If, like many midlife women, you’re growing wiser but also wider, you can blame it all on estrogen (as usual). With estrogen levels in decline, your body becomes much more likely to store extra fat around the middle. Unfortunately, big waists endanger more than your ability to look fabulous in jeans.
“Belly fat becomes a serious issue at midlife—it increases heart disease risk by raising blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides and inflammation,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, director of New York University’s Women’s Heart Center and author of Dr. Nieca Goldberg’s Complete Guide to Women’s Health.
But the latest research suggests that a smaller waistline could be as close as your local supermarket. “Evidence is mounting that certain foods and nutrients can affect how body weight is distributed,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. For reasons that are not completely clear, certain kinds of proteins, fats, vitamins and antioxidants appear to fend off belly fat. Below, five game-changing foods to add to your shopping list.
1. Hot Tomatoes! Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables can help slim your middle. Research published in the Journal of Nutrition showed that people who ate higher amounts of carotenoids, betacarotene, alphacarotene and lycopene had smaller waists as well as less visceral and subcutaneous fat. Tomatoes contain all of these antioxidants, and they become particularly potent when cooked: Heating tomatoes spikes lycopene content and makes it easier for the body to absorb the nutrient, according to a study led by Rui Hai Liu, MD, associate professor of food science at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York. Fresh produce has long been favored over processed because certain components, like vitamin C, break down when cooked. “The research dispels the popular notion that processed fruits and vegetables have lower nutritional value than fresh produce,” Liu has said.
Use it: Toss fresh cherry tomatoes with herb-infused olive oil and roast, or grill beefsteak tomatoes and make ALT’s (avocado, lettuce, tomato) on whole grain bread. “To assure optimal flavor, texture, and nutritional value when buying fresh tomatoes, select those that have never been refrigerated and wait until they’re fully-ripe before cooking them,” says Jackie Newgent, RD, author of Big Green Cookbook. For a healthy balance, aim for three cups of veggies per day and include tomatoes about three times a week. And seek out organically grown if you can. Compared to conventional, they’ve been found to pack nearly 100 percent more antioxidants and rate higher for flavor, texture and juiciness.
2. Supercharged Mushrooms Mushrooms are the only plant-based food that naturally contains vitamin D. But what is now sending their “sunshine vitamin” quotient into the stratosphere is a new and unique kind of processing: Once harvested, Sun-Bella mushrooms are exposed to ultraviolet light. The net result is that a three-ounce serving of this new but widely available brand supplies 100 percent of your daily value of D. Why does this matter? Preliminary evidence from the University of Minnesota suggests that if you don’t have enough D in your bloodstream, it may be more difficult to lose weight, especially fat. Plus, insufficient levels of D have been linked with obesity and abdominal fat, notes Dave Grotto, RD, author of Optimal Life Foods.