Looking to go from a FAT belly to a FLAT belly? Abdominal bloating and/or carrying unwanted weight around your midsection can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. To differentiate between the two, bloating is temporary abdominal distention that can be caused by a reaction to certain foods, lifestyle factors or a medical condition, such as liver or heart disease. Belly bloat is really intestinal gas, not excess fat. However, if you are overweight and want to flatten your belly for the long term, the only solution is to lose weight. Whether it’s gas or excess weight causing you tummy trouble, what you choose to put on your fork can help or hinder your goal of getting a flat belly. Read on to learn about 10 flat-belly foods to get you those lean abs you crave.
Fennel is a pleasant-smelling herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. The name comes from the Roman word meaning “fragrant hay,” and it has a faint anise or licorice flavor and aroma. Dried fennel seeds are very nutritious, containing fiber, magnesium, calcium and iron, and they have long been used as a digestive aid. “Fennel helps to relax the GI [gastrointestinal] muscles, which helps trapped gas pass to alleviate bloating,” says Cynthia Sass, RDN, author of “S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.” Sass recommends people chew on half a teaspoon of seeds after a meal or when their stomach feels distended due to gas buildup. “Or make a simple tea: Add a teaspoon of seeds to a cup of hot water, let steep for five minutes, strain out the seeds and sip,” Sass advises.
Salmon packs a double punch when it comes to battling belly fat because it contains both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. Salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D, with wild salmon providing about four times the amount of vitamin D as farmed salmon. Insufficient blood levels of vitamin D have been linked to obesity, including abdominal obesity. Scientists are not sure if the reason for this is that vitamin D gets trapped in the fat cells of obese people or if obese people don’t consume enough vitamin D. Either way, getting adequate vitamin D is essential for good health. The omega-3 fatty acids in salmon and other fatty fish can also help flatten your belly. Researchers believe omega-3 fatty acids may alter the expression of certain genes, shifting your body to burn fat rather than store it.
If you want to lose some fat around the middle, eggs are a great way to start your day. Eggs are packed with protein, and eating them for breakfast provides staying power. A study published in Nutrition Research found that people who eat eggs for breakfast were less likely to overeat the rest of the day. Eggs also provide a myriad other nutrients to help keep your tummy trim. For example, they’re a good source of vitamin B12, a nutrient that helps your body break down fat cells. Eggs also provide the power nutrient, vitamin D. Insufficient blood levels of vitamin D have been linked to obesity, including abdominal obesity. Choline, another power nutrient in eggs, is known for playing a role in fat metabolism. Since the majority of these nutrients are found in the egg yolk, be sure to eat the whole egg for the most nutrition. If you are worried about the cholesterol in the yolk, a 2008 report from the ongoing Physicians’ Health Study supports the idea that eating an egg a day is generally safe for the heart. But talk to your doctor to determine what is best for you.
Healthful monounsaturated fats found in olive oil could potentially switch on genes related to the burning and storage of fat. Monounsaturated fats also help control blood sugar levels, which play a key role in keeping hunger at bay and reducing fat accumulation around the midsection. A study in Diabetes Care showed that partial replacement of complex digestible carbohydrates with monounsaturated fatty acids in the diet of those with Type 2 diabetes helped maintain blood sugar levels and improve blood lipids. Dietary fat also increases satiety, which may help cut down overall calorie intake. Before you pour olive oil all over your food in the hopes of a slimmer waistline, keep in mind that a serving size of olive oil is one tablespoon, which has 120 calories.
While all green vegetables are low-calorie nutrient superstars that promote a healthy weight, asparagus serves triple duty in its anti-bloating effects. “First, it’s a source of prebiotics, which support the growth of ‘good’ bacteria to help maintain a healthy balance in the digestive system to prevent and/or reduce gas. It also contains soluble and insoluble fiber to promote overall digestive health as well as natural anti-inflammatory substances to reduce GI irritation,” says Cynthia Sass, RDN. To reduce belly bloat, eat steamed asparagus a few times a week. For an additional flat-belly boost, lightly drizzle your asparagus with olive oil.
Whole grains — including quinoa, popcorn, oats and wheat — can help flatten your stomach. A study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that people who eat whole grains lose more abdominal fat than those who don’t. The tummy-tucking powers of whole grains likely come from the fiber content. Fiber aids in keeping insulin levels low, which may help shrink fat cells. Whole grains also provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants for good health. Check the package label to make sure a product is made with whole grains. The first ingredient listed should contain the word “whole” (such as “whole wheat” or “whole oats”). The USDA recommends healthy adults consume about six ounces of total grains per day, and that at least half of those grains should be whole grains.
Although many people think bananas are fattening, they are actually an important flat-belly food. “Foods rich in potassium help de-bloat the belly by acting as a natural diuretic, triggering the release of excess sodium and water the body is retaining. The soluble fiber in bananas can also help relieve or prevent constipation, which can be a major cause of a belly pooch,” says Cynthia Sass, RDN. Grab a banana as a daily snack, or whip one into a smoothie. Other foods high in potassium to help fight belly bloat include sweet potatoes, nuts, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables and dates.
Yogurt is a good source of calcium, a mineral that slows production of the hormone cortisol, which encourages belly fat. While less than regular yogurt, Greek yogurt still has about 20 percent of your daily calcium needs. Another great benefit of Greek yogurt is that it provides twice the filling protein for weight control as compared to regular yogurt, and it may be easier on the gut than other dairy foods. “Dairy foods are the cause of GI woes for many, particularly gas and bloating. Greek yogurt, however, contains active cultures — or ‘good’ bacteria — that aid in digestion and prevent gas and bloating. It also contains less lactose than regular yogurt due to the straining process, so those who are lactose intolerant may be able to avoid some of those negative issues with Greek yogurt.
Cucumbers are loaded with water and naturally low in calories to help with hydration and weight management. One whole cucumber has just 45 calories. If you are feeling bloated, cucumbers can help with that too. “People use cucumbers to reduce puffiness under the eyes, and eating them can also help you fight belly bloat. Cucumbers have been shown to inhibit the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes, which can help reduce GI swelling,” says Cynthia Sass, RDN. For flatter abs, eat cucumbers daily as a snack or add them to a salad or sandwich.
Drinking enough water supports the other ways you’re trying to flatten your stomach. “Many people know that fiber-rich foods are good for a flat belly because they help to move food and waste through the GI system, preventing constipation and bloat. However, we often forget about the water part of the equation. Water is essential for moving fiber through the GI system and preventing constipation. Everyone’s water needs are different. Eight glasses a day is a general rule of thumb for adults, but you may need more or less depending on the environment where you live and how active you are,” says Rachel Begun, M.S., RDN, a food and nutrition consultant in Boulder, Colorado. The Institute of Medicine recommends 91 ounces per day for women (or about 11.4 cups) and for men, 125 ounces per day (or about 15.6 cups) of water from all beverages and foods. A good way to determine know if you’re drinking enough water is to check the color of your urine — the clearer the better. Since fizzy water can cause bloating, choose flat water and switch up the taste with slices of lemon, lime, cucumber or fresh peppermint leaves.