Zero Belly Smoothies: Lose up to 16 Pounds in 14 Days and Sip Your Way to A Lean & Healthy You - David Zinczenko (2016)

Chapter 1. Zero Belly Smoothies vs. Belly Fat!

Luke Skywalker has Darth Vader. Harry Potter has Lord Voldemort. Me, I have my own evil nemesis: I’ve made it part of my life’s work to battle belly fat.

My battle started in junior high school. By the time I was 14, I was wrapped in a shame-inducing spare tire, carrying 212 pounds of high school huskiness on my 6-foot frame. Sure, I felt bad about being overweight. Sure, I was made fun of. Sure, I had trouble making friends and getting dates. But whenever life got me down, all I had to do was rip open another bag of Doritos and drown myself in fluorescent orange goodness or bum a ride to the mall and follow my nose to Cinnabon. Food was my refuge from feeling bad.

Then, at the still-young age of 52, my father passed away from a sudden, massive stroke. Always heavy since the time I was born, he had ballooned into obesity in the 1980s in much the same way I had. I was his son. I carried the same “fat genes” that he did.

Would this be my fate, too?

My father’s death woke me up to the fact that excess weight—especially excess belly fat—was more than just a vanity issue. Belly fat may be the No. 1 cause of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer in America, and it contributes mightily to our epidemics of Alzheimer’s, depression, and even inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Indeed, new studies show that belly fat is utterly different from the other types of fat. It evolves out of a different set of stem cells than the fat found in other places on our bodies, its actions triggered by fat-storage genes that get turned on and cranked to high volume by our fast-food, high-stress lifestyle. Once those fat genes get turned on, visceral fat acts like an invading force, trying to take over our bodies.

What was clear to me was this: Belly fat killed my dad.

I was going to find a way to fight back.

That’s how my odyssey to find smart solutions to belly fat began. And to be honest, I’ve actually had some success. I’m the co-creator of Eat This, Not That!, America’s most respected source for information on restaurant and grocery-store foods, and I’m also the nutrition and wellness correspondent for ABC News. By spreading the word about the outrageous calorie counts and sneaky additives that lurk in our food, I feel like I’ve really made a difference. The Eat This, Not That! series of books and the daily news coverage on EatThis.com have helped hundreds of thousands of Americans lose tens of millions of pounds and changed the way we eat today.

But the war is only partly won. Two out of every three of us still struggle with belly fat, and the more we learn about it, the more the dangers of this scourge become apparent. We knew that belly fat, also known as visceral fat—the fat that’s underneath your stomach muscles, wrapped around your internal organs—has biochemical functions that damage the human body, almost like a parasite intent on killing its host. But we knew little about how it operates, how it creates those chemicals, and what exactly they do to us. Until now.

Today, we know that fat storage is triggered, in great part, by a series of markers in our individual genetic codes. Some of us carry a number of genes linked to metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity; others have a lower genetic propensity for these health issues. Once the “on” switch is flipped for our fat genes, we are at risk for weight gain and all the health issues that surround it—and no amount of exercise or calorie restriction is going to reverse that course completely. (That’s why so many people who diet and work out like crazy still can’t lose weight! Eureka!) And the No. 1 trigger for our fat genes is diet—especially a lack of certain nutrients.

We’ve also learned more about belly fat—how it’s formed and how it behaves. A visceral fat cell is unlike any other kind of cell—fat cell or otherwise—in your body. Visceral fat doesn’t even come from the same set of stem cells as other fat; it has evolved in an entirely different way. And as it gains greater purchase inside you, it spits out greater and greater levels of adipokines—a series of biochemical substances that do terrible things to your health. Adipokines raise your blood pressure, increasing your risk of stroke. They reduce your insulin sensitivity, leading to diabetes. They increase inflammation, which puts you at risk for everything from Alzheimer’s to arthritis to psoriasis to cancer. They alter your hormonal response, eroding muscle tissue, increasing your risk of depression, and destroying your sex drive. They attack and scar your liver, leading to cirrhosis, cancer, and ultimately liver failure.

But in the past few years, this same research has given us several important breakthroughs—science that shows us how to finally master our midsections. And it’s this new science that makes Zero Belly Smoothies so revolutionary. By making them with plant-based proteins and liquids, you’ll tap the power of these foods to short-circuit your fat genes—turning off the parts of your DNA that trigger weight gain and activating your body to burn, not store, fat. Plus, the protein, fiber, and other nutrients in these creamy and satisfying drinks will boost your metabolism and dampen inflammation, leading to natural and sustainable weight loss. Drink these smoothies, and you’ll build a lean, strong body and strip away unwanted belly fat without ever feeling hungry or deprived. The result: Weight loss will be easier, faster, more lasting, and (if I may say so myself) more delicious than you’d ever imagine.

FOUR WAYS SMOOTHIES MAKE LIFE EASIER

Focusing your weight-loss efforts on drinks will help you quickly strip away flab in a number of ways. Here’s what makes Zero Belly Smoothies so effective:

 width=They take the stress out of eating well.

A 2015 study at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University found that while most doctors subscribe to the notion of “all things in moderation,” that long-standing bit of advice is actually wrong. When researchers looked at the diets of 6,814 people, they found that the more diverse the subjects’ diets, the more likely they were to experience weight gain. In fact, those who ate the widest range of foods showed a 120 percent greater increase in waist circumference compared with those who had the least diversity. In other words, people who have the best success at weight loss pick a set number of foods and tend to stick to them. Zero Belly Smoothies allow you to do exactly that.

 width=They make your workouts more effective.

Studies show that high-protein smoothies are highly effective at rushing nutrients to your muscles—which is why I recommend you have one of your two drinks immediately after exercise—and that blended fruit drinks, which include all the fiber, will actually keep you fuller longer than fruit juices. That means that your body can immediately begin healing the damage to your muscles caused by exercise. (It’s the process of damage and repair that makes muscles grow stronger.) A 2013 review of studies in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that having a high-protein meal before and after exercise (with the meals not more than four hours apart) led to the best possible outcome for muscle building.

 width=They crowd out the junk in your diet.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “I already enjoy a protein smoothie. It goes by the name Muscle Milk, or Lean Body, or Met-Rx, or some other Very Serious Name, and it comes ready to drink! What makes your drinks any better?” Well, some of the most compelling research of the past few years has centered on how avoiding added sugars, particularly sugars in our beverages, can dramatically reshape our bodies and improve our health profiles. In a UCLA study of 54 overweight teens, individuals who reduced added-sugar intake by the equivalent of one can of soda per day over 16 weeks showed a reduction in belly fat and an improvement in insulin function. In a 2015 study in Sweden, researchers followed 42,400 men over the course of 12 years. They found that men who consumed at least two servings per day of sweetened beverages had a 23 percent higher risk of heart failure compared with those who did not. The impact is so great that you don’t need to be meandering through middle age to see the impact: Even teenagers who consume food and beverages high in added sugars show evidence of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes in their blood, according to a study in The Journal of Nutrition. So why, then, would you drink something that contains maltodextrin, crystalline fructose, and sucralose (all forms of sugar); cellulose gum and gel (made from chemically digested wood chips); zinc oxide (also used in diaper rash medications); and 36 other ingredients—which is exactly what you get when you drink a container of Muscle Milk? Is this helping reduce your sugar intake and foster good gut health? Or does it make you afraid that one night the Toxic Avenger is going to crawl out of your belly button?

By stripping smoothies of the dairy, sugars, and artificial ingredients so common in popular shakes, Zero Belly Smoothies maximize all that’s great about protein smoothies while zeroing out the negative. That means you’ll be getting optimal nutrition in a delicious, easy-to-digest drink you can have at any point of the day—guaranteed to keep you full, shrink your belly, and leave you feeling full of energy. You’ll discover the amazing and delicious recipes starting in Chapter Five.

 width=They battle food allergies and reduce inflammation.

What’s also unique about Zero Belly Smoothies is that they are vegan: no milk, no yogurt, no whey protein. A decade ago, when I wrote the New York Times best seller The Abs Diet, I had already become a fan of protein powders, and I recommended them from the start as a way of burning calories and building muscle. But that program centered on whey protein, and as more and more research points out the importance of gut health—and more and more people find themselves struggling with dairy-related digestion issues—I’ve discovered a much more belly-friendly alternative.

Plant-based protein powders are a low-sugar, high-fiber alternative to popular dairy-based supplements. I guzzled whey shakes for years and was astonished by how much lighter and leaner I felt when switching to a plant-based blend. A study by the University of Tampa that compared plant protein with whey found it to be equally as effective at changing body composition and boosting muscle recovery and growth. But with less sugar and a healthier fat profile, plant-based proteins will also improve your gut health at the same time as they’re fueling your muscles. Hemp, rice, and pea proteins are all good options; however, you’ll want to ensure you’re getting a complete protein with a full amino acid profile, which is why a blend that combines all three is superior.

THE SIMPLE PATH TO ZERO BELLY

When you begin drinking Zero Belly Smoothies, you’ll quickly put your weight-loss journey on autopilot. Here are the guidelines to keep in mind as you carve your own path to Zero Belly.

STEP

Ask Yourself Three Questions

When you build a smoothie, you need to be able to answer these three questions.

WHERE’S MY PROTEIN?

WHERE’S MY FIBER?

WHERE’S MY HEALTHY FAT?

Put together a drink that provides all three, and I guarantee you’ve got a line on a leaner, healthier body that’s functioning at the peak of its genetic programming. Hitting all three in one sip means you’re feeding your muscles; eating a slowly absorbed, hunger-controlling meal; maximizing the absorption of nutrients in your food to positively influence your genetics; and striking a major blow against cholesterol and elevated blood sugar. The Big Three will also help crowd out refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, added sugars, and additives. Here’s the breakdown on these three key macronutrients:

PROTEIN.

Protein helps you burn fat in three ways. First, it’s the building block of muscle, and you already know that muscle burns fat. Feeding your muscles helps them grow and fight back against the forces of fleshiness. Second, the very act of eating protein actually burns calories. It takes more than a kiss from a princess to turn a frog—or a cow, pig, or chicken, or a nut or bean, for that matter—into a human. As much as 20 to 35 percent of the calories you eat in the form of protein are burned up just digesting the protein itself. (Carbs and fat burn up no more than 5 to 15 percent of their calories.) And third, protein keeps you fuller longer—in part because that intense digestive process means your body perceives you as being satiated. In a 2013 study published in the journal Appetite, women were fed low-, moderate-, or high-protein afternoon snacks. Those who ate the most protein had the lowest levels of hunger and waited longer before they chose to eat again than those who ate lower-protein snacks.

Zero Belly Smoothies get their protein primarily from vegan protein powders, but oatmeal, spirulina powder, and nut butters are also excellent, smoothie-friendly sources.

FIBER.

Stop thinking about “good carbs” or “bad carbs” and start focusing on fiber. If you’re eating fiber, you’re packing your day with foods high in folate, vitamin B12, betaine, resveratrol, and sulforaphane—all critical nutrients that impact how active our fat-storage genes are. Fiber also allows the bacteria in your gut to produce the fatty acid butyrate, which influences the behavior of genes associated with insulin resistance and inflammation. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and nut butters all contribute fiber to my Zero Belly Smoothie recipes.

Fiber plays a number of additional roles in keeping us slim, but the most intriguing is its ability to suppress appetite. In spring 2014, an international team of researchers identified an anti-appetite molecule called acetate that’s naturally released when fiber is digested. Acetate then travels to the brain, where it signals us to stop eating.

Some scientists believe that the dramatic reduction in fiber in our diets is perhaps the No. 1 factor in our obesity crisis. Professor Gary Frost from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College in London, who was part of the team that put together the acetate study, estimates that, thanks to food processing, the average Western citizen now eats about one-seventh as much fiber as humans did in the Stone Age. Makes you want to chew through a redwood, doesn’t it?

HEALTHY FAT.

If you want to burn fat, you need to eat fat—regularly. A Zero Belly Smoothie needs to contain at least one of the following ingredients:

MONOUNSATURATED FATS: olives and olive oil, nuts (including peanuts) and nut butters, avocado, dark chocolate (at least 72 percent cacao)

POLYUNSATURATED FATS: sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, sesame seeds, pine nuts

PLANT-BASED SATURATED FATS: coconut (no sugar added), coconut oil (not hydrogenated)

OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS: flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds

Though it may seem counterintuitive to add fat to a drink if you’re trying to lose fat from your body, the fact is that eating a moderate portion of unsaturated fats, like the kind found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts, can ward off the munchies and keep you full by regulating hunger hormones. A study published in Nutrition Journal found that participants who ate half a fresh avocado with lunch reported a 40 percent decreased desire to eat for hours afterward. Moreover, increasing the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet while reducing omega-6 fats (found in vegetable oil and foods fried in that oil) has proven to improve metabolic health and reduce inflammation.

STEP

Have a Zero Belly Smoothie Instead of a Meal or Snack

If your goal is to flatten your belly, then you need to maximize the amount of fat-burning, muscle-building, inflammation-fighting, gene-hacking nutrition that goes into your body every day.

These smoothies make that easy for several reasons. First, they’re so delicious and easy to make that you can have them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Second, they ensure that you’ll stay satiated and satisfied all day long. In a study presented at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, researchers found that regularly drinking meal replacements increased a person’s chance of losing weight and keeping it off longer than a year.

STEP

Make Smoothies Your Drink of Choice

If you’re serious about shedding belly flab, I’d encourage you to cut out booze, soda, and any artificially sweetened drinks for the next few weeks. These drinks are loaded with sugars and artificial ingredients that can cause weight gain and bloating. Instead, switch to plain or carbonated water, and rely on a Zero Belly Smoothie when you want a sweet, satisfying drink. A 2015 study in the journal Diabetologia found that cutting just one sugary drink out of your day could lower your diabetes risk by up to 25 percent.

YOUR ZERO BELLY CHEAT SHEE

If you’re already a fan of Zero Belly, then you know how effective it can be. Zero Belly Diet is the only program that attacks belly fat on a genetic level, reversing the action of your fat-storage genes even as it revs your metabolism and strips the junk from your diet. This collection of all-new drink recipes will expand your repertoire of simple, convenient, and delicious weight-loss shakes. But if you’re new to the program, here’s an at-a-glance guide to the Zero Belly principles, the diet plan that will flatten your belly, turn off your fat genes, and help keep you lean for life. (And if you would like a turbocharged version of the program, check out the Zero Belly Smoothie Cleanse in Chapter Ten!)

SUBJECT: Number of meals

GUIDELINE: Three meals, one snack, and one Zero Belly Smoothie per day.

SUBJECT: The ZERO BELLY Foods

GUIDELINE: Each of the meals and snacks is built around the 9 ZERO BELLY Foods, each carefully selected for its micronutrient content. Every meal or snack should have protein, fiber, and healthy fat, derived from one of these sources:

Zero Belly Smoothies

Eggs

Red fruits

Olive oil and other healthy fats

Beans, rice, oats, and other healthy fiber

Extra plant protein

Leafy greens, green tea, and bright vegetables

Lean meats and fish

Your favorite spices and flavors (ginger, cinnamon, even chocolate)

SUBJECT: Portion size

GUIDELINE: While most diets center around controlling calorie intake, Zero Belly focuses on maximizing your intake of key nutrients. When you eat protein, fiber and healthy fat, you’ll crowd much of the junk out of your diet, and control your hunger and calorie intake naturally.

SUBJECT: Secret Weapons

GUIDELINE: Smoothies. You hold in your hands the ultimate guide to Zero Belly Smoothies, and it’s in these delicious drinks that the principles of Zero Belly come together so brilliantly. Each of the recipes in these books combines the Zero Belly foods into high-nutrient meals that are ready in just 90 seconds, and each combines protein, fiber and healthy fat to ensure you’re always highly fueled and never hungry.

SUBJECT: Nutritional ingredients to emphasize

GUIDELINE: Protein, fiber, healthy fats

SUBJECT: Nutritional ingredients to limit

GUIDELINE: Dairy, wheat gluten, added sugars. (Note: Zero Belly is not strictly dairy-free or gluten-free. But because these can cause bloating and inflammation in some people, I’ve made sure that the entire program can be done without either ingredient. Each of the recipes in this book is gluten-free and dairy-free.)

SUBJECT: Alcohol

GUIDELINE: Limit yourself to no more than two or three drinks per week, to maximize the benefits of the program. Because of its high concentration of resveratrol, a compound that helps turn off fat-storage genes, red wine is the best choice.

SUBJECT: Exercise Program

GUIDELINE: To turbocharge the weight-loss effects of Zero Belly, I’ve created the Zero Belly Workouts, a unique full-body fitness experience that builds abs while simultaneously toning your entire body. The complete Zero Belly Workout plan is found in Zero Belly Diet.


The Zero Belly Smoothie Matrix

The recipes in this book have been built by a team of dieticians and chefs to combine perfectly balanced nutrition with write-home-about-it flavor. But as always, experimenting with your favorite flavors to find the combination that works for you is part of the fun. And if you can find a recipe that truly sings to you, you’ll be more likely to stick with it. More smoothies = more weight loss.

BASE

NUT MILK:
almond, hazelnut, coconut (unsweetened)

One of the key features of the smoothies in this book is that they’re made primarily from plant sources. While milk and yogurt are great if you aren’t sensitive to lactose, it seems that more and more people are recognizing that the bloating and discomfort they thought were normal parts of life are, in fact, reactions to lactose—the naturally occurring sugar in dairy products. Even if you have no issues with lactose that you know of, I urge you to try going vegan with your smoothies for the first two weeks. You may discover your belly has gotten magically flatter overnight.

Coconut water (unsweetened)

For a light smoothie, use unsweetened coconut water to up the liquid levels. You may soon find a daiquiri-flavored smoothie in your future.

Green tea

Add it to your smoothie, and green tea will shrink your belly. That’s because green tea contains catechins, which trigger the release of fat from cells—particularly abdominal fat—then speed up the liver’s capacity for turning that fat into energy. In a recent 12-week study, participants who drank four to five cups of green tea each day, then exercised for 25 minutes, lost an average of two more pounds than the non-tea-drinking exercisers!

FAT

NUT BUTTERS:
peanut, almond, cashew

Nut butters contain monounsaturated fats that will fill you up, not out. They contain fat-burning compounds that limit the amount of fat absorbed by the body, so some pass through undigested. They’re also high in magnesium and B vitamins, which could lend you more energy to burn at the gym. They’re also high in protein and fiber, which will make your smoothie more satisfying.

Coconut pieces or coconut oil

Because of its neutral flavor, coconut oil is an ideal mix-in for just about any smoothie you can think of—and if you’re interested in torching belly fat, you’ll start brainstorming. Consuming coconut oil reduces abdominal obesity, a study printed in the journal Lipids found. Half the study participants ate two tablespoons of coconut oil daily; the other half were given soybean oil. Only those in the coconut-oil group saw their waistlines shrink.

NUT OILS:
flax, walnut, hazelnut, peanut, almond

Always make sure there’s some fat in your smoothie so that you’re assured of staying satiated for several hours afterward. A teaspoon of any of these oils will give your smoothie a rich consistency and nutty flavor that you’ll find truly satisfying.

Avocado

High in healthy monounsaturated fats, avocados also deliver a surprising dose of protein—2 grams per half a fruit. A study in Nutrition Journal found that participants who ate half a fresh avocado with lunch reported a 40 percent decreased desire to eat for hours afterward.

PROTEIN

Vegan protein powder

Supplementing your smoothie with protein powder is excellent for satiety, not to mention supporting the lean muscle that enables you to burn more fat. In a 2015 study in the American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers found that those who ate twice as much protein as the Recommended Dietary Allowance had greater net protein balance and muscle protein synthesis—in other words, it was easier for them to maintain and build muscle, and hence keep their metabolisms revving on high. So even if you eat a burger for lunch and a couple of pork chops for dinner, you’re still coming up short in the protein department. For your smoothie, you’re best off with plant-based protein; whey, casein, and other dairy-based powders can cause bloating. Look for a product that has no artificial colors, sweeteners, or flavors. While hemp, rice, and pea proteins are all good options, you can ensure you’re getting a complete protein with a full amino acid profile by getting a vegan protein blend that combines all three.

NUT BUTTERS:
peanut, almond, cashew

All of these provide healthy fats, fiber, and protein. But the king nut when it comes to protein is the humble peanut. In fact, ¼ cup of peanuts tops pecans (2.5 grams), cashews (5 grams), and even almonds (8 grams) in the protein power rankings. And they contain the mood-boosting vitamin folate.

Quinoa or oatmeal

In addition to its 4 grams of belly-filling fiber, a cup of oatmeal delivers as much protein as an egg. And quinoa is one of the few plant foods that offer a complete set of amino acids, meaning it can be converted directly into muscle by the body.

Spirulina

Spirulina is a blue-green algae that’s typically dried and sold in powdered form, although you can also buy spirulina flakes and tablets. Dried spirulina is about 60 percent protein, and, like quinoa, it’s a complete protein, meaning it can be converted directly into muscle in the body. A tablespoon delivers 8 grams of metabolism-boosting protein for just 43 calories, plus half a day’s allotment of vitamin B12. It’s a great option if a blended vegan protein isn’t available.

Pomegranate or passion fruit

You may not think of fruit when you think of protein, but pomegranates stand out as protein powerhouses. The reason: The protein is stored in the seeds of the fruit. And pomegranate brings with it plenty of other powers as well: Research published in the International Journal of Obesity found that the anthocyanins, tannins, and high levels of antioxidants in pomegranates can help fight obesity. Like pomegranate, passion fruit delivers a surprising dose of protein thanks to its edible seeds; a half-cup also gives you 12 grams of fiber and more than half a day’s vitamin C. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Pom Wonderful will give you the same benefits—it’s full of sugars.

FIBER

Flax meal

Fiber-packed flaxseed contains more inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids than other fat sources. That means it’s good for reducing inflammation: Adding some ground flaxseed to your smoothie can help with muscle recovery. Flaxseed is highly sensitive and easily oxidized, so for the most health benefit, buy whole flaxseed and grind it just before adding to your smoothie. Two tablespoons gives you 2 grams of muscle-building protein as well as 4 grams of metabolism-enhancing fiber.

Oats

A tasty source of dietary fiber as well as protein. But that’s not the only reason oats deserve a spot in your weight-loss shakes: Beta-glucans, part of the soluble fiber in oats, have been shown to lower total blood cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels—meaning they can reduce your risk of heart disease.

Chia seeds

Not only are chia seeds packed with fiber and protein, helping keep you feeling full and satisfied—they also absorb toxins from your digestive tract. Though you can add a tablespoon of chia seeds directly into your blender, you’ll get more goodness out of them—and add to the smoothness of your smoothie—by combining them with water so that they form a gel. Combine equal parts chia seeds and water in a container. The gel will keep in the fridge for a few weeks, so you can experiment with how much to add to your shakes.

Fruits and vegetables

Any fruit or vegetable will add fiber, but they’re so important that I’ve given them their own special place at the table.

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES

Beets

Beets have a high nitrate content, and that’s a big part of why you should be throwing them into your smoothies. They’re thought to improve athletic performance (and working out ought to be a part of any weight-loss or weight-maintenance plan). Scientists looked at the performance of two groups of runners: one of individuals who consumed baked beets before a 5K run, and the second consisting of people who took a placebo before running the same distance. The beet eaters ran faster but didn’t feel as if they were putting in extra effort!

Citrus fruits

Aside from packing a hefty amount of vitamin C, citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit contain plenty of folate, which helps produce and maintain your body’s cells, and fiber, which is great for weight loss. They’ll also add a zesty note to whatever else you’re blending. Plenty of studies have shown that grapefruit stands alone as a particularly powerful weight-loss food. One study in the Journal of Medical Food found that people who ate half a fresh grapefruit a day lost 3½ pounds in 12 weeks despite making no changes in diet or exercise.

Pumpkins

These big, round, scary squashes deliver a powerful dose of vitamin A and harbor a secret stash of metabolism-boosting protein.

Leafy greens

If you like green juices, it’s time to upgrade. Blenders preserve the satiating fiber that juicers press out. (And if you’ve tried using both at home, you know that cleaning a juicer is a special kind of hell.) Although you can’t go wrong with the omnipresent kale, spinach is especially powerful when it comes to weight loss. In one Swedish study, 19 overweight women drank a mixture with 5 grams of spinach extract each morning. After three months, they lost 11 pounds, far more than the control group. The women also reported fewer food cravings, thanks to elevated levels of GLP-1, a physiological regulator of appetite and food intake. Feel free to pack your blender with plenty of leafy greens: Their high fiber and water content means that these low-density foods will have you feeling fuller, faster.

Stone fruits

New studies by Texas AgriLife Research suggests that plums, peaches, and nectarines may help ward off metabolic syndrome—a fancy name for the combination of belly fat, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance. And calorie for calorie, apricots contain more potassium than even bananas, the food source most commonly linked with this important element. Dietary potassium lowers blood pressure by reducing the adverse effects of sodium, including water retention.

Berries

Resveratrol is a heart-protecting antioxidant that people trot out to justify their Two Buck Chuck habit. But resveratrol is also found in red and purple berries before they go through the fermentation process. By adding berries to your smoothie, you’ll benefit from compounds that can help reduce blood pressure and cardiac hypertrophy, lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, and slow the progression of atherosclerosis (or hardening) of the arteries. All of which are highly beneficial to your mission of losing weight and keeping it off. In an animal study at the University of Michigan, researchers found that rats that ate a blueberry-rich diet for three months had significantly reduced belly fat.

Watermelon

Research at the University of Kentucky showed that eating watermelon may improve lipid profiles and lower fat accumulation.

BOOSTS

Ginger

I can’t confirm whether Confucius had a six-pack (or suffered from a chronically queasy tummy), but legend has it the Chinese philosopher ate ginger with every meal. And now there’s science to suggest that ginger can improve a number of gastrointestinal symptoms. In addition to curing bellyache, ginger may have a unique ability to accelerate gastric emptying, a study printed in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hematology suggests.

Cayenne

Throw an impressive curveball at your next brunch by whipping up some virgin Bloody Mary smoothies, extra spicy, and burn off the dietary sins of the night before. Capsaicin, the natural compound that gives chili peppers that beautiful burn, has been proven to reduce belly fat, suppress appetite, and kick-start the body’s ability to burn food as energy. Daily consumption improved belly-fat loss, a study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found.

Wheatgrass

What doesn’t wheatgrass offer for a mere 30 calories? Even a tiny dose like this packs fiber, protein, tons of vitamin A and K, folic acid, manganese, iodine, and chlorophyll, to name a few. You don’t need to know what each nutrient does for you; just know that a single tablespoon of wheatgrass will have you operating at peak performance levels.

Cocoa powder

Mix some cocoa powder into your smoothie for a boost of more than just flavor. In addition to delivering a gram of protein for every 12 calories, it will also give you 4 grams of fat-burning fiber and 20 percent of your daily value for the essential muscle-making mineral manganese.

Cinnamon

One of the best spices for weight loss, cinnamon also contains those magical polyphenols, which have been proven to slim bloated bodies and improve insulin sensitivity. A study published in Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics showed that the consumption of cinnamon led to reduced belly fat in animals. And a series of studies printed in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that adding a teaspoon of cinnamon to a carb-heavy meal could help stabilize blood sugar, preventing munchie-inducing insulin spikes.

Fresh mint or basil

Adding fresh herbs to smoothies is a little trick that yields big results. Basil pairs well with strawberries and watermelon, while mint works wonders on melon, blueberries, and papaya.

Honey

Remember that added sugar in any form—and that includes “natural” sugars like honey, maple syrup, or agave—is going to cut the healthfulness of your smoothie. As long as you’re using fresh or frozen fruit, you shouldn’t need added sugar. But if you do, honey at least gives you something in return, namely a host of phytochemicals that have antiviral and antibacterial properties.

Matcha powder

A powdered form of green tea, matcha delivers all the health benefits of tea in concentrated form.

Turmeric

Add it in powdered form, or find some fresh at the farmer’s market, then peel, slice, and freeze it for easy smoothie use. The compound curcumin, found in turmeric, is a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps reduce the action of genes involved in belly-fat storage.

Fish oil

Fish oil has been canonized by hordes of wide-eyed nutritionists over the years, but the case for its sainthood sure is compelling. The tide of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil (usually made from fatty fish like salmon and sardines) may be the most versatile nutritional weapon out there, known to help protect the heart, fight inflammation, boost the brain, and reduce blood pressure, among other things. Look for a brand with a subtle flavor that will add all the nutritional punch without leaving your smoothie tasting like a can of sardines. I like Carlson Fish Oil liquids.

Fiber powder

Often sold under the name “psyllium husk” (for the seeds this powder is ground from), a dose of fiber is going to do more than promote a healthy colon. Fiber will slow the digestion of the smoothie in your stomach, which means not only will you stay fuller longer but also the sugar from the fruit will have a less dramatic impact on your blood sugar levels. And if the Quaker Oats dude has taught us anything, it’s that fiber promotes a healthy heart as well.



ZERO BELLY SECRET:

FROZEN BANANAS

Not only do frozen bananas provide a luxurious creaminess and natural sweetness to your Zero Belly Smoothies, adding a texture similar to ice cream for a fraction of the calories (one medium banana contains only 106), but they also offer major weight-loss benefits. High in resistant starch, bananas do a great job of feeding the healthy gut bacteria that reduce bloating and help flatten your belly fast. A study found that women who ate a banana twice daily before meals for two months reduced belly bloat by 50 percent. Bananas are packed with potassium, which can reduce water retention. And they’re a good source of fiber, which will keep you feeling full. Better yet, they’re a cinch to prepare. I recommend freezing 10 to 12 at the beginning of each week.

Carefully peel the banana so that it stays intact. (Do not make the mistake of freezing the banana with the peel on!) Discard the peel and cut each banana in half.

Place up to 12 peeled banana halves into a resealable plastic freezer bag. Remove the air from the bag and seal tightly.

The bananas will keep in the freezer for a few months. When you’re ready to blend, remove the bag from the freezer and grab the amount of bananas needed.