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 14 foods will help keep your waistline slim by reducing bloat, boosting metabolism, and giving your body important nutrients that encourage weight loss.
What you keep in your pantry is essential to helping you eat right, lose weight, and improve your health. That’s because a well-stocked pantry means making meals is a cinch, and the more home-cooked meals you eat, the greater control you have over how much saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium you take in.
I know this first-hand: I’ve made a point of eating primarily homemade meals for years. (You can find some of my recipes on my blog Appetite for Health). I only eat out when I’m traveling for work or attending a special event or party.
So how do I do it? Here are nine everyday essentials I keep in my pantry so I can make delicious and nutritious meals at a moment’s notice.
No surprise, with so many foods verboten: Some of your tried-and-true meal ideas won’t fly. For some vegan newbies, that’s a delight. “I like the challenge of thinking of how to make a meal. I’ve discovered new ingredients and don’t feel restricted,” says Abramian. “Personally, I think it’s exciting to try new foods,” agrees Rizzo.
Others found their new high-maintenance path required a bit of adjustment. “The first few dinners at home I remember thinking, ‘What the hell am I going to eat?’” recalls Rob Mohr, an amateur Ironman triathlete and a vegan for four years. “After some recipe research, I figured out some go-to meals where vegetables are the center of the plate,” he says. “The key is finding five or six of these dinners that you really like and can make pretty easily.”
Natalie Slater, a vegan cookbook author and blogger, had expected her transition to be a breeze, since she was already a vegetarian. But since her family didn’t go vegan with her, meal planning was tougher than she expected. “Honestly, I would sometimes see them eating a gooey cheese pizza and want to cry from jealously,” she says.
There are many different varieties of beans—black, white, pinto, heirloom, etc.—but one thing they all have in common is their high amounts of protein. Two cups of kidney beans, for example, contain about 26 grams (more than 3 cups of cow’s milk, which contains 24 grams). And you don’t have to make beans from scratch to reap their nutritional benefits, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, author of Doctor’s Detox Diet. “If you want to buy them dried and soak them overnight before you cook them, that’s fine,” she says. “But it’s also perfectly okay—and much easier—to buy them canned, rinse them, and heat them up over the stove.”
By now you probably know that a healthy gut is key to keeping your digestive system running smoothly. But according to an increasing number of doctors, a happy gut could also promote, well, overall happiness—along with stable moods and a stronger memory. Michelle Babb, RD, author of Anti-Inflammatory Eating for a Happy, Healthy Brain, explains, “Every piece of food we put into our mouth communicates to our genes, cells, organs, and tissues, so every time we eat, we make a choice about what kind of communication we want to send and how we want to feel.”
So what kind of foods actually give your gut that boost? The often-lauded probiotics (think yogurt, kimchi, and other fermented foods) are a great place to start, but they aren’t the only things that matter when it comes to good tummy vibes. Prebiotics are equally important. Found in foods like onions, walnuts, and oats, prebiotics are foods that probiotics feast on. Translation: These do best together. And you don’t have to stress about eating them at the same meal; just include both in your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids—which are found in salmon, chia seeds, walnuts, and more—reduce inflammation and help speed up neuronal communication, which promotes more stable moods and better focus. Tryptophan (tofu, eggs, and chicken are great sources) is not only essential for a good night’s sleep but is also a precursor for serotonin, which regulates mood and appetite. And polyphenols, like those found in spinach and broccoli, help stimulate the growth of good bacteria and stifle the growth of bad bacteria.
Can you really get too much of a good thing? When it comes to fruit, maybe. All fruits are full of vitamins, water, fiber, and antioxidants, but some naturally contain more sugar (and therefore calories) than others. Figs, mangoes, grapes, bananas, and cherries are among the sugariest fruits.
Tip: Chances are, fruit is NOT making you fat (read why here). Still, you can’t eat unlimited quantities and then be surprised when the scale ticks upward. Most women should stick to two servings of fresh fruit a day.
If added sugar isn’t listed in the nutrition facts, you can look for it in the ingedients list, where it often hides under sneaky aliases. Scan for the words “sweetener,” as in corn sweetener; and “syrup,” as in brown rice syrup or malt syrup. Also watch for words ending in -ose, like “glucose.”
If added sugar is one of the first two ingredients in a product, think twice about bringing it home. Ingredients are ordered by volume, so the higher up on the list an ingredient is, the more of it a product contains. This is an easy way to spot foods that include a lot of added sugar. (Naturally-occurring sugar won’t be listed in the ingredients.)
But this method isn’t foolproof. “Sometimes, manufacturers split up sugar into dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, cane crystals and so on, so none of them are the first ingredient, even though if you added them up, they would be,” explains Walter Willett, MD. “You might consider avoiding any product if there is sugar in more than one form.”
Grapefruit also interacts with erectile dysfunction drugs. All of them. Such drugs include Viagra (sildenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), and Levitra (vardenafil).
These drugs, known as the phosphodiesterase inhibitors, already feature a warning about possible prolonged erections, a painful, serious, and potentially damaging side effect known as priapism. Grapefruit could make that worse and it could also cause headaches, flushing, and low blood pressure. One whole grapefruit or a 6- to 7-ounce glass of juice is enough for drug toxicity, according to a 2013 study.
“With grapefruit, you increase the chance of having an emergency visit,” says Dering-Anderson. “My advice is, don’t take grapefruit.”