Looking to flatten your belly? Abdominal bloating and/or carrying unwanted weight around your midsection can be extremely uncomfortable. Don't be confused between the two! Bloating is temporary abdominal distention that can be caused by a reaction to certain foods, lifestyle factors or a medical conditions. Really, belly bloat is just intestinal gas, not excess fat.
However, if you're overweight and want to flatten your belly for the long term, the solution is a change in diet and exercise. No matter what's causing you tummy trouble, the foods you put on your fork can help or hinder your flat-belly goals. Read on to learn about 10 flat-belly foods to get you the lean midsection you're looking for.
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1. Fennel Seeds
Fennel is a pleasant-smelling herb with yellow flowers and feathery leaves. Dried fennel seeds are very nutritious, containing fiber, magnesium, calcium and iron, and they've 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 bloated. "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 says.
Salmon packs a punch when it comes to battling belly fat because it contains omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids not only help prevent heart disease and stroke but they also bring down inflammation in the body (and belly).
Fatty fish (like salmon) is also a great source of vitamin D (which very few foods naturally are). Insufficient blood levels of vitamin D have been linked to obesity, including abdominal swelling, according to a 2013 study published in Hormone and Metabolic Research.
If you want to slim your midsection, eggs are a great way to start your day. Eggs are packed with protein, and eating them for breakfast will keep you full throughout the day. Eggs also provide 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 contain vitamin D. As mentioned above, insufficient blood levels of vitamin D have been linked to obesity and abdominal bloating. Since the majority of these nutrients are found in the egg yolk, be sure to eat the whole egg for the most nutrition (unless your doctor has advised you otherwise).
4. Olive Oil
Healthful monounsaturated fats found in olive oil may help in the process of burning stored fat. Monounsaturated fats also help control blood sugar levels and can lower your LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels.
A 2016 study published in Diabetes Care showed that consumption of monosaturated fats can improve metabolic risk factors in patients with type 2 diabetes. 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," says Sass. "It also contains soluble and insoluble fiber to promote overall digestive health as well as natural anti-inflammatory substances to reduce GI irritation."
6. Whole Grains
Whole grains — including quinoa, popcorn, oats and wheat — should be your go-to carb source. Fiber is a key nutrient found in whole grain foods, which is great for weight maintenance. Fiber is difficult for your body to digest and therefore keeps you feeling full for longer.
Before you eat grains, 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 US Dietary Guidelines recommend healthy adults consume three to five servings of whole grains per day.
Although many people think bananas are fattening, they're 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," says Sass.
"The soluble fiber in bananas can also help relieve or prevent constipation, which can be a major cause of a belly pooch." Grab a banana as a daily snack. Other foods high in potassium to help fight belly bloat include sweet potatoes, nuts, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables and dates.
Read more: 16 Surprising Facts About Bananas
8. Greek Yogurt
Yogurt is a good source of calcium, a mineral that's known for its bone-strengthening benefits. While calcium is a key nutrient you can get from Greek yogurt, the protein content will help you keep your belly flat. A serving of greek yogurt will provide around 10 grams of protein, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Even if you're lactose sensitive, Greek yogurt may still be an option for you. "Dairy foods are the cause of GI woes for many, particularly gas and bloating," says Sass. "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, according to the USDA. 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 Sass.
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," says Rachel Begun, RDN, a food and nutrition consultant in Boulder, Colorado.
"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 Begun.
While there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to water consumption, generally healthy people should aim to drink around four to eight cups minimum. A good way to determine know if you're drinking enough water is to check the color of your urine — the clearer the better.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How much water should you drink?"
- USDA: "Basic Report: 11205, Cucumber, with peel, raw"
- USDA: "Yogurt, Greek, plain, nonfat"
- U.S. DIETARY GUIDELINES: Whole Grains
- Mayo Clinic: "Whole grains: Hearty options for a healthy diet"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary fats: Know which types to choose"
- Mayo Clinic: "Vegetarian diet: How to get the best nutrition"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin B12"
- Hormone and Metabolic Research: "Gastric Dysmotility and Low Serum Vitamin D Levels in Patients with Gastroparesis"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin D"
- Harvard Health School of Public Health: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution"
- Mayo Clinic: "Omega-3 in fish: How eating fish helps your heart"