The other day, I came across an article titled 28 Foods That Fight Belly Fat, which claims to reveal a list of “slimming superfoods” that will “melt away that last inch of belly bloat.”
There are many thousands of articles like it, all of which follow a very similar template.
The author comes up with a list of foods, along with some contrived explanation (usually with a few links to research papers for effect) as to why said foods will help you burn fat from your belly.
It’s a very easy way to create content that gets shared and talked about.
Most people like to have things laid out in black and white terms. This food is “bad,” so I shouldn’t eat it. This food is “good,” so I should eat it.
Why Fat Burning Foods Don’t Exist
The idea there are certain foods that somehow “burn belly fat” is complete nonsense.
That’s because individual foods don’t drive fat loss. It’s your overall diet rather than any single food that determines whether fat is lost or gained.
There are certain “hot” foods that give your metabolism a lift . But the overall effect is relatively small, and it’s debatable whether the short-term increase in metabolism has much of an impact on fat loss over time.
Truth is, you could put ANY food on one of these lists, just as long as you come up with a plausible-sounding explanation as to why it can help you lose fat.
Let me show you how it’s done, using ice cream as an example.
If Ben & Jerry decided to pay me a vast amount of money to persuade you that ice cream could help you burn belly fat, here’s the sort of thing I’d come up with:
Ice cream is made from dairy, which has been shown to accelerate the loss of visceral fat. In one study , published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers from Canada’s McMaster University report that subjects who ate the most dairy were the ones who lost the greatest amount of fat from their belly.
Plus, when you eat ice cream regularly, you won’t feel as deprived, and will therefore be more likely to stick with your diet in the long run. So not only will ice cream help you lose belly fat, it’ll also help to keep it off in the long run!
Let’s try another one.
Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes
Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes are a breakfast cereal. And eating breakfast is linked with a reduction in visceral fat. In one study, scientists from the University of Southern California found that individuals who skipped breakfast had higher levels of visceral fat compared with both breakfast eaters and occasional breakfast eaters .
They’re also enriched with essential B vitamins, vital for energy production, so you’ll be bursting with energy to go to the gym and work out.
Here’s another one.
Butter contains special fats known as medium chain triglycerides, or MCTs for short. In fact, 100 grams of butter contains around 10 grams of MCTs.
It’s true – eating butter will make you thin!
See? It wasn’t too difficult.
And all three snippets of twaddle were based on actual studies, which I can link to, and then claim that the article is “evidence based” (a term so overused that it’s now become meaningless).
Rinse and repeat the process for a bunch of other foods, and the job is done.
Foods You Should Never, Ever Eat
On the flip side, there are equally as many articles listing foods that you should avoid on the basis they go “right to your gut” and cause “nearly instant fat gain, right where you don’t want it.”
Some of the foods on these lists include:
In the months before getting this picture taken, I had a fruit smoothie every single day (SHOCK!).
And, I thought nothing of having a pizza for dinner (double shock!) several nights a week.
Yet I was still able to get in decent shape, despite eating foods that supposedly cause “nearly instant fat gain” on a daily basis.
Losing your gut requires one thing, and that’s an energy deficit.
Truth is, you can eat pizza, french fries, fruit juice, bottled smoothies and whatever else might appear on these lists, and still lose fat.
This in no way means that the composition of your diet doesn’t matter, because it does.
A chocolate bar (mainly carbs and fat) and a chicken breast (mainly protein) might have the same number of calories. But your body will use up more energy digesting and processing the chicken than it does the chocolate bar.
When they’re sat on a plate in front of you, a handful of nuts might contain the same number of calories as half a dozen sugar cubes.
But, unlike the sugar, your body doesn’t absorb all the energy in the nuts . Some of the calories will literally go in one end and straight out the other.
“A mile climbed up the steeps of the Himalayas will not be experienced at all like a mile strolled through Hyde Park,” explains Dr David Katz.
“The distance is the same – but the experience is totally different. This is so obvious that to make a point of it seems almost to suggest subterfuge and even hucksterism. When someone pretends they are rendering an epiphany in the place of the self-evident, they generally have a bridge to sell you. Step away from your credit card, fast.
“Calories are just the same,” he adds. “A fixed number of walnut calories and a fixed number of Ding Dong calories are very different experiences in every way that matters.
“Simple, wholesome, nutrient-dense foods tend to help fill us up and keep us full. They don’t tend to send a surge of sugar into our bloodstream and spike our blood insulin. Highly processed, energy-dense but nutrient-poor foods tend to engender just such harmful responses.”
The effect that a given diet has on hormone levels, appetite, and energy expenditure will affect how fast you lose weight, where that lost weight comes from (i.e. muscle or fat), as well as your ability to stick with the diet.
In other words, you can’t ignore the macronutrient content of a diet and expect to see an identical change in body composition based on calorie values alone.
The fact that an energy deficit is the driving force behind losing fat doesn’t mean that nothing else matters. The foods supplying that energy are still important when it comes to losing fat.
To sum up, it’s your overall diet rather than any one food that determines whether fat is lost or gained.
Drinking a fruit smoothie or eating pizza isn’t going to help you lose fat. But it’s not going to hurt either, just as long as you account for it in your daily nutrient budget.
There is no such thing as a food that burns belly fat, nor is there any food you are required to avoid in order to lose fat.
SEE ALSO: THE FLAT BELLY CHEAT SHEET
If you want less flab and more muscle when you look down at your abs (or where they should be), check out The Flat Belly Cheat Sheet.
It's a “cut the waffle and just tell me what to do” PDF that tells you exactly how to get rid of belly fat. To get a copy of the cheat sheet sent to you, please click or tap here to enter your email address.
ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former "trainer to the trainers," he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.