Health experts have long preached that weight loss occurs generally all over the body. It would be great if we could target our bellies or our butts with specific diets and exercise routines, but there isn’t convincing evidence to suggest this is possible.
Against this backdrop, the editor in chief of Prevention magazine, Liz Vaccariello, along with her nutrition editor Cynthia Sass, has written a diet book called The Flat Belly Diet. The diet plan’s premise is that saturated fats, principally animal fats, are unhealthy, while monounsaturated fats, known for short as MUFOs, are healthy. MUFO are found in plant foods like olive oil, sunflower oil, flax oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
But will you lose belly fat?
Okay so far. The diet also limits meat and recommends whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes. As you might have noticed, the Flat Belly Diet has a lot in common with the traditional Mediterranean diet, which has been around for millenniums. There’s much to recommend here. Your heart would definitely thank you for the food choices suggested. And if you control your calorie intake, you will lose weight.
But will you lose weight around the middle? That’s where the Flat Belly Diet pushes too hard. There is some research indicating that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats can promote weight loss.
Lack of medical evidence
The British Journal of Nutrition has published two studies on the subject, found here and here. But Vaccariello and Sass offer no hard evidence demonstrating that the diet as outlined — or any diet, for that matter — would specifically target belly fat.
For writers of diet books, the temptation to create buzz is a powerful one. Get the media talking about you (the book was profiled on Good Morning America, among other TV talk shows), and you’ll sell more books. It’s that simple.
However, it isn’t helpful for would-be dieters to lead them in a direction that’s based on limited evidence or wishful thinking.
Don’t through baby out with bathwater
That said, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Flat Belly Diet does espouse a sound dietary approach. And it provides a good selection of recipes of around 400 calories each that are rich in monounsaturated fats. The meal plans provided would set you on a path to consuming about 1600 Calories per day.
For a 5’4″, 175-lb woman and a 5’8″, 200-lb man (both with a BMI of 30), this should result in a deficit of about 500 to 1000 calories per day, or 1 to 2 pounds per week weight loss. Add exercise to the equation, and the weight loss outcome would be even better.
Getting to Know Monounsaturated Fats
There are five major categories of monounsaturated fats. Here’s what the Flat Belly Diet has to say about them.
- Examples: Canola oil, flaxseed oil, olive oil, peanut oil, pesto sauce, safflower oil, sesame oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil.
- A serving equals: 1 tablespoon
2) Nuts & Seeds
- Examples: Almonds, almond butter, Brazil nuts, cashew butter, chunky natural peanut butter, dry-roasted cashews, dry-roasted peanuts, dry-roasted sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, roasted pumpkin seeds, smooth natural peanut butter, sunflower seeds, sunflower seed butter, tahini (sesame seed paste), walnuts.
- A serving equals: 2 tablespoons
- Examples: Florida avocado, Hass avocado.
- A serving equals: 1/4 cup
- Examples: Black olives, black olive tapenade, green olives, green olive tapenade.
- A serving equals: 10 large olives or 2 tablespoons of tapenade
- Examples: Dark or semisweet chocolate chips, shavings, or chunks
- A serving equals: 1/4 cup