Two out of three people in the United States are overweight. Lately, there is a lot of focus on reducing belly fat—and with good reason, as accumulated fat around the hips and abdomen points to drastically increased rates of heart disease and diabetes. Our national waistline needs to fall, but many weight loss methods flooding the market today are unnatural or out-of-balance, and do not have your best long-term interests at heart. Here are 5 tips from my collection of all-natural secrets, Second Spring, that will flatten your belly and lengthen your years.
1. A melon for natural weight loss
A traditional remedy for losing weight and helping treat diabetes is bitter melon, also known as bitter gourd or balsam pear. Looking a little like a zucchini with a bumpy surface, its cleansing and mildly laxative properties flush the system of toxins and promote weight loss. Bitter melon contains vitamins A, B1, B3, and C as well as several phytonutrients—including antioxidants like lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. It is a good source of dietary fiber, plus it has two times the beta-carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, and double the potassium of bananas!
Bitter melon can be found for sale in Asian markets. A typical serving style is to stir fry it or stuff it like zucchini: Discard the seeds inside and fill with ground poultry or red meat to neutralize the bitter taste. Red meat? Yes, beef and lamb are filled with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a natural fatty acid best known for its ability to improve the ratio of fat to lean body mass. So if you want to reduce body fat but don’t want to give up your red meat, go ahead—just be sure to eat only free-range, grass-fed, and hormone- and antibiotic-free lean meat, and no more than three times a week.
2. Look out for hidden sugar
Ever take a bite of a “sugar-free” energy or granola bar only to find it tastes sweeter than regular candy? It says it is sweetened only with fruit juice, but looking more closely at the label reveals that it is actually concentrated fruit juice—which contains more calories than sugar would. Don’t be fooled: When it comes to managing weight, calories are calories and an excessive amount of sugar, even if it is from fruit, will still lead to weight gain. If you have a sweet tooth, try naturally low- or no-calorie substances from nature rather than artificial sweeteners. Both the natural herb stevia and erythritol, a sugar alcohol from fermented fruits, contain no calories. Luo han guo, a Chinese herb traditionally used for cough and sore throat, is now available as an extract combined with the vegetable fiber inulin in a mixture sold as Sweet Fiber, a no-calorie natural sweetener with the added benefit of fiber.
3. Combat belly fat with whole grains
There is no question that refined carbohydrates—refined bread, rice, pasta, corn, among other carb culprits—contribute directly to weight gain and play a role in serious conditions like diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, attention deficit disorder, and allergies. Instead of eating refined carbohydrates, try refining your palette to enjoy the taste of whole grains, complex carbohydrates that benefit your health. Whole wheat bread, brown rice, whole grain pasta are a great place to start. Why not try some new grains? Quinoa and amaranth are two tasty grains that are rich in protein and easy to cook. Millet, sorghum, and buckwheat are packed with B vitamins. While whole grains are an essential part of our diet, not to be neglected, eat them in moderation for optimum weight management.
4. Know your fats
In many countries, lard and butter are automatically used as cooking oil—no wonder heart disease is the number one killer in the world. Animal fats are saturated fats, which contribute to bad cholesterol, weight gain, and plaque buildup in our delicate circulatory system. On the other hand, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from vegetable, nut, and seed sources, increase good cholesterol and protect you from heart disease. These include flaxseed oil, olive oil, peanut oil, rice bran oil, sesame oil, and walnut oil.
Trans fats are a category of fats you want to avoid at all costs. These unnatural fats are manufactured by partially hydrogenating plant oils to give them a longer shelf life. Two examples are margarine and shortening, widely used in fast food restaurants and packaged snacks. It is difficult for your body to process trans fats, which increase bad cholesterol and your risk of diabetes and stroke. And some studies directly implicate trans fats in producing the rippling fatty deposits known as cellulite.
5. Physical activity fights belly fat
There’s no getting around the fact that you need physical activity to drop the belly fat. A good way to reduce cholesterol and to stimulate circulation is to do moderate cardiovascular exercises every day for at least 30 minutes. I suggest walking briskly at 3 to 4 miles per hour, general calisthenics, racket sports, swimming, cycling at a moderate speed of 10 miles per hour, canoeing, or rowing. If the idea of a formalized exercise program seems unfeasible, consider other ways to get physical in your life. Walk more, take more stairs, get physical while housecleaning or yard cleaning, participate in walkathons—anything that gets you moving.
You can find these and hundreds of other anti-aging secrets in my new book Second Spring: Hundreds of Natural Secrets for Women to Revitalize and Regenerate at Any Age.
I hope this article helps you slim down! I invite you to visit my website for more health and wellness advice.
May you stay healthy, live long, and live happy!
Dr. Maoshing Ni is a bestselling author and practices acupuncture, nutrition and Chinese medicine at the Tao of Wellness in Santa Monica, a seven-doctor group that he co-founded 25 years ago. He is also the co-founder and Chancellor of Yo San University in Venice/Marina del Rey. You can visit him at www.taoofwellness.com or call 310.917.2200.