Having a flat belly is the holy grail for the insta-famous, but for most, it seems to be an unattainable goal. If you're always dieting, forever crunching, and unmotivated to see it through, here's one small change that can shrink your waist and get you significantly healthier, finds a new study.

The researchers examined data from 1441 participants across seven European countries and found diets higher in wholegrains and fibre were the top dietary factors linked with less belly fat and a lower BMI.

"This study highlights the importance of healthy diet patterns, rather than focusing on eliminating specific foods. Switching refined grains to wholegrains, and choosing higher fibre foods could be important for maintaining a healthy waistline.

Encouraging healthy behaviours may be even more effective than discouraging unhealthy ones," says Nutrition Research Australia Director, Dr Flavia Fayet-Moore.

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The surge of interest in higher protein or fat diets (e.g. paleo, low-carb, ketogenic), or grain avoidance (e.g. gluten free) has many of us removing ALL carbohydrates — including grain foods — as a quick fix for weight loss.

But when the diet is over and you want to keep the weight off, elimination of food groups is never the answer to long-term balanced diet. It's simply not sustainable and not good for your health.

Sticking to salmon and avocado every day might work for your Keto diet, but it's not sustainable long term, and could eventually lead to extra belly fat. Photo / Getty Images
Sticking to salmon and avocado every day might work for your Keto diet, but it's not sustainable long term, and could eventually lead to extra belly fat. Photo / Getty Images

Currently, Kiwis aren't eating enough fibre — the parts of plants that can't be digested — per day. Many of us are eating less than half the recommended 25g for women and 30g for men, according to the NZ Nutrition Foundation.

Because fibre plays such a huge part in our overall health, falling short of the daily target not only means more chance of getting fat, but ups your disease risk, too.

HOW IS FIBRE AND WEIGHT LOSS RELATED?

Anything that reduces our appetite can make us take in fewer calories without having to think about it. Fibre is believed to have this effect: it takes longer to digest, helps control blood sugar and insulin levels, and keeps us more satiated so that we eat less.

The best part about this diet advice is that it doesn't involve piling your plate with more salad, carrots and celery sticks (although we could definitely do with eating more vegetables), but there's also plenty of cereal fibre and wholegrains in rolled oats and many high-fibre breakfast cereals, and wholegrains (e.g. brown rice, corn, barley, grainy breads) that in fact give us more dietary fibre than any other foods.

Choose this over white bread and you're heading in the right direction. Photo / Getty Images
Choose this over white bread and you're heading in the right direction. Photo / Getty Images

And we're not talking truckloads: Aim to eat grain foods three to four times a day (or more depending on your activity levels), mostly those high in cereal fibre and whole grains.

One serve is equivalent to 1 slice of bread, ½ cup cooked rice, barley, quinoa, ¼ cup muesli, 2/3 cup wheat cereal flakes.

Bottom line: Not all carbs are bad. Choose wholegrain over refined varieties and your belly will thank you for it as it shrinks.

Kathleen Alleaume is a nutrition and exercise scientist who is passionate about making sense of the conflicting health buzz. Follow her @therightbalance