Belly fat (a.k.a. visceral fat) isn't like the fat on your arms and thighs that sit on top of your muscles. Belly fat is dangerous because it lies deep under the skin and wraps around vital organs and is linked to many chronic diseases. You can help burn it off by running, taking a Zumba class and strength training, but eating a diet high in soluble fiber can also help.
Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that to really hone in on deep belly fat, it's important to get moderate amounts of regular exercise and to eat more soluble fiber from vegetables, fruits and beans. Just increasing fiber by 10 grams per day, can reduce belly fat by 3.7 percent for up to five years.
In a press release, the study's lead researcher, Kristen Hairston, MD and assistant professor of internal medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, said, "We know that a higher rate of visceral fat is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes and fatty liver disease. Our study found that making a few simple changes can have a big health impact."
To test how these lifestyle changes can impact people's health, researchers signed up more than 1,100 African-Americans and Latinos—two populations that are most impacted by chronic illness and obesity --- to take part in their study.
Using CT scans to measure subcutaneous and visceral fat, researchers found that increased intake of soluble fiber was associated with a reduction in belly fat, but not subcutaneous fat.
In fact, for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber eaten per day, visceral fat was reduced by 3.7 percent over five years. In addition, regular moderate exercise (30 minutes of vigorous exercise two to four times per week) resulted in a 7.4 percent reduction over the same time period.
OK. I can hear you asking, "What exactly are 10 more grams of fiber?"
It’s not that much, really.
The researchers wrote that 10 grams is eating two small apples, one cup of green peas and one-half cup of pinto beans daily. But it can be mixed up with other foods high in fiber such as whole grain breads, baked potato with skin, pears, apples, bananas, flax seeds, whole wheat pasta and broccoli.
And the reality is that we're not getting enough fiber in our diets. According to the American Dietetic Association (ADA), the average American consumes only 15 grams of fiber a day—the recommended daily intake is 25 grams for women and 35 grams for men younger than 50, and 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men 51 or older.
Here are some simple tips to getting more fiber:
Read the labels. Knowing what’s in the food you eat is crucial to maintaining and building a healthier lifestyle.
Eat a high-fiber breakfast. If you can knock out 5–8 grams of fiber in the morning, that’s a good start. Try a high-fiber cereal or instant oatmeal. FYI: Some flavored instant oatmeals are high in sugar, so watch it.
Snack on fruits and veggies. During the day, opt for an apple or carrot sticks, instead of chips and cookies. But don’t peel off the skin—that’s where most of the fiber is.
Eat more beans! Add one-half cup of chickpeas to your salad.
Take it slow. Slowly work fiber into your diet; if you add too much too fast, you might become gassy and constipated. Also, make sure you drink more water. Fiber will absorb it, making your stool softer.
Learn more about high fiber foods here.