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Foods That Help Fight Belly Fat

Big belliesDon’t blame the food, blame the type of fat we eat. That’s what causes us to have big bellies, say Swedish researchers, who used a special muffin diet to demonstrate how this works.

The authors of the study, published last month in the journal Diabetes, say this is the first time research on humans has shown that saturated fat (found in foods like butter, bacon, palm oil and beef) is deposited in a different place on the body than polyunsaturated fat (found in fish, nuts, and olive and sunflower oils).

Saturated fat, they showed, heads straight for the abdomen and liver, where it interferes with our metabolism and increases our risk for diabetes and heart disease. Polyunsaturated fat, on the other hand, gets distributed to other areas of the body, not just the waistline, and is partly used to create  muscle mass.

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So how does the special muffin fit in? Researchers randomly divided 39 men and women of normal weight into two groups. They each followed the same diet for seven weeks with one exception: One group ate a 750-calorie muffin each day made with polyunsaturated sunflower oil, while the other group ate the same muffin made with palm oil, which is high in saturated fat and commonly found in packaged foods such as cookies, crackers and microwave popcorn.

Both groups gained comparable amounts of weight, the scientists reported, but magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans taken before and after the weight gain showed significant differences between the two sets of participants. The saturated-fat group had “a markedly greater increase in the amount of fat in the liver and abdomen” than the polyunsaturated-fat group. The saturated-fat group also had more total body fat and a much lower increase in muscle mass.

In addition, researchers measured gene activity in the subjects’ abdominal fat and found that “over-consumption of saturated fats seems to be able to ‘turn on’ certain genes in fatty tissue that increase the storage of fat in the abdomen.”

While some people may joke about their jiggly little muffin-top bellies – witness this video by stand-up comic and mother of two Erin Keaney on the Today show – an excess of belly fat is a big red flag for other serious health problems.

So how should you get more foods that fight belly fat in your diet? Here are some tips.



Photo: Tony Alter/flickr

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