Belly fat is maligned for its way of tampering with any outfit that doesn’t involve a muumuu, but really there’s something way worse about the stuff: When white fat expands in your abdomen, nestling deep among your organs, it sets you up for some serious health trouble. We now know that this type of fat, called visceral fat, churns out stress hormones like cortisol and inflammatory substances called cytokines that affect the body’s production of insulin. The result: It’s worse than just being generally overweight; you’re looking at increased risks of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. (Get long and lean with sexy Flat Belly Yoga from Prevention!)
There’s one thing to like about visceral fat: It yields fairly easily to aerobic exercise. Vaporizing calories via running, biking, swimming—anything that gets your heartrate up—wins over resistance training when it comes to getting rid of the stuff. A recent study from Duke found the sweet spot: Jogging the equivalent of 12 miles a week will help you lose belly fat.
Of course you know that protein’s essential for a slimmer you and essential for losing belly fat—you couldn’t have made it through the Paleo and South Beach crazes without hearing all about it. But here’s why protein really needs to play a prime roll on your plate: “Your body starts to produce more insulin as you age, since your muscle and fat cells aren’t responding to it properly,” explains Louis Aronne, MD, Director of the Obesity Clinic at Cornell. And insulin promotes fat storage, especially around your belly (yippee!). A diet high in protein may protect you against insulin resistance, Aronne says. One easy way to up your intake is to add Organic Whey Protein to your smoothies, meals, or snacks.
In one study, obese women who followed a diet for eight weeks that was roughly 30% protein, 40% carbs, and 30% fat lost significantly more fat—including visceral pudge—than women who stuck to a plan that was 16% protein, 55% carbs, and 26% fat.