cheese plate

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The Cheese Plate

What's in it: Saturated fat. According to the most recent national data on Americans' diets, our top source of this type of fat is cheese.

The belly-fat connection: Forty-one healthy participants in a small study added an extra 750 calories per day to their diets by eating muffins–half were given ones high in saturated fats and the other half, unsaturated fats–for seven weeks. Everyone gained weight (not a surprise), but those eating the saturated-fat muffins gained more total fat and visceral fat (the kind that builds up in your abdomen and around your organs) and less lean tissue than the unsaturated group.

The flatter-belly fix: You don't have to eliminate all cheese in your diet–it is a good source of calcium, after all. Try to cut back on those that are highest in saturated fat, like ricotta and cheddar. (Slightly lower-saturated-fat cheeses include mozzarella, Swiss, feta, Camembert, and goat cheese.) While cheese is the top source of this unhealthy fat in our diet, it's far from the only one. Other foods best enjoyed in moderation: grain-based desserts like cookies and cakes, pizza, ice cream, and processed meats like sausage and bacon.
frozen pizza

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Frozen Pizza

What could be in it: Trans fats, according to the American Heart Association

The belly-fat connection: Women whose diets contained trans fatty acids (TFA) gained more body fat and widened their waistlines more than women whose diets didn't include TFA. The 16-week study was published in Nutrition & Diabetes.

The flatter-belly fix: Trans fat will be out of the U.S. food supply by the end of 2018, thanks to a ruling last year from the Food and Drug Administration. In the meantime, read labels closely: If the packaging says "no trans fats," that food gets the green light. If the nutrition label says zero grams of trans fat, there could still be up to .5 grams per serving in the product, and seeing partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list is also a sign to put that food back on the shelf.
salmon roll

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Your Go-to Spicy Salmon Roll

What's in it: Refined carbs

The belly-fat connection: Low-fiber carbohydrates (like the white rice in a sushi roll) lead to insulin spikes, which prompt your body to store fat in your abdomen, says Marina Chaparro, MPH, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The flatter-belly fix: Whole grains are a very effective waist-whittler. They're higher in fiber, which is linked to smaller waist circumferences. (One study found that for every 10 grams of soluble fiber people ate per day, they gained 3.7 percent less visceral fat over time.) Next time sushi is on the menu, ask for brown rice instead.

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Your Morning Latte–and Your Afternoon Diet Soda

The belly-fat connection: There's a clear link between added sugar and the need for a bigger belt, and not just because sugar has a lot of calories. Sugar triggers blood-sugar spikes, which leads to insulin spikes and stomach-fat storage, says Chaparro. The sugar-less soda you grab to fight the 3 p.m. slump may not be any better. Over the course of 10 years, older people who drank diet soda even occasionally saw their waist circumference increase nearly three times as much as people who didn't drink diet soda, on average, found a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. (Daily drinkers' waists expanded by almost four times as much.) Keep in mind, though, that this study only showed a link between artificially sweetened soda and belly fat, not cause and effect.

The flatter-belly fix: Choose lower-sugar coffee drinks or teas for your morning caffeine fix. And go for seltzer or sparkling water instead of sodas (regular or diet), says Chaparro.