There are a lot of so-called healthy foods out there that are actually in disguise. Most people just don’t know these are actually some of the worst foods that cause belly fat.
Belly fat isn’t only physically unattractive, but it is also a serious sign of health problems whether they’re there yet or not.
Deep visceral belly fat is linked to metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.
Visceral fat is the fat surrounding the liver and organs in your abdomen while subcutaneous fat is the right underneath your skin.
Even if you’re in a normal weight range your belly fat could still mean you have an increased risk of health problems.
Check out my article on the best belly fat burning foods you can find that really work to slim you down quick.
Now let’s dig into these “healthy” foods masquerading as being good for you when they’re actually some of the worst foods you can be eating that cause belly fat.
“Healthy” Foods That Cause Belly Fat
Carbs Carbs Carbs
There was a shift in the past few decades where the government led us down the path of eating more carbohydrates.
They told us fats were the enemy and eating more refined carbohydrates should have made up the bulk of our diets.
Turns out this was completely wrong all along.
It turns out the truth is these refined carb dense foods were what was actually causing us to gain weight along with many other health problems.
This 2011 study published by The Endocrine Society found cutting down on carbs promoted deep belly fat loss regardless of your weight.
The researchers found an 11% reduction in belly fat when carbs were lowered in the participants diet even though calories remained the same.
Many of these refined carbs and grains should be avoided completely or at least drastically minimized.
A long-term Harvard study found those who ate french fried gained an extra 15 pounds of belly fat every 4 years.
Instead, try eating more vegetables and if you need to then I’d eat more sourdough bread as it’s actually quite good for you.
Margarine (Trans Fats)
I remember vividly when I was a kid my Mom buying margarine because we all thought it was healthier than butter.
Turns out margarine is made up of trans fats, which is one of the absolute worst foods you can eat.
Trans fats are created by food manufacturers by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats to increase their shelf life.
Turns out the same trans fats are linked to higher body weight, increases bad cholesterol, lowering of good cholesterol and cancer.
In Obesity they found trans fats caused weight gain and extra visceral belly fat build up along with increases in insulin resistance.
Finally, in June 2015 the FDA banned trans fats but gave food manufacturers 3 years before they had to be completely off the shelves.
Another study found trans fats were significantly linked to causing inflammation, insulin resistance and heart disease.
And here’s one more crazy study…
At the end of 6 years researchers discovered monkeys fed an extra 8% trans fat diet gained weight and had 33% more belly fat gains than those fed an 8% monounsaturated fat diet despite both groups getting enough calories to maintain their weight.
There are more and more studies proving just how bad trans fats are for us, but thankfully they’ll be completely gone soon.
Along with margarine not too many people are aware that soy is bad for you.
Instead of cooking your food with margarine try taking a look at some healthy cooking oils.
Fruit Juice (Fructose)
It’s a shame how so many people believe drinking lots of fruit juice is good for them. Yes, there are a lot of nutrients in fruit juices but there is just way too much sugar to make it worth it.
Fruit juice is essentially just another sugary beverage in disguise. Heck, even unsweetened fruit juice has a ton of sugar in it.
This study found fruit juice led to increases in insulin resistance and belly fat gains.
We all know by now how bad sugar is for us and how it’ll cause excess belly fat along with many other health problems.
Of course, eating real fruit is going to be much better for you than the just the juice.
Real whole fruits have lots fiber to help slow the absorption of the natural sugars in it. You most likely won’t be consuming near as much sugar eating the fruit than you would from the juice.
Instead use a blender and make a smoothie so you can keep the pulp which will slow your absorption of the sugar.
Most also don’t know sugar is made up of 50% fructose and high fructose corn syrup is made up of 55%.
Heck, even agave nectar is thought to be healthy but it’s mostly fructose.
If you’re having trouble with sugar withdrawals then I’d take a look at my post with the best ways to overcome it.
Much of the hate on saturated fats is overblown yet there’s no doubt eating too much of it can cause you to gain belly fat and love handles.
Eating more healthy unsaturated fats such as avocados and olive oil is going to be way better for your health and waistline than refined carbohydrates.
Our bodies need saturated fats for proper hormone production yet for many people they eat just way too much of it.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting your daily calorie intake to just 5-6% from saturated fats. So if you’re eating 2,000 calories a day then you should only eat 16g of saturated fats.
This is one of the reasons why eating pizza can be so bad for you. Not only is it super high in refined carbohydrates but it’s also high in saturated fats.
One slice of pizza alone is packed with almost 5g of saturated fats.
The University of Maryland Medical Center conducted a study using muffins to see the difference between saturated and polyunsaturated fats .
Both of the muffin groups experienced similar weight gains but the group with the saturated fat muffins had more visceral belly fat than the group with polyunsaturated fats.
Researchers theorize the reason saturated is so bad for our waistlines is it might turn off your natural belly fat burning hormones while turning on the ones that tell your body to store more abdominal fat.
You don’t have to completely give up your saturated fats. In fact, giving them up could lead to health problems. You need some saturated fats for healthy cholesterol levels too.
Just keep them in moderation while trying to get the bulk of your fats from unsaturated foods such as almonds, salmon, olive oil and avocados.
Red Wine (Alcohol)
We all know some of the good things drinking a little bit of red wine can do for us including helping to lower the risk of heart disease.
But drinking too much alcohol can also lead to inflammation in the body. This is one of the big causes of chronic health problems and the buildup of belly fat.
Alcohol suppresses your fat burning engines while the excess empty calories you get from drinking alcohol are stored as belly fat.
This study in Epidemiology and Health found high alcohol intake was directly associated with a high waist circumference.
If there’s not a chance you’ll never drink booze again then I’d take a look at some of the best and worst alcohol for weight loss to minimize the damage.
Keep in mind it’ll be better for you to minimize your drinking throughout the week than to binge on the weekends.
One study found daily drinkers who had less than one drink per day had the least amount of belly fat while the group that had 4 or more drinks on “drinking days” had increases in belly fat.
Splenda (Artificial Sweeteners)
More people are thankfully finding out how bad artificial sweeteners like Splenda are for their waistlines and health.
Artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame have technically zero calories yet they can still lead to belly fat gains.
Researchers theorize this is because artificial sweeteners are way sweeter than sugar. When there aren’t any calories to back it up your body responds with hunger to get those calories.
This leads to people overeating more and more.
Even diet soda can cause belly fat regardless of it being a zero calorie beverage.
This long-term analysis clearly showed a relationship between number of diet sodas one drinks daily and increases in abdominal obesity.
They also found artificial sweetener consumption led to more health problems such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease.
The researchers found an increase of 3.16 inches in the bellies of those who drank diet soda daily. While the non-drinkers only had a 0.8 inch increase over the 9 year period.
If you have to use some kind of sweetener in your diet then I’d highly recommend going with stevia as it’s been found to be healthy for you to use in moderation.
I’ve even named stevia to my superfoods list because it’s a much better choice than many of the alternatives out there.
Low Fiber Diets
Most just aren’t getting enough fiber in their diets and it’s causing a big problem with their waistline.
Fiber is important in your diet since it’ll make you feel fuller, help to stabilize hunger hormones and can even reduce calorie absorption from foods.
This study published in Obesity with over 1,000 men and women discovered soluble fiber intake was associated with the lowering of belly fat.
For each 10 gram increase in soluble fiber the researchers found a 3.7% decrease in belly fat accumulation.
Some great examples of soluble fiber are:
- Brussels sprouts
- black beans
You’ll not only slim your waistline by increasing your fiber intake, but you’ll also improve you gut health and improve your bowel movements.
This study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found those eating high fiber whole grains resulted in lower belly fat while those who ate low fiber refined grains had increases in belly fat.
I know this goes against what I said earlier about reducing your carb intake to lower belly fat.
The truth is if you have to eat them than high fiber whole grains will be significantly better for you than low fiber refined carbs.
Erythritol (Sugar Alcohols)
Most people are completely unaware how eating hidden sugar alcohols can cause you to gain belly fat.
Sugar alcohols have been a long favorite replacement for sugar as they have fewer calories with supposedly fewer negative health effects.
Xylitol, Erythritol, Sorbitol and Maltitol are all sugar alcohols. They’re essentially hybrids of sugar and alcohol molecules.
This study found higher blood levels of erythritol is associated with increased belly fat and weight gain in young adults.
The researchers also found higher levels of fructose in blood plasma associated with increased abdominal fat.
Even though some studies have found sugar alcohols to beneficial to your dental health it’s just not worth eating too much of it.
Xylitol is also poisonous to dogs so it’s important to be careful with it if you have any in your house.
It’s best to minimize your intake of sugar alcohols to keep your belly fat free.
High Sodium Foods
There’s a good chance you already know eating too much sodium can cause your blood pressure to rise and for you to retain water.
When your body is retaining too much water from eating too much sodium it can cause your belly to look bigger than it actually is.
Sodium is in a lot more foods than you think such as bagels, muffins, cereals, beef jerky, deli meats and canned foods.
A recent study has linked high sodium intake with increases in obesity so much just cutting back on it can help to lower your belly fat.
Even though eating high sodium food can cause you to gain belly fat doesn’t mean you have to give up the milk. Does milk make you fat? No way!
Also try eating more high potassium foods as this essential mineral will help to draw the sodium out of your blood.
Some high potassium foods are:
- acorn squash
- dark leafy greens
Instead of using traditional table salt on your foods consider using Himalayan pink salt.
Himalayan pink salt contains over 84 minerals and trace elements making it vastly superior to refined table salt.
You can clearly see how some of these so-called healthy foods are misleading you into thinking they’re good for you.
In actuality, the science and research has proven they’re linked to increasing your belly fat and love handles.
Unwanted stomach fat isn’t just something that’s physically unattractive but it can also lead to some serious health problems.
Losing your stomach fat can feel like the hardest part of the weight loss journey, but a lot of the time you’re just eating the wrong foods.
This explains why some people are able to lose weight but they still can’t get rid of their belly fat.
I would highly recommend staying away from these foods and instead use my Flat Belly Formula system to discover healthier food choices that will improve your quality of life while also losing your belly fat.
It’s best to completely cut out or at least minimize your intake of the foods that cause belly fat above to slim your waistline.
Josh holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Physiology and Nutrition Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and he’s a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) by American Council on Exercise. He’s worked as a Strength and Conditioning Coach at the high school and college levels. He has over 15 years of experience as a personal trainer and nutrition coach. He is also the author of The Flat Belly Formula. He strives to bring inspiration and results for people to live healthier lives through smart diet and exercise.