Americans, as research suggests, are getting more and more apple-shaped by the minute—adding inches to their bellies that pose an immediate threat to their health, happiness, and even financial futures.
Fifty-four percent of U.S. adults now have central obesity (colloquially referred to as “belly fat,” and clinically defined as a waistline of more than 35 inches in women and more than 40 inches in men), up from 46 percent in 1999-2000, according to a September 2014 study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The average U.S. waist circumference has also grown to an average 38.8 inches, up more than 1 inch in about a dozen years. It’s more than a fashion crisis.
Belly fat, or visceral fat, is the most dangerous type of fat there is. This deadly fat wraps around the organs deep in your abdomen, spiking your risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and metabolic syndrome. You can’t see or pinch visceral fat, and it’s often associated with a large waist. Ditch it and you’ll not only save your health, you’ll also lose weight and trim your waistline.
The good news is you can start blasting both types of fat today with these 10 healthy habits:
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Healthy Habit #1: Ditch Diet Soda
How bad can your calorie-free Diet Coke habit be for your belly? Belt-bustingly bad, researchers say. A study in the journal Diabetes Pro found that people who drank two or more diet sodas a day had waist-size increases that were six times greater than non-drinkers. Diet drinks are loaded with deceptively sweet artificial sweeteners, which, researchers say, trick the metabolism into thinking sugar is on its way, spike insulin levels, and shift the body from a fat-burning to a fat-storing state.
Healthy Habit #2: Eat Three Squares
For years, diet experts beat the “multiple small meals a day” drum—an eating rhythm purported to “stoke the metabolic fire!” Now, some researchers are singing a different tune. A study published in the journal Hepatology found that snacking between meals contributes to increased abdominal fat. Researchers say the findings suggest three balanced meals may be the way to go. Try weaning yourself off the snack wagon by nixing your morning nibble first. Research suggests mid-morning snackers tend to consume more throughout the day than afternoon snackers.
Healthy Habit #3: Eat More Walnuts
Dietary fats are kind of like lovers. Some of them make you a better person, and others—as you often discover too late—are catastrophically bad for your health. The good news is, unlike shoddy boyfriends, dietary fats come with red flags. The absolutely worst match for your apple-shaped figure? Saturated fats. A study published in the journal Diabetes found that while unsaturated fat can help reduce abdominal fat, saturated fat can increase waist size. Saturated fats, like the kind you’ll find in baked goods and red meat, “turn on” certain genes that increase the storage of fat in the belly, researchers say. Polyunsaturated fats on the other hand, activate genes that reduce fat storage and improve insulin metabolism. At about 13 grams per one ounce serving, walnuts are one of the best dietary sources. Sprinkle a handful on your morning oats or entree salad for belly-busting benefits.
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