No foods can flatten your stomach on their own, but certain foods within a balanced diet can make shedding excess abdominal fat easier. Doing so is important, according to Harvard Health Publications, because visceral fat -- which lies beneath the abdominal wall -- triggers inflammation, raising your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. Aim for a balanced diet that emphasizes nutritious, whole foods and routine physical activity for best results. Before making significant dietary changes, seek guidance from your physician.
Fruits and Vegetables
Losing weight anywhere on your body requires eating fewer calories than the amount you burn through activity. As low-calorie foods, fruits and vegetables make it easier to create this caloric deficit. They also supply valuable amounts of water and fiber, which promote appetite control. Rather than avoiding carbohydrates, which are your body's main fuel, Harvard Health Publications recommends emphasizing nutritious sources, including fruits and vegetables, for a slimmer midsection. Choose low-calorie varieties, such as bell peppers, onions, celery, broccoli, carrots, berries and grapefruit. Options that are especially filling and fiber-rich include apples, apricots and cooked turnips, Brussels sprouts and asparagus.
In a study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in September 2010, the diets of 2,834 adults were analyzed. Researchers found that while high intake of refined grains was linked with excess abdominal fat, whole grains were associated with lower levels. Unlike refined grains, such as instant rice and white flour, whole grains retain valuable nutrient content during processing, leading to a more filling, nutritious food. While one cup of cooked whole-wheat spaghetti provides more than 4 grams of satiating fiber, a cup of white spaghetti supplies only 1 gram. Other nutritious whole-grain foods include oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa and air-popped popcorn.
A report published in the "Journal of the American College of Cardiology" in 2011 that reviewed 50 studies and more than 534,000 participants showed that a Mediterranean dietary lifestyle lowers the risk for components of metabolic syndrome, including abdominal obesity. Mediterranean-style diets contain very little red meat and instead emphasize healthy fat and protein sources, such as fish. Unlike the saturated fat prevalent in red meat and dairy products, the omega-3 fats in oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, lake trout and herring, reduce inflammation and risk for heart disease. Replacing saturated fats with healthy, unsaturated alternatives is important for minimizing belly fat, reports Harvard. To maintain these benefits, use heart-healthy cooking methods, such as baking, poaching and grilling fish in light amounts of olive oil.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds provide heart-healthy fats and nutritious alternatives to inflammatory snacks that are easy to overeat, such as potato chips. Your body converts fats found in flaxseeds and walnuts into omega-3s. Although nuts are dense in calories, research shows that regular consumption is unlikely to contribute to obesity, according to "Current Opinion in Lipidology" report published in 2007. Nuts may even enhance weight control by suppressing appetite and fat absorption. Because they provide similar nutrients, seeds are likely to do the same. Flaxseeds are particularly rich in fiber. Add ground flaxseeds to other healthy foods, such as smoothies and low-fat yogurt, and snack on a moderate portion of nuts, seeds or healthy trail-mix instead of pretzels or chips.
Low-Fat Milk and Yogurt
Milk and yogurt provide valuable amounts of protein, which promotes blood sugar and appetite control, and calcium. Harvard Health Publications recommends emphasizing calcium-rich foods, which may provide protection against abdominal weight gain. Consuming three servings of low-fat dairy products per day supports bone health as well. One serving is equal to 8 ounces of nonfat milk, low-fat milk or yogurt. To keep your intake of added sugars low, which is important for weight control, and still feed your sweet tooth, top plain yogurt with fresh fruit. If you don't tolerate lactose, choose fortified soy milk for similar calcium and protein benefits.
- Harvard Health Publications; Taking Aim at Belly Fat
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Can Eating Fruits and Vegetables Help People to Manage Their Weight?
- Harvard Health Publications: Abdominal Fat and What to Do About It
- USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference: Energy Content of Selected Foods
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Whole- and Refined-Grain Intakes are Differentially Associated with Abdominal Visceral and subcutaneous Adiposity in Healthy Adults: the Framingham Heart Study
- American Heart Association: Mediterranean Diet
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Current Opinion in Lipidology; Edible Nuts and Metabolic Health
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Flaxseed
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Calcium