7 Foods That Can Cause Acne

Acne is a common skin condition that affects nearly 10% of the world’s population (1).

Many factors contribute to the development of acne, including sebum and keratin production, acne-causing bacteria, hormones, blocked pores and inflammation (2).

The link between diet and acne has been controversial, but recent research shows that diet can play a significant role in acne development (3).

This article will review 7 foods that can cause acne and discuss why the quality of your diet is important.

Young Woman Eating Burger

1. Refined Grains and Sugars

People with acne tend to consume more refined carbohydrates than people with little or no acne (4, 5).

Foods rich in refined carbohydrates include:

  • Bread, crackers, cereal or desserts made with white flour
  • Pasta made with white flour
  • White rice and rice noodles
  • Sodas and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Sweeteners like cane sugar, maple syrup, honey or agave

One study found that people who frequently consumed added sugars had a 30% greater risk of developing acne, while those who regularly ate pastries and cakes had a 20% greater risk (6).

This increased risk may be explained by the effects refined carbohydrates have on blood sugar and insulin levels.

Refined carbohydrates are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, which rapidly raises blood sugar levels. When blood sugars rise, insulin levels also rise to help shuttle the blood sugars out of the bloodstream and into your cells.

However, high levels of insulin are not good for those with acne.

Insulin makes androgen hormones more active and increases insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). This contributes to acne development by making skin cells grow more quickly and by boosting sebum production (7, 8, 9).

On the other hand, low-glycemic diets, which do not dramatically raise blood sugars or insulin levels, are associated with reduced acne severity (10, 11, 12).

While the research on this topic is promising, more is needed to further understand how refined carbohydrates contribute to acne.

SUMMARYEating lots of refined carbohydrates may increase blood sugar and insulin levels and contribute to the development of acne. However, more research is needed.

2. Dairy Products

Many studies have found a link between milk products and acne severity in teenagers (13, 14, 15, 16).

Two studies also found that young adults who regularly consumed milk or ice cream were four times more likely to suffer from acne (17, 18).

However, the studies conducted so far have not been high-quality.

The research to date has focused mainly on teenagers and young adults and has only shown a correlation between milk and acne, not a cause and effect relationship.

It is not yet clear how milk may contribute to the formation of acne, but there are several proposed theories.

Milk is known to increase insulin levels, independent of its effects on blood sugar, which may worsen acne severity (19, 20, 21).

Cow’s milk also contains amino acids that stimulate the liver to produce more IGF-1, which has been linked to the development of acne (22, 23, 24).

Although there is speculation on why drinking milk may worsen acne, it is unclear whether dairy plays a direct role. More research is needed to determine if there is a specific amount or type of dairy that may aggravate acne.

SUMMARYFrequently consuming dairy products is linked to increased acne severity, but it is uncertain whether there is a cause and effect relationship.

3. Fast Food

Acne is strongly associated with eating a Western-style diet rich in calories, fat and refined carbohydrates (25, 26).

Fast food items, such as burgers, nuggets, hot dogs, french fries, sodas and milkshakes, are mainstays of a typical Western diet and may increase acne risk.

One study of over 5,000 Chinese teenagers and young adults found that high-fat diets were associated with a 43% increased risk of developing acne. Regularly eating fast food increased the risk by 17% (27).

A separate study of 2,300 Turkish men found that frequently eating burgers or sausages was linked to a 24% increased risk of developing acne (6).

It is unclear why eating fast food may increase the risk of developing acne, but some researchers propose that it may affect gene expression and alter hormone levels in a way that promotes acne development (28, 29, 30).

However, it is important to note that most of the research on fast food and acne has used self-reported data. This type of research only shows patterns of dietary habits and acne risk and does not prove that fast food causes acne. Thus, more research is needed.

SUMMARYRegularly eating fast food has been correlated with an increased risk of developing acne, but it is not clear whether it causes acne.

4. Foods Rich in Omega-6 Fats

Diets containing large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, like the typical Western diet, have been linked to increased levels of inflammation and acne (7, 31).

This may be because Western diets contain large amounts of corn and soy oils, which are rich in omega-6 fats, and few foods that contain omega-3 fats, like fish and walnuts (32, 33).

This imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids pushes the body into an inflammatory state, which may worsen acne severity (34, 35).

Conversely, supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may reduce levels of inflammation and has been found to reduce acne severity (36).

While the links between omega-6 fatty acids and acne are promising, there have been no randomized controlled studies on this topic, and more research is needed.

SUMMARYDiets rich in omega-6 fatty acids and low in omega-3s are pro-inflammatory and may worsen acne, though more research is needed.

5. Chocolate

Chocolate has been a suspected acne trigger since the 1920s, but so far, no consensus has been reached (37).

Several informal surveys have linked eating chocolate with an increased risk of developing acne, but this is not enough to prove that chocolate causes acne (38,39).

A more recent study found that acne-prone males who consumed 25 grams of 99% dark chocolate daily had an increased number of acne lesions after just two weeks (40).

Another study found that males who were given capsules of 100% cocoa powder daily had significantly more acne lesions after one week compared to those given a placebo (41).

Exactly why chocolate might increase acne is unclear, although one study found that eating chocolate increased the reactivity of the immune system to acne-causing bacteria, which may help explain these findings (42).

While recent research supports a link between chocolate consumption and acne, it remains unclear whether chocolate actually causes acne.

SUMMARYEmerging research supports a link between eating chocolate and developing acne, but the reasons why and strength of the relationship remain unclear.

6. Whey Protein Powder

Whey protein is a popular dietary supplement (43, 44).

It is a rich source of the amino acids leucine and glutamine. These amino acids make skin cells grow and divide more quickly, which may contribute to the formation of acne (45, 46).

The amino acids in whey protein can also stimulate the body to produce higher levels of insulin, which has been linked to the development of acne (47, 48, 49).

Several case studies have reported a link between whey protein consumption and acne in male athletes (50, 51, 52).

Another study found a direct correlation between acne severity and the number of days on whey protein supplements (53).

These studies support a link between whey protein and acne, but much more research is needed to determine whether whey protein causes acne.

SUMMARYA small amount of data suggests a link between taking whey protein powder and developing acne, but more high-quality research is needed.

7. Foods You’re Sensitive To

It has been proposed that acne is, at its root, an inflammatory disease (54, 55).

This is supported by the fact that anti-inflammatory drugs, like corticosteroids, are effective treatments for severe acne and that people with acne have elevated levels of inflammatory molecules in their blood (56, 57, 58).

One way that food may contribute to inflammation is through food sensitivities, also known as delayed hypersensitivity reactions (59).

Food sensitivities occur when your immune system mistakenly identifies food as a threat and launches an immune attack against it (60).

This results in high levels of pro-inflammatory molecules circulating throughout the body, which may aggravate acne (61).

Since there are countless foods that your immune system could react to, the best way to figure out your unique triggers is by completing an elimination diet under the supervision of a registered dietitian or nutrition specialist.

Elimination diets work by temporarily restricting the number of foods in your diet in order to eliminate triggers and achieve symptom relief, then systematically adding foods back while tracking your symptoms and looking for patterns.

Food sensitivity testing, such as Mediator Release Testing (MRT), can help determine which foods lead to immune-related inflammation and provide a clearer starting point for your elimination diet (62).

While there appears to be a link between inflammation and acne, no studies have directly investigated the specific role of food sensitivities in its development.

This remains a promising area of research to help better understand how food, the immune system and inflammation affect acne development (63).

SUMMARYFood sensitivity reactions can increase the amount of inflammation in the body, which theoretically may worsen acne. However, no studies to date have been conducted on the topic.

What to Eat Instead

While the foods discussed above may contribute to the development of acne, there are other foods and nutrients that may help keep your skin clear. These include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, and regular consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of developing acne (64, 65,66).
  • Probiotics: Probiotics promote a healthy gut and balanced microbiome, which is linked to reduced inflammation and a lower risk of acne development (67,68, 69, 70).
  • Green tea: Green tea contains polyphenols that are associated with reduced inflammation and lowered sebum production. Green tea extracts have been found to reduce acne severity when applied to the skin (71, 72, 73, 74).
  • Turmeric: Turmeric contains the anti-inflammatory polyphenol curcumin, which can help regulate blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity and inhibit the growth of acne-causing bacteria, which may reduce acne (75, 76).
  • Vitamins A, D, E and zinc: These nutrients play crucial roles in skin and immune health and have been found to prevent acne (77, 78, 79).
  • Paleolithic-style diets: Paleo diets are rich in lean meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts and low in grains, dairy and legumes. They have been associated with lower blood sugar and insulin levels (80).
  • Mediterranean-style diets: A Mediterranean diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grain, legumes, fish and olive oil and low in dairy and saturated fats. It has also been linked to reduced acne severity (81).

SUMMARYConsuming a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics, green tea, fruits and vegetables may be protective against the development of acne. Vitamins A, D and E, as well as zinc, have also been linked to preventing acne.

The Bottom Line

While research has linked certain foods to an increased risk of developing acne, it is important to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Overall dietary patterns are likely to have a larger impact on skin health than eating — or not eating — any one particular food.

It is probably not necessary to completely avoid all the foods that have been linked to acne but rather consume them in balance with the other nutrient-dense foods discussed above.

The research on diet and acne is not strong enough to make specific dietary recommendations at this time, but future research is promising.

In the meantime, it may be beneficial to keep a food log to look for patterns between the foods you are eating and the health of your skin.

You can also work with a registered dietitian for more personalized advice.

Weight Loss-Friendly Foods You’ll Want on Hand

Not all calories are created equal.

Different foods go through different metabolic pathways in the body.

They can have vastly different effects on hunger, hormones and how many calories we burn.

Here are the 20 most weight loss-friendly foods on earth, that are supported by science.

1. Whole Eggs

Once feared for being high in cholesterol, whole eggs have been making acomeback.

New studies show that they don’t adversely affect blood cholesterol and don’t cause heart attacks (1, 2).

What’s more… they are among the best foods you can eat if you need to lose weight.

They’re high in protein, healthy fats, and can make you feel full with a very low amount of calories.

One study of 30 overweight women showed that eating eggs for breakfast, instead of bagels, increased satiety and made them eat less for the next 36 hours (3).

Another 8 week study found that eggs for breakfast increased weight loss on a calorie restricted diet compared to bagels (4).

Eggs are also incredibly nutrient dense and can help you get all the nutrients you need on a calorie restricted diet. Almost all the nutrients are found in the yolks.

2. Leafy Greens

Leafy greens include kale, spinach, collards, swiss chards and a few others.

They have several properties that make them perfect for a weight loss diet.

They are low in both calories and carbohydrates, but loaded with fiber.

Eating leafy greens is a great way to increase the volume of your meals, without increasing the calories. Numerous studies show that meals and diets with a low energy density make people eat fewer calories overall (5).

Leafy greens are also incredibly nutritious and very high in all sorts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. This includes calcium, which has been shown to aid fat burning in some studies (6).

3. Salmon

Oily fish like salmon is incredibly healthy.

It is also very satisfying, keeping you full for many hours with relatively few calories.

Salmon is loaded with high quality protein, healthy fats and also contains all sorts of important nutrients.Fish, and seafood in general, supplies a significant amount of iodine.

This nutrient is necessary for proper function of the thyroid, which is important to keep the metabolism running optimally (7).

Studies show that a huge number of people in the world aren’t getting all the iodine they need (8).

Salmon is also loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help reduce inflammation, which is known to play a major role in obesity and metabolic disease (9, 10).

Mackerel, trout, sardines, herring and other types of oily fish are also excellent.

4. Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts.

Like other vegetables, they are high in fiber and tend to be incredibly fulfilling.

What’s more… these types of veggies also tend to contain decent amounts of protein.

They’re not as high in protein as animal foods or legumes, but they’re high compared to most vegetables.

A combination of protein, fiber and low energy density makes cruciferous vegetables the perfect foods to include in your meals if you need to lose weight.

They are also highly nutritious, and contain cancer fighting substances (11).

5. Lean Beef and Chicken Breast

Meat has been unfairly demonized.

It has been blamed for all sorts of health problems, despite no good evidence to back it up.

Although processed meat is unhealthy, studies show that unprocessed red meatdoes NOT raise the risk of heart disease or diabetes (12, 13).

According to two big review studies, red meat has only a very weak correlation with cancer in men, and no correlation at all in women (14, 15).

The truth is… meat is a weight loss-friendly food, because it’s high in protein.

Protein is the most fulfilling nutrient, by far, and eating a high protein diet can make you burn up to 80 to 100 more calories per day (16, 17, 18).

Studies have shown that increasing your protein intake to 25-30% of calories can cut cravings by 60%, reduce desire for late-night snacking by half, and cause weight loss of almost a pound per week… just by adding protein to the diet (19, 20).

If you’re on a low-carb diet, then feel free to eat fatty meats. But if you’re on a moderate- to high carbohydrate diet, then choosing lean meats may be more appropriate.

6. Boiled Potatoes

White potatoes seem to have fallen out of favour for some reason.

However… they have several properties that make them a perfect food, both for weight loss and optimal health.

They contain an incredibly diverse range of nutrients, a little bit of almost everything we need.

There have even been accounts of people living on nothing but potatoes alone for extended periods of time.

They are particularly high in potassium, a nutrient that most people don’t get enough of and plays an important role in blood pressure control.

On a scale called the Satiety Index, that measures how fulfilling different foods are, white, boiled potatoes scored the highest of all the foods tested (21).

What this means is that by eating white, boiled potatoes, you will naturally feel full and eat less of other foods instead.

If you boil the potatoes, then allow them to cool for a while, then they will form large amounts of resistant starch, a fiber-like substance that has been shown to have all sorts of health benefits… including weight loss (22).

Sweet potatoes, turnips and other root vegetables are also excellent.

7. Tuna

Tuna is another low-calorie, high protein food.

It is lean fish… so there isn’t much fat in it.

Tuna is popular among bodybuilders and fitness models who are on a cut, because it’s a great way to keep protein high, with total calories and fat low.

If you’re trying to emphasize protein intake, then make sure to choose tuna canned in water, but not oil.

8. Beans and Legumes

Some beans and legumes can be beneficial for weight loss.

This includes lentils, black beans, kidney beans and some others.

These foods tend to be high in protein and fiber, which are two nutrients that have been shown to lead to satiety.

They also tend to contain some resistant starch.

The main problem is that a lot of people have problem tolerating legumes. For this reason, it is important to prepare them properly.

9. Soups

As mentioned above, meals and diets with a low energy density tend to make people eat fewer calories.

Most foods with a low energy density are those that contain lots of water, such as vegetables and fruits.

But you can also just add water to your food… by making a soup.

Some studies have shown that eating the exact same food, except made in a soup instead of as solid food, makes people feel more satiated and eat significantly fewer calories (23, 24).

10. Cottage Cheese

Dairy products tend to be high in protein.

One of the best ones is cottage cheese… calorie for calorie, it is mostly just protein with very little carbohydrate and fat.

Eating plenty of cottage cheese is a great way to boost your protein intake. It is also very satiating, making you feel full with a relatively low amount of calories.

Dairy products are also high in calcium, which has been shown to aid in the fat burning process (25).

11. Avocados

Avocados are a unique type of fruit.

Whereas most fruit is high in carbs, avocados are loaded with healthy fats.They are particularly high in monounsaturated oleic acid, the same type of fat found in olive oil.

Despite being mostly fat, they also contain a lot of water, so they aren’t as energy dense as you may think.

Avocados are perfect as additions to salad, because studies show that the fats in them can increase the nutrient uptake from the vegetables 2.6 to 15-fold (25).

They also contain many important nutrients, including fiber and potassium.

12. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is incredibly popular in the natural health community.

It is popular for use in condiments, like dressings or vinaigrettes. Some people even dilute it in water and drink it.

Several studies in humans suggest that vinegar can be useful for weight loss.

Taking vinegar at the same time as a high-carb meal can increase feelings of fullness and make people eat 200-275 fewer calories for the rest of the day (26,27).

One study in obese individuals also showed that 15 or 30 mL of vinegar per day for 12 weeks caused weight loss of 2.6-3.7 pounds, or 1.2-1.7 kilograms (28).

Vinegar has also been shown to reduce blood sugar spikes after meals, which may lead to all sorts of beneficial effects on health in the long term (29, 30).

13. Nuts

Despite being high in fat, nuts are not inherently fattening.

They’re an excellent snack, containing balanced amounts of protein, fiber and healthy fats.

Studies have shown that eating nuts can improve metabolic health and even cause weight loss (31, 32).

Population studies have also shown that people who eat nuts tend to be healthier, and leaner, than the people who don’t (33).

Just make sure not to go overboard, as they are still pretty high in calories. If you tend to binge and eat massive amounts of nuts, then it may be best to avoid them.

14. Some Whole Grains

Despite grains having gotten a bad rap in recent years, there are some types that are definitely healthy.

This includes some whole grains that are loaded with fiber and contain a decent amount of protein as well.

Notable examples include oats, brown rice and quinoa.

Oats are loaded with beta-glucans, soluble fibers that have been shown to increase satiety and improve metabolic health (34, 35).

Rice, both brown and white, can also contain significant amounts of resistant starch, especially if cooked and then allowed to cool afterwards (36).

Keep in mind that refined grains are a disaster, and sometimes foods that have “whole grains” on the label are highly processed junk foods that are both harmful and fattening.

If you’re on a very low-carb diet then you’ll want to avoid grains, because they are high in carbohydrates. But there’s nothing wrong with eating some of the healthier grains if you can tolerate them and are not on a low-carb diet.

15. Chili Pepper

Eating chili peppers may be useful on a weight loss diet.

They contain a substance called capsaicin, which has been shown to help reduce appetite and increase fat burning in some studies (37, 38, 39).

This substance is even sold in supplement form and is a common ingredient in many commercial weight loss supplements.

One study showed that eating 1 gram of red chilli pepper reduced appetite and increased fat burning in people who didn’t regularly eat peppers (40).

However, there was no effect in people who were accustomed to eating spicy food, indicating that some sort of tolerance can build up.

16. Fruit

Most health experts agree that fruit is healthy.

Numerous population studies have shown that people who eat the most fruit (and vegetables) tend to be healthier than people who don’t (41, 42).

Of course… correlation does not equal causation, so those studies don’t proveanything, but fruit do have properties that make them weight loss-friendly.

Even though they contain sugar, they have a low energy density and take a while to chew. Plus, the fiber helps prevent the sugar from being released too quickly into the bloodstream.

The only people who may want to avoid or minimize fruit are those who are on a very low-carb, ketogenic diet, or have some sort of intolerance to fructose.

For the rest of us, fruits can be an effective (and delicious) addition to a weight loss diet.

17. Grapefruit

One fruit that deserves to be highlighted is grapefruit, because its effects on weight control have been studied directly.

In a study of 91 obese individuals, eating half a fresh grapefruit before meals caused weight loss of 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg) over a period of 12 weeks (43).The grapefruit group also had reductions in insulin resistance, a metabolic abnormality that is implicated in various chronic diseases.

So… eating half a grapefruit about a half hour before some of your daily meals may help you feel more satiated and eat fewer overall calories.

18. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are among the most nutritious foods on the planet.

They do contain 12 grams of carbohydrate per ounce, which is pretty high, but 11 of those grams are fiber.

This makes chia seeds a low-carb friendly food, and one of the best sources of fiberin the world (44).

Because of all the fiber, chia seeds can absorb up to 11-12 times their weight in water, turning gel-like and expanding in your stomach (45).

Although some studies have shown that chia seeds can help reduce appetite, they have not found a statistically significant effect on weight loss (46, 47).

However, given their nutrient composition, it makes sense that chia seeds could be a useful part of a weight loss diet.

19. Coconut Oil

Not all fats are created equal.

Coconut oil is high in fatty acids of a medium length, called Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs).These fatty acids have been shown to boost satiety compared to other fats, as well as increase the amount of calories burned (48, 49).

There are also two studies, one in women and the other in men, showing that coconut oil led to reduced amounts of belly fat (50, 51).

Of course… coconut oil still contains calories, so adding it on top of what you’re already eating is a bad idea.

So this is not about adding coconut oil to your diet, it is about replacing some of your other cooking fats with coconut oil.

Extra virgin olive oil is also worth mentioning here, because it is probably the healthiest fat on the planet.

20. Full-fat yogurt

Another excellent dairy food is yogurt.

yogurt contains probiotic bacteria that can improve the function of your gut.

Having a healthy gut may potentially help protect against inflammation and leptin resistance, which is the main hormonal driver of obesity.

Just make sure to choose full-fat yogurt… studies show that full-fat dairy, but not low-fat, is associated with a reduced risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes over time (52).

Low-fat yogurt is usually loaded with sugar, so it is best to avoid that stuff like the plague.

Things That Make You Gain Belly Fat

Excess belly fat is extremely unhealthy.

It’s a risk factor for diseases like metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer (1).

The medical term for unhealthy fat in the belly is “visceral fat,” which refers to fat surrounding the liver and other organs in your abdomen.

Even normal-weight people with excess belly fat have an increased risk of health problems (2).

Here are 12 things that make you gain belly fat.

1. Sugary Foods and Beverages

Many people take in more sugar every day than they realize.

High-sugar foods include cakes and candies, along with so-called “healthier” choices like muffins and frozen yogurt. Soda, flavored coffee drinks and sweet tea are among the most popular sugar-sweetened beverages.

Observational studies have shown a link between high sugar intake and excess belly fat. This may be largely due to the high fructose content of added sugars (3, 4,5).

Both regular sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are high in fructose. Regular sugar has 50% fructose and high-fructose corn syrup has 55% fructose.

In a controlled 10-week study, overweight and obese people who consumed 25% of calories as fructose-sweetened beverages on a weight-maintaining diet experienced a decrease in insulin sensitivity and an increase in belly fat (6).

A second study reported a reduction in fat burning and metabolic rate among people who followed a similar high-fructose diet (7).

Although too much sugar in any form may lead to weight gain, sugar-sweetened beverages may be especially problematic. Sodas and other sweet drinks make it easy to consume large doses of sugar in a very short period of time.

What’s more, studies have shown that liquid calories don’t have the same effects on appetite as calories from solid foods. When you drink your calories, it doesn’t make you feel full so you don’t compensate by eating less of other foods instead (8, 9).

BOTTOM LINE:Frequently consuming foods and beverages high in sugar or high-fructose corn syrup may cause belly fat gain.

2. Alcohol

Alcohol can have both healthful and harmful effects.

When consumed in moderate amounts, especially as red wine, it may lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes (10).

However, high alcohol intake may lead to inflammation, liver disease and other health problems (11).

Some studies have shown that alcohol suppresses fat burning and that excess calories from alcohol are partly stored as belly fat — hence the term “beer belly” (12).

Studies have linked high alcohol intake to weight gain around the middle. One study found that men who consumed more than three drinks per day were 80% more likely to have excess belly fat than men who consumed less alcohol (13, 14).

The quantity of alcohol consumed within a 24-hour period also appears to play a role.

In another study, daily drinkers who consumed less than one drink per day tended to have the least abdominal fat, while those who drank less often but consumed four or more drinks on “drinking days” were most likely to have excess belly fat (15).

BOTTOM LINE:Heavy alcohol consumption increases risk of several diseases and is linked to excess belly fat.

3. Trans Fats

Trans fats are the unhealthiest fats on the planet.

They’re created by adding hydrogen to unsaturated fats in order to make them more stable.

Trans fats are often used to extend the shelf lives of packaged foods, such as muffins, baking mixes and crackers.

Trans fats have been shown to cause inflammation. This can lead to insulin resistance, heart disease and various other diseases (16, 17, 18, 19).

There are also some animal studies suggesting that diets containing trans fats may cause excess belly fat (20, 21).

At the end of a 6-year study, monkeys fed an 8% trans fat diet gained weight and had 33% more abdominal fat than monkeys fed an 8% monounsaturated fat diet, despite both groups receiving just enough calories to maintain their weight (21).

BOTTOM LINE:Trans fats increase inflammation that may drive insulin resistance and the accumulation of belly fat.

4. Inactivity

A sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest risk factors for poor health (22).

Over the past few decades, people have generally become less active. This has likely played a role in the rising rates of obesity, including abdominal obesity.

A major survey from 1988-2010 in the US found that there was a significant increase in inactivity, weight and abdominal girth in men and women (23).

Another observational study compared women who watched more than three hours of TV per day to those who watched less than one hour per day.

The group that watched more TV had almost twice the risk of “severe abdominal obesity” compared to the group that watched less TV (24).

One study also suggests that inactivity contributes to the regain of belly fat after losing weight.

In this study, researchers reported that people who performed resistance or aerobic exercise for 1 year after losing weight were able to prevent abdominal fat regain, while those who did not exercise had a 25–38% increase in belly fat (25).

BOTTOM LINE:Inactivity may promote an increase in belly fat. Resistance and aerobic exercise may prevent abdominal fat regain after weight loss.

5. Low-Protein Diets

Getting adequate dietary protein is one of the most important factors in preventing weight gain.

High-protein diets make you feel full and satisfied, increase your metabolic rate and lead to a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake (26, 27).

In contrast, low protein intake may cause you to gain belly fat over the long term.

Several large observational studies suggest that people who consume the highest amount of protein are the least likely to have excess belly fat (28, 29, 30).

In addition, animal studies have found that a hormone known as neuropeptide Y (NPY) leads to increased appetite and promotes belly fat gain. Your levels of NPY increase when your protein intake is low (31, 32, 33).

BOTTOM LINE:Low protein intake may drive hunger and belly fat gain. It may also increase the hunger hormone neuropeptide Y.

6. Menopause

Gaining belly fat during menopause is extremely common.

At puberty, the hormone estrogen signals the body to begin storing fat on the hips and thighs in preparation for a potential pregnancy. This subcutaneous fat isn’t harmful, although it can be extremely difficult to lose in some cases (34).

Menopause officially occurs one year after a woman has her last menstrual period.

Around this time, her estrogen levels drop dramatically, causing fat to be stored in the abdomen, rather than on the hips and thighs (35, 36).

Some women gain more belly fat at this time than others. This may partly be due to genetics, as well as the age at which menopause starts. One study found that women who complete menopause at a younger age tend to gain less abdominal fat (37).

BOTTOM LINE:Hormonal changes at menopause result in a shift in fat storage from the hips and thighs to visceral fat in the abdomen.

7. The Wrong Gut Bacteria

Hundreds of types of bacteria live in your gut, mainly in your colon. Some of these bacteria benefit health, while others can cause problems.

The bacteria in your gut are also known as your gut flora or microbiome. Gut healthis important for maintaining a healthy immune system and avoiding disease.

An imbalance in gut bacteria increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other diseases (38).

There’s also some research suggesting that having an unhealthy balance of gut bacteria may promote weight gain, including abdominal fat.

Researchers have found that obese people tend to have greater numbers ofFirmicutes bacteria than people of normal weight. Studies suggest that these types of bacteria may increase the amount of calories that are absorbed from food (39,40).

One animal study found that bacteria-free mice gained significantly more fat when they received fecal transplants of bacteria associated with obesity, compared with mice that received bacteria linked to leanness (40).

Studies on lean and obese twins and their mothers have confirmed that there is a common “core” of shared flora among families that may influence weight gain, including where the weight is stored (41).

BOTTOM LINE:Having an imbalance of gut bacteria may cause weight gain, including belly fat.

8. Fruit Juice

Fruit juice is a sugary beverage in disguise.

Even unsweetened 100% fruit juice contains a lot of sugar.

In fact, 8 oz (250 ml) of apple juice and cola each contain 24 grams of sugar. The same amount of grape juice packs a whopping 32 grams of sugar (42, 43, 44).

Although fruit juice provides some vitamins and minerals, the fructose it contains can drive insulin resistance and promote belly fat gain (45).

What’s more, it’s another source of liquid calories that’s easy to consume too much of, yet still fails to satisfy your appetite in the same way as solid food (8, 9).

BOTTOM LINE:Fruit juice is a high-sugar beverage that can promote insulin resistance and belly fat gain if you drink too much of it.

9. Stress and Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that’s essential for survival.

It’s produced by the adrenal glands and is known as a “stress hormone” because it helps your body to mount a stress response.

Unfortunately, it can lead to weight gain when produced in excess, especially in the abdominal region.

In many people, stress drives overeating. But instead of the excess calories being stored as fat all over the body, cortisol promotes fat storage in the belly (46, 47).

Interestingly, women who have large waists in proportion to their hips have been found to secrete more cortisol when stressed (48).

BOTTOM LINE:The hormone cortisol, which is secreted in response to stress, may lead to increased abdominal fat. This is particularly true in women with higher waist-to-hip ratios.

10. Low-Fiber Diets

Fiber is incredibly important for good health and controlling your weight.

Some types of fiber can help you feel full, stabilize hunger hormones and reduce calorie absorption from food (49, 50).

In an observational study of 1,114 men and women, soluble fiber intake was associated with reduced abdominal fat. For each 10-gram increase in soluble fiber there was a 3.7% decrease in belly fat accumulation (51).

Diets high in refined carbs and low in fiber appear to have the opposite effect on appetite and weight gain, including increases in belly fat (52, 53, 54).

One large study found that high-fiber whole grains were associated with reduced abdominal fat, while refined grains were linked to increased abdominal fat (54).

BOTTOM LINE:A diet that is low in fiber and high in refined grains may lead to increased amounts of belly fat.

11. Genetics

Genes play a major role in obesity risk (55).

Similarly, it appears that the tendency to store fat in the abdomen is partly influenced by genetics (56, 57, 58).

This includes the gene for the receptor that regulates cortisol and the gene that codes for the leptin receptor, which regulates calorie intake and weight (58).

In 2014, researchers identified three new genes associated with increased waist-to-hip ratio and abdominal obesity, including two that were found only in women (59).

However, much more research needs to be conducted in this area.

BOTTOM LINE:Genes appear to play a role in high waist-to-hip ratios and storage of excess calories as belly fat.

12. Not Enough Sleep

Getting enough sleep is crucial for your health.

Many studies have also linked inadequate sleep with weight gain, which may include abdominal fat (60, 61, 62).

One large study followed over 68,000 women for 16 years.

Those who slept 5 hours or less per night were 32% more likely to gain 32 lbs (15 kg) than those who slept at least 7 hours (63).

Sleep disorders may also lead to weight gain. One of the most common disorders, sleep apnea, is a condition in which breathing stops repeatedly during the night due to soft tissue in the throat blocking the airway.

In one study, researchers found that obese men with sleep apnea had more abdominal fat than obese men without the disorder (64).

BOTTOM LINE:Short sleep or poor-quality sleep may lead to weight gain, including belly fat accumulation.

Simple Ways to Lose Belly Fat, Based on Science

6 Simple Ways to Lose Belly Fat, Based on Science

Overweight does not necessarily equal unhealthy.

There are actually plenty of overweight people who are in excellent health (1).

Conversely, many normal weight people have the metabolic problems associated with obesity (2).

That’s because the fat under the skin is actually not that big of a problem (at least not from a health standpoint, it’s more of a cosmetic problem).

It’s the fat in the abdominal cavity, the belly fat, that causes the biggest issues (3).

If you have a lot of excess fat around your waistline, even if you’re not very heavy, then you should take some steps to get rid of it.

Belly fat is usually estimated by measuring the circumference around your waist. This can easily be done at home with a simple tape measure.

Anything above 40 inches (102 cm) in men and 35 inches (88 cm) in women, is known as abdominal obesity.

There are actually a few proven strategies that have been shown to target the fat in the belly area more than other areas of the body.

Here are 6 evidence-based ways to lose belly fat.

1. Don’t eat sugar and avoid sugar-sweetened drinks

Added sugar is very unhealthy.

Studies show that it has uniquely harmful effects on metabolic health (4).

Sugar is half glucose, half fructose, and fructose can only be metabolized by the liver in any significant amount (5).

When you eat a lot of refined sugar, the liver gets overloaded with fructose, and is forced to turn it all into fat (6).

Numerous studies have shown that excess sugar, mostly due to the large amounts of fructose, can lead to increased accumulation of fat in the belly (7).

Some believe that this is the primary mechanism behind sugar’s harmful effects on health. It increases belly fat and liver fat, which leads to insulin resistance and a host of metabolic problems (8).

Liquid sugar is even worse in this regard. Liquid calories don’t get “registered” by the brain in the same way as solid calories, so when you drink sugar-sweetened beverages, you end up eating more total calories (9, 10).

Studies show that sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to a 60% increased risk of obesity in children, per each daily serving (11).

Make a decision to minimize the amount of sugar in your diet, and consider completely eliminating sugary drinks.

This includes sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices and various high-sugar sports drinks.

Keep in mind that none of this applies to whole fruit, which are extremely healthy and have plenty of fiber that mitigates the negative effects of fructose.

The amount of fructose you get from fruit is negligible compared to what you get from a diet high in refined sugar.

If you want to cut back on refined sugar, then you must start reading labels. Even foods marketed as health foods can contain huge amounts of sugar.

BOTTOM LINE:Excess sugar consumption may be the primary driver of belly fat accumulation, especially sugary beverages like soft drinks.

2. Eating more protein is a great long-term strategy to reduce belly fat

Protein is the most important macronutrient when it comes to losing weight (12).

It has been shown to reduce cravings by 60%, boost metabolism by 80-100 calories per day and help you eat up to 441 fewer calories per day (13, 14, 15, 16).

If weight loss is your goal, then adding protein is perhaps the single most effective change you can do to your diet.

Not only will it help you lose, it can also help you avoid re-gaining weight if you ever decide to abandon your weight loss efforts (17, 18).

There is also some evidence that protein is particularly effective against belly fat.

One study showed that the amount and quality of protein consumed was inversely related to fat in the belly. That is, people who ate more and better protein had much less belly fat (19).

Another study in Denmark showed that protein was linked to significantly reduced risk of belly fat gain over a period of 5 years (20).

This study also showed that refined carbs and oils were linked to increased amounts of belly fat, but fruits and vegetables linked to reduced amounts.

Many of the studies showing protein to be effective had protein at 25-30% of calories. That’s what you should aim for.

So make an effort to increase your intake of high-protein foods such as whole eggs, fish, seafood, legumes, nuts, meat, dairy products and some whole grains. These are the best protein sources in the diet.

If you struggle with getting enough protein in your diet, then a quality protein supplement (like whey protein) is a healthy and convenient way to boost your total intake.

If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, then check out this article on how to increase your protein intake.

Bonus tip: Consider cooking your foods in coconut oil. Some studies have shownthat 30 mL (about 2 tablespoons) of coconut oil per day reduces belly fat slightly (21,22).

BOTTOM LINE:Eating enough protein is a very effective way to lose weight. Some studies suggest that protein is particularly effective against belly fat accumulation.

3. Cut carbs from your diet

Carb restriction is a very effective way to lose fat.

This is supported by numerous studies. When people cut carbs, their appetite goes down and they lose weight (23).

Over 20 randomized controlled trials have now shown that low-carb diets lead to 2-3 times more weight loss than low-fat diets (24, 25, 26).

This is true even when the low-carb groups are allowed to eat as much as they want, while the low-fat groups are calorie restricted and hungry.

Low-carb diets also lead to quick reductions in water weight, which gives people near instant results. A major difference on the scale is often seen within a few days.

There are also studies comparing low-carb and low-fat diets, showing that low-carb diets specifically target the fat in the belly, and around the organs and liver (27, 28).

What this means is that a particularly high proportion of the fat lost on a low-carb diet is the dangerous and disease promoting abdominal fat.

Just avoiding the refined carbs (white breads, pastas, etc) should be sufficient, especially if you keep your protein high.

However, if you need to lose weight fast, then consider dropping your carbs down to 50 grams per day. This will put your body into ketosis, killing your appetite and making your body start burning primarily fats for fuel.

Of course, low-carb diets have many other health benefits besides just weight loss. They can have life-saving effects in type 2 diabetics, for example (29, 30).

BOTTOM LINE:Studies have shown that low-carb diets are particularly effective at getting rid of the fat in the belly area, around the organs and in the liver.

4. Eat foods rich in fiber, especially viscous fiber

Dietary fiber is mostly indigestible plant matter.

It is often claimed that eating plenty of fiber can help with weight loss.

This is true, but it’s important to keep in mind that not all fiber is created equal.

It seems to be mostly the soluble and viscous fibers that have an effect on your weight.

These are fibers that bind water and form a thick gel that “sits” in the gut (31).

This gel can dramatically slow the movement of food through your stomach and small bowel, and slow down the digestion and absorption of nutrients. The end result is a prolonged feeling of fullness and reduced appetite (32).

One review study found that an additional 14 grams of fiber per day were linked to a 10% decrease in calorie intake and weight loss of 2 kg (4.5 lbs) over 4 months (33).

In one 5-year study, eating 10 grams of soluble fiber per day was linked to a 3.7% reduction in the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity, but it had no effect on the amount of fat under the skin (34).

What this implies, is that soluble fiber may be particularly effective at reducing the harmful belly fat.

The best way to get more fiber is to eat a lot of plant foods like vegetables and fruit. Legumes are also a good source, as well as some cereals like oats.

Then you could also try taking a fiber supplement like glucomannan. This is one of the most viscous dietary fibers in existence, and has been shown to cause weight loss in many studies (35, 36).

BOTTOM LINE:There is some evidence that soluble dietary fiber may lead to reduced amounts of belly fat, which should cause major improvements in metabolic health.

5. Exercise is very effective at reducing belly fat

Exercise is important for various reasons.

It is among the best things you can do if you want to live a long, healthy life and avoid disease.

Getting into all of the amazing health benefits of exercise is beyond the scope of this article, but exercise does appear to be effective at reducing belly fat.

However, keep in mind that I’m not talking about abdominal exercises here. Spot reduction (losing fat in one spot) is not possible, and doing endless amounts of crunches will not make you lose fat from the belly.

In one study, 6 weeks of training just the abdominal muscles had no measurable effect on waist circumference or the amount of fat in the abdominal cavity (37).

That being said, other types of exercise can be very effective.

Aerobic exercise (like walking, running, swimming, etc) has been shown to cause major reductions in belly fat in numerous studies (38, 39).

Another study found that exercise completely prevented people from re-gaining abdominal fat after weight loss, implying that exercise is particularly important during weight maintenance (40).

Exercise also leads to reduced inflammation, blood sugar levels and all the other metabolic abnormalities that are associated with central obesity (41).

BOTTOM LINE:Exercise can be very effective if you are trying to lose belly fat. Exercise also has a number of other health benefits.

6. Track your foods and figure out exactly what and how much you are eating

What you eat is important. Pretty much everyone knows this.

However, surprisingly, most people actually don’t have a clue what they are really eating.

People think they’re eating “high protein,” “low-carb” or whatever, but tend to drastically over- or underestimate.

I think that for anyone who truly wants to optimize their diet, tracking things for a while is absolutely essential.

It doesn’t mean you need to weigh and measure everything for the rest of your life, but doing it every now and then for a few days in a row can help you realize where you need to make changes.

If you want to boost your protein intake to 25-30% of calories, as recommended above, just eating more protein rich foods won’t cut it. You need to actually measure and fine tune in order to reach that goal.

Check out these articles here for a calorie calculator and a list of free online tools and apps to track what you are eating.

I personally do this every few months. I weigh and measure everything I eat to see what my current diet is looking like.

Then I know exactly where to make adjustments in order to get closer to my goals.