diabetes Association suggests you eat a diet composed of about 45% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 30% fat (primarily unsaturated).

WHEN IT COMES TO FAT, GO MONO

Not all fats are created equally. Studies show that although mono-unsaturated fats serve up the same number of calories as other types of dietary fat, they're less likely to end up as extra kilos and abdominal fat. "Researchers compared the weight loss results from one group of people following a diet of large amounts of fish, olive oil, vegetables and fruits with another group of people who were sticking to low-fat and high-carbohydrate diets," says Ralph Felder, MD, PhD, section chief for cardiovascular nutrition at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix and author of The Bonus Years Diet. "They found that those following the fish, olive oil, vegetables and fruit diet shed excess kilos from both the upper and lower body, but the other group mainly lost fat from the lower body."

SKIP SIMPLE CARBS

The 'right' carbs are fibre-dense complex carbohydrates, which your body digests and absorbs relatively slowly. "Simple carbs, such as white bread and potato chips, break down relatively quickly," says Sheela Krishnaswamy, Bengaluru-based nutrition consultant. Insulin production kicks into overdrive in an effort to sweep all that glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells. So avoid sweets and other simple sugars. "Get rid of the cookies, candies, doughnuts, ice cream and cake,except maybe on your birthday,and reduce the bread, rice, potatoes, cereals, fruits and fruit juices," Krishnaswamy says.

BE CHOOSY ABOUT VEGGIES

Vegetables are generally great for weight loss because they deliver so much nutrition for relatively few calories. But not all vegetables are the same in terms of abdominal fat and diabetes risk. You can eat broccoli, peppers, onions, cauliflower, cucumbers, celery, and spinach and other leafy greens pretty much without restraint. On the other hand, starchy vegetables,such as corn, beets, carrots, lima beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes,tend to act more like carbohydrates in your body and so should be limited.

DON'T UNDERESTIMATE THE FOOD FACTOR

Don't neglect your diet just because you've been good about hitting the gym. Working out won't banish belly fat if you're still eating with abandon. "Exercise is important, but it cannot begin to take the place of diet changes," says Neal Barnard, MD, adjunct associate professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Services and author of Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes.

FEAST ON FIBRE

"Foods high in fibre are nutrient-rich and low in calories," says Ritika Samaddar, regional head, dietetics, Max Healthcare. Fibre acts like negative calories: Every 14 grams of fibre that you add to your diet per day cuts your total calorie intake by about 10%. High-fibre foods fill you up faster, so you stop eating sooner. Fibre-packed foods include wholewheat breads, brown rice and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, and cauliflower. Aim for at least 30 grams per day.

BONE UP ON DAIRY

In a study of 34 obese people, those who ate three servings of fat-free yoghurt per day lost 22% more weight, 61% more body fat and 81% more belly fat than people who ate the same number of calories minus the dairy. Why? Dairy products seem to lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that makes you store fat in your belly.

STOP DRINKING YOUR CALORIES

This is one of the easiest food behaviours to correct, says Francine Kaufman, MD, head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. Unless it is sugar-free, any flavoured, sweet drink (cola, fruit juice, iced tea, lemonade, wine coolers and so on) will serve up a lot of empty calories, usually from sugar, that you do not need. And studies show that even calorie-free diet colas can lead to weight gain. "Instead, drink water," Kaufman says. If you want to give it some flavour, drop in a slice of lemon, lime or orange.