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Ask the Diet Doctor: The Latest Science on Belly Fat

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Q: To lose belly fat, I know I need to clean up my diet and exercise regularly, but is there anything in particular I can do with my diet to get a flat stomach faster?

A: You are correct: Cleaning up your diet and adopting a regular exercise schedule (a mixture of cardio and weight training) is essential for losing belly fat, but there's one secret that's even more effective. By strategically changing characteristics of your diet, you can actually target specific regions of body fat. And I’m not talking about some late-night-infomercial type cure for belly fat; This is based on real scientific research.

A 2007 study published in the scientific journal Diabetes Care reveals what you need to do to move fat away from your midsection. Over the course of the study, every participant was put on three different diet plans for one month each--two are relevant to our discussion so I’ll focus on those:

Month 1: A High-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diet Plan
This would be considered a traditional approach to weight loss. For those of you interested in crunching nutrition numbers, the high-carbohydrate diet contained 65 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 20 percent of calories from fat, and 15 percent of calories from protein.

Month 2: A Diet High in Monounsaturated Fat
This diet plan is very similar to a Mediterranean diet, containing 47 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 38 percent of calories from fat, and 15 percent of calories from protein. The majority of the fat in this diet came from extra virgin olive oil; however avocados and macadamia nuts are other good examples of foods high in monounsaturated fat.

After one month, the researchers used a body fat x-ray machine to examine fat distribution (the machine they used is called a DEXA). Participants were then put on the second diet plan for one month before researchers looked at their body fat distribution again.

The results: When participants moved from the high-carbohydrate diet to the diet high in monounsaturated fats, the distribution of their body fat changed and fat was moved away from their midsection. Pretty amazing.

So, how can you use this research in your quest for a flat belly? Here are three simple ways to start making the shift in your diet:

1. Avoid low-fat or fat-free salad dressings. These dressings replace the oils that you would normally find in a salad dressing with sugar. Instead, use extra virgin olive oil. You can mix it with a variety of different vinegars to change the flavor of your salad dressings. Some of my favorites are balsamic, red wine, or tarragon vinegar. Bonus: Vinegar helps control blood sugar, which will further help with your weight-loss efforts.

2. Eat fajitas naked. Next time you eat Mexican food, skip the flour tortillas and enjoy your fajitas naked. Eat the chicken/beef/shrimp with salsa, lettuce, and sautéed peppers and onions. Add guacamole to get your healthy dose of monounsaturated fats and an extra boost of flavor. You won't miss the starchy casing.

3. Snack smarter. Snack foods like pretzels and crackers are carbs that don't do you any favors. Skip these easily over-consumed carbohydrates (even the whole grain ones) and snack on 1oz of macadamia nuts (10-12 kernels). Macadamia nuts are packed with monounsaturated fats, and research consistently finds nuts to be a superior snack for weight loss and heart health than pretzels or similar snack foods.

Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD, is a nutritional consultant known for his ability to transform complex nutritional concepts into practical habits and strategies for his clientele, which includes professional athletes, executives, food companies, and top fitness facilities. Dr. Mike is the author of Dr. Mike's 7 Step Weight Loss Plan and the 6 Pillars of Nutrition.

Connect with Dr. Mike to get more simple diet and nutrition tips by following @mikeroussell on Twitter or becoming a fan of his Facebook page .

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