When you’re trying to slim down your stomach, core exercises and ab workouts go a long way—but what you eat also plays a huge role. In addition to drinking enough water, eating fresh produce and healthy fats, and avoiding notorious belly-busters (think alcohol, soda, and sugar), certain foods are particularly good for shrinking your gut.
“If you want your abs to feel flatter, choose foods that will help decrease bloating in your stomach, such as water-packed fruits and veggies,” says Keri Gans, RD, a New York City-based nutrition consultant and author of The Small Change Diet.
These 15 foods will help keep your waistline slim by reducing bloat, boosting metabolism, and giving your body important nutrients that encourage weight loss.
Thanks to the flavonoid antioxidant quercetin (which reduces swelling) and a high water content of 96%, cucumbers “can definitely help prevent bloating,” says Gans. This crunchy veggie is also extremely versatile: eat it in a chopped salad, sprinkle on top of yogurt, or munch on cucumber slices with homemade hummus.
As a member of the super-nutritious pulse family, lentils—along with other seeds that grow within pods like chickpeas, white beans, and dried peas—are packed with protein and fiber, which increase satiety. They’re also a good source of iron; this is important because studies have shown that being deficient in the mineral could slow down your metabolism.
“Add lentils to salads or use in place of whole grains like brown rice,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, Health’s contributing nutrition editor. “They also make a great ‘bed’ for a serving of lean protein, along with a generous portion of veggies.”
Craving an afternoon snack? A banana may be your best bet. In addition to potassium, bananas are packed with resistant starch, a healthy carbohydrate that your body digests slowly, which keeps you full for longer. Resistant starch also encourages your liver to switch to fat-burning mode, giving your metabolism a boost.
Even more good news for your abs: “Bananas may help prevent water retention in our bodies by regulating sodium levels,” says Gans, “decreasing the risk for bloating.”
This perennial herb offers some serious benefits for your belly. “For centuries, fennel has been used to improve digestion, relieve GI spasms, and reduce bloat,” says Stephanie Middleberg, RD, founder of Middleberg Nutrition in New York City.
You can eat fennel raw or cooked (try sprinkling it on pizza or making Tomato-Fennel Soup). And fennel seeds have slimming properties, too: In a previous interview, Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, recommended sipping on fennel tea to de-puff your stomach before a big event.
There are lots of reasons to love this brightly colored tropical fruit, which is a rich source of vitamins A, C, E, and folate. Papayas also contain an enzyme called papain, which helps your GI system break down difficult-to-digest foods, in turn preventing inflammation and belly bloat.
In addition to eating papaya whole and fresh, “it’s wonderful in a smoothie, in salads, or thrown on the grill with a drop of olive oil,” says Gans.
Gluten-free diets may be trendy, but carbs aren’t your enemy (unless you’ve been diagnosed with Celiac disease or a gluten intolerance). In fact, whole grain carbohydrates actually help you stay slim. Whole grains are a great source of filling fiber, which aids digestion and increases satiety. In one recent study, researchers found that women who regularly consumed whole grains had a 49% lower risk of major weight gain over time.
“Whole grains help better regulate blood sugar and insulin levels compared to refined grains,” explains Sass. She recommends starting your day with oatmeal, snacking on plain popcorn (yes, it’s a whole grain!), and choosing quinoa or brown rice over white.
Spicy foods like chili peppers kick-start your metabolism, and they may also help you stick to your healthy eating goals. According to a 2011 study from Purdue University, capsaicin (the active component that gives chili peppers their heat) may help prevent weight gain. Researchers found that participants who ate capsaicin-rich foods had fewer cravings for fatty, salty, and sweet foods, as well as a lower preoccupation with eating in general.
To reap the fat-burning benefits, “add chili peppers to an omelet, salads, or stir fry, or just bite right in,” says Sass.
You already know that asparagus is full of antioxidants and may even act as an aphrodisiac. But did you also know it can promote a slim stomach? This super-healthy spring veggie is a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which your body digests slowly—keeping you full for longer in between meals. And as a natural diuretic, “asparagus facilitates the removal of water and waste to decrease discomfort and bloat,” explains Middleberg.
She adds that asparagus also contains prebiotics, which “act as fuel for healthy bacteria in your gut.”
Like asparagus, yogurt is great for your gut: It contains beneficial probiotics, which help balance microflora and prevent bloating. Eating yogurt may also increase feelings of fullness, thanks to 17 grams of protein per serving (that’s almost three times as much as is in an egg!).
“Try adding it to your morning smoothie, use it in your favorite dip recipe, or enjoy with berries for an afternoon snack,” says Gans.
If you’ve ever sipped on a glass of ginger ale while sick, you know the drink can do wonders to calm an upset stomach. Turns out the root is also good for keeping your belly slim. Thanks to compounds that help move food through your GI tract, “it has been used for centuries as a natural remedy to treat bloating,” explains Gans. Ginger may also help with weight management: In a 2012 study from Columbia University, researchers found that participants who drank a hot ginger beverage felt fuller after meals.
“An easy way to include it in your diet is to make a ginger tea with ½ teaspoon of ground or freshly grated ginger and one cup of hot water,” she says.
Peppermint and chamomile tea
Feeling stuffed after a big dinner? Help your stomach recover by brewing a hot cup of peppermint or chamomile tea. Both varieties relax your GI muscles, easing digestion and helping your body dissolve gas.
“Peppermint tea can help reduce bloating, which can make your stomach look flatter,” says Sass. “And chamomile may help improve sleep—and too little sleep has been linked to an increase in belly fat.”
Go ahead, put avocado on your toast, pasta, brownies, pudding, or even banana bread—your belly will thank you. The superfruit (yes, it technically is a fruit) contains 2 grams of filling fiber and 4 grams of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which may help keep the pounds off. In one recent study, researchers found that people who regularly ate avocados had smaller waistlines than those who didn’t.
And in addition to keeping your stomach slim, avocados may benefit the gut, too: “Healthy fats like avocados are vital to gut health, as they coat the stomach and allow for ease of digestion,” says Middleberg. “They also help the body increase its absorption of other nutrients and antioxidants.”
If you have a sweet tooth, take heart: Not all chocolate is off limits. “Good quality dark chocolate (anything above 65% cacao) is actually very good for you,” explains Middleberg. Like avocados, dark chocolate contains healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, which may help speed up metabolism. One study from the University of California, San Diego found that adults who ate chocolate more frequently had lower BMIs than those who didn’t eat much chocolate.
Just watch your portions: To indulge while keeping calories in check, Middleberg recommends having a piece “the size of a dental floss container.”
For a guilt-free snack, reach for a handful of almonds. As with dark chocolate and avocados, the nut contains monounsaturated fatty acids, which may help your body burn fat and fight hunger. One recent study in the International Journal of Obesity found that when people had a serving of almonds as part of a low-calorie diet, they lost more weight than those who ate a similar diet but had a carb-heavy snack instead of almonds.
This ancient beverage is packed with important antioxidants that help combat inflammation, increase energy, and burn fat. And science has repeatedly linked green tea to weight loss: For example, one study found that drinking five cups a day helped people lose twice as much weight, mainly in their midsections. In another, researchers looked at dieters and determined that those who drank green tea lost more weight than those who did not.