No single food will automatically target your turkey neck (fat loss only happens when you burn more calories than you ingest, leading your body to preferentially break down lipid stores for energy). But alongside a proper fitness regimen, what fat burning foods you eat will help you torch body fat.
#1 Cayenne Pepper
Who knew there was a connection between a spicy pepper scorching your mouth and burning your belly fat? Scientists did! According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, daily consumption of one of the compounds found in pepper (capsaicin) speeds up abdominal fat loss by boosting the body’s ability to convert food into energy. It also acts as a natural appetite suppressant: men who ate spicy appetizers consumed 200 fewer calories at later meals than those that did not, a study by Canadian researchers found. All you have to do to reap the benefits is use a pinch of cayenne pepper to season grilled fish, meats, and eggs.
A scoop of guacamole is one of the most effective fat-burning, hunger-squashing snacks known to man. Not only are avocados rich in vitamin B6—which directly counteracts the belly-fat-building stress hormone, cortisol—they’re also full of monounsaturated fat. This healthy fat may actually prevent body fat distribution around the belly by down-regulating the expression of certain fat genes, according to research in the journal Diabetes Care. These same satiating fats may also be the reason behind another study that found people who ate half a fresh avocado with lunch reported a 40 percent decreased desire to eat for hours afterward.
Carbs are not the enemy. Not whole-grain carbs, that is. People who ate three or more daily servings of whole grains (such as oats) had 10 percent less belly fat than people who ate the same amount of calories from processed white carbs (bread, rice, pasta), according to a Tufts University study. It’s theorized that this is due to whole grains’ high fiber and slow-burn properties, which keep you satiated longer.
#4 Wild Salmon
The fat-burning equation is simple: Protein builds muscle. More muscle = more fat burning. And fish is one of the healthiest sources of lean protein—especially wild salmon, says dietitian Lauren Minchen, MPH, RD, CDN. It’s also a rich source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, which fuel fat burning, block fat storage and aid weight loss, she explains. But that’s not all: “Getting enough protein and healthy fat also helps to reduce cravings and has been shown to help keep weight off for longer,” adds Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS.
#5 Sweet Potatoes
The phrase “slow carb” is anything but sluggish when it comes to blasting fat. Slow carbs are digested slowly, which keeps you feeling fuller and energized longer—and sweet potatoes are one of them. Among the magic ingredients here are carotenoids, antioxidants which stabilize blood-sugar levels and lower insulin resistance, which helps your body efficiently convert calories to energy rather than stored as fat. And their high vitamin profile (including A, C, and B6) give you more energy to burn at the gym.
#6 White Tea
If there’s such a thing as a muffin-top-melting tea, this is it. White tea works in three distinct ways to help strip away fat from your body. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism showed that white tea can simultaneously boost lipolysis (the breakdown of fat) and block adipogenesis (the formation of fat cells).
#7 Dark Chocolate
If you thought losing weight would mean giving up all your indulgences, look no further than dark chocolate. Louisiana State University researchers found that gut microbes in our stomach ferment chocolate and boost our body’s production of gut-healthy polyphenolic compounds, including butyrate, a fatty acid that encourages the body to burn fat as fuel and turns off genes linked to inflammation. (Add fruit to the chocolate to boost fermentation and the release of the compounds.) Make sure you go with chocolate that has a cacao content of 70 percent or above—these have the highest concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols.
Berries are packed with polyphenol antioxidants that will help burn fat—and prevent it from forming—as well as boost your workout benefits by improving blood flow to your muscles. According to a Texas Woman’s University study, mice that ate three daily servings of berries had 73 percent fewer fat cells. Pop some of the blue guys into your next smoothie and boost the fat-burning potential: blueberries are a potent source of resveratrol, an antioxidant which an International Journal of Obesity study showed could convert excess harmful white fat in mice into calorie-burning beige fat, which correlated with a 40 percent decreased risk for obesity. And when it comes to the sugar content in fruit, berries rank favorably on the list but are still a powerful way to curb cravings for sweets.
Sunny side up, scrambled, hard-boiled, or fried—it doesn’t matter. A pan, spatula, and carton of eggs are all you need to fry some serious flab. Eggs are one of the best sources of choline, a major fat-burning nutrient that helps turn off the genes responsible for belly-fat storage. Bonus: eggs are a great source of lean protein, which can set the fat-burning pace for your entire day when eaten for breakfast. In a study of 21 men published in the journal Nutrition Research, half were fed a breakfast of bagels while half ate eggs. The egg group were observed to have a lower response to ghrelin, were less hungry three hours later and consumed fewer calories for the next 24 hours!
#10 Black Beans
Research suggests these magical pulses are one of the closest things we have to a fat-burning pill. For starters, beans are a great source of resistant starch, a type of slow-digesting, insoluble fiber that feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut, triggering the production of the chemical butyrate, which encourages the body to burn fat as fuel and reduces fat-causing inflammation. They’re also one of the top sources of soluble fiber. A recent study by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researchers found that for every additional 10 grams of soluble fiber eaten per day, a study subject’s belly fat was reduced by 3.7 percent over five years. Black beans? One cup boasts an impressive 4.8 grams of soluble fiber.
#11 Sun-Dried Tomatoes
You say tomato, I say 9-oxo-ODA. That’s the name of a compound found in the brilliant red fruits that Japanese researchers recently discovered can effectively activate your DNA to burn more fat. Tomatoes are also brimming in beta-carotene and lycopene, two potent antioxidants that mop up harmful compounds that promote fat storage. One Journal of Nutrition study found people whose diets contained the most beta-carotene and lycopene had the smallest waists and the least belly fat. And at only 5 calories apiece, grab a few sun-dried tomatoes! Cooked tomatoes contain more bioavailable lycopene than raw tomatoes, according to Cornell University researchers.
#12 Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar, in particular, is composed mostly of acetic acid, which has been shown to delay gastric emptying and slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Research published in the journal Bioscience, Biotechnology, Biochemistry found that a small pool of study participants given ACV over a 12-week period lost more weight, body fat and inches from their middle than participants that were given a placebo. How does it work? Besides maintaining stable blood sugar levels, ACV produces proteins inside the body that burn fat.
#13 Lemon Water
Don’t pass up on this cheap trick. “One of the most under-appreciated magic fat-burning elixirs is water,” says Ajia Cherry, ACE, CHC, CPT, personal trainer and Founder at Functional Innovative Training. “The more water you drink, the fuller you will feel, the easier it is to cut back on unnecessary calories. That’s an essential element of weight and fat loss,” she explains. Water is necessary to keep your metabolism functioning optimally. For even more of a kick, add a lemon to your glass. D-limonene, an antioxidant in lemon peel, has been shown to have a therapeutic effect on metabolic disorders in mice with high-fat-diet-induced obesity.