We typically think of protein as your go-to food for losing belly fat. But fruits and vegetables are just as important because they provide antioxidants and fiber that have a protective effect on the metabolism.
Two new studies that gathered dietary information from adults and adolescents in the U.S. found that those who had higher blood antioxidant levels had better body composition, better insulin health, much less inflammation, and lower cholesterol. The studies included 4,248 adolescents and 9,099 adults.
Participants with lower blood antioxidant status had more chance of being overweight and having metabolic syndrome. Levels of vitamin C and carotenoids—the best source of both is fruits and vegetables—were inversely associated with insulin resistance, C-reactive protein (an inflammatory marker), and visceral belly fat levels.
Both studies controlled for factors such as smoking, physical activity, and alcohol intake, and overall, 32 percent of men, 7 percent of boys, 29 percent of women, and 3 percent of girls had metabolic syndrome (abdominal obesity, elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance, and inflammation).
Researchers note that randomized controlled studies that have given antioxidant supplements to participants haven’t shown improvements in metabolic syndrome markers, but that is because these studies have provided one or two isolated nutrients such as vitamin E, beta carotene, or vitamin C as the antioxidant supplement, rather than providing whole fruits and vegetables. A diverse intake of fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants provide a more complete “package” of nutrients and fiber.
Plus, there are a number of different antioxidants available from plant foods and some are much more effective at enhancing the body’s internal antioxidant system. For example, raspberries contain a large amount of a rare type of antioxidant called ellagitannins that have been shown to improve wound healing, fight inflammation, and support the production of glutathione—the antioxidant that the body produces internally.
Olive oil, another antioxidant-rich food, is high in carotenoids, phenols, and sterols, while strawberries provide anthocyanins, quercetin, and vitamin C. Coffee is packed with chlorogenic acid and green tea provides catechins. All of these are antioxidants.
Take away the knowledge that to raise the body’s antioxidant defenses you want to eat an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Include the antioxidant-rich foods listed above in addition to leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, blue and purple berries, kiwi, chocolate, garlic, green beans, beets, and cauliflower in your diet.