By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 20 September 2008)
While reducing calories can decrease body fat, it’s not necessarily the best way to achieve a flatter stomach. Food choices play an important role in weight distribution.
Research indicates that women who reduce caloric intake but eat less nutritious foods are 2.5 times more likely to have excess abdominal fat than those who consume 400 more calories per day but choose more nutritious sources. Also, dramatically cutting calories can actually lead to bloating because it slows the metabolism.
Carbohydrates and Proteins
Carbohydrates should comprise 45-65% of a healthy diet. Simple carbohydrates such as the white flour and sugar found in many packaged snacks and fast foods add calories without providing much nutritional value. Studies have shown that those who eat plenty of whole grains and other complex carbohydrates are more likely to maintain a healthy weight in the long run. Fruits and vegetables are a particularly good source of complex carbohydrates because they provide a high nutritional value with a relatively low calorie count.
Protein should constitute approximately 25% of daily calories. A lower amount can lead to weight gain, but eating a very high-protein diet can stress the kidneys, causing health problems. Protein should be obtained from lean sources, such as low-fat or fat-free dairy products, poultry with the skin removed, fish, and lean cuts of beef, or sources that also contain healthy fats, such as nuts (nuts provide the added benefit of curbing hunger).
Research indicates that those with higher levels of antioxidants in their blood, particularly vitamin C, beta-carotene, and selenium, tend to have smaller waistlines. Natural sources of vitamin C include:
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Bell peppers
These foods are best eaten fresh and raw, as cast iron pans and certain cooking methods can destroy vitamin C, and canned foods may contain less vitamin C.
Natural sources of beta-carotene are yellow, orange, and green leafy fruits and vegetables, including:
- Red peppers
- Sweet potatoes
Natural sources of selenium include:
- Brazil nuts
- Egg yolks
- Organ meats
- Dairy products
- Whole grains
If considering supplements, it’s a good idea to consult a medical practitioner. Too much selenium can be toxic, and too much beta-carotene may cause upset stomach, diarrhea, and yellowish skin.
Eating at least 25 grams of fiber per day can help ward off abdominal fat by:
- Moving food through the digestive system more quickly
- Creating a long-term feeling of fullness that helps prevent overeating
- Requiring more chewing, so even when the same amount of time is spent eating, fewer calories are consumed
Fiber is best consumed in small doses over the course of the day. Eating an entire daily dose all at once can cause gas, particularly when eating beneficial cholesterol-lowering fiber sources such as oats, beans, and barley.
While Omega-6 fats, found in corn oil and many baked goods, can increase abdominal fat, monounsaturated fats and Omega-3s can help reduce it. Omega 3s can be obtained from:
Monounsaturated fatty acids can be found in:
- Oils such as canola, flaxseed, peanut, olive, sesame, safflower, soybean, walnut, and sunflower
- Nuts, seeds, and peanuts
- Olives and avocados
- Dark, all-natural chocolate
In contrast to healthy fats, trans fats, which are found in many snack foods such as chips and baked goods, have no nutritional value and can cause rapid weight gain, as well as increasing the risk of heart disease.
Foods That Curb Hunger
There are a number of foods that can reduce hunger over the course of the day. In addition to lean proteins, whole grains, and fiber, foods that are high in water or air provide the illusion of bulk with far fewer calories. Hunger-curbing foods include:
- Stews and soups made with beans or whole grains
- Vegetables and fruits
- Fluffy whole wheat breads
National Center for Health Statistics data indicates that consuming a single 4-ounce (125 ml) glass of white or red wine approximately 2 out of every 3 days (20 per month) can help fight abdominal fat. While taking up drinking just to lose weight is not recommended, those who already enjoy a drink with dinner don’t necessarily need to give it up to lose weight. More is not better, however; greater quantities can lead to weight gain and other health problems.
Although many people believe that drinking sufficient water can cause abdominal bloating, in reality, the opposite is true. Water helps flush sodium from the body. While sodium is required to regulate certain bodily functions, too much causes bloating. According to the American Heart Association, people should consume about 1 teaspoon of salt per day, but most people take in 6 times as much through processed and fast foods. Excess sodium causes water retention, and this water tends to settle around the abdominal area. To cut back on sodium, check labels on foods, avoid fast foods, and choose natural fresh foods rather than packaged foods whenever possible.
Fluids are best consumed as fresh water and herbal teas. Water can also be obtained via vegetables, fruits, and low-sodium soups. Carbonated drinks should be avoided, as the carbon dioxide creates gas, which slows digestion and increases bloating. Caffeine and alcohol intake should be moderate, as they have a diuretic effect.
You can tell if you’re getting enough water by checking your urine. If it’s high in volume and pale in color, sufficient fluids are being consumed. Darker, low-volume urine indicates dehydration.
- Ask the Dietician. (n.d.). “Vitamin C, Ascorbic Acid.” Dietician.com.
- BC Cancer Agency. (Revised 2000). “Selenium.” Bccancer.bc.ca.
- Prevention. (2006). “5 Food Fixes for Flat Abs.” WebMD.com.
- Prevention. (25 February 2008). “Meet the 5 Flat Belly Foods.” Prevention.com.
- Tallmadge, K. (August 2003). “The Flat Abs Diet: Use Our Six Eating Strategies to Get a Sleeker Belly.” Shape. FindArticles.com.
- UK Food Standards Agency. (n.d.). “Beta-Carotene” and “Selenium.” Eatwell.gov.uk.
- Zelman, K.M., MPH, RD, LD. (Reviewed by Chang, L., MD, 19 September 2007). “Foods That Curb Hunger.” WebMD.com.