Recent nutrition research has shown that there’s a link between digestive issues and weight. By eating the right foods, you can trim your belly while simultaneously easing tummy troubles.
These ‘right’ foods actively combat the twin evils of inflammation and imbalanced gut flora (the bacteria in our GI tract). They’re light in carbs, and especially low in fermentable carbs – sugars that lead to excess acid and gas in your gut, such as fructose (fruit sugar) and lactose (milk sugar). Fermentable carbs can also cause inflammation, bloating and belly fat.
In order to help you get a flat tummy while keeping your digestive system humming, the following 10 recommended fat-loss foods feature these stomach-soothing ingredients:
- Fiber is key to keeping things moving in our digestive tract. But certain types are rapidly fermentable and can therefore knock our GI system for a loop, so we focus on foods that contain insoluble fiber and select soluble fibers.
- Magnesium is a mineral that your cells need to make energy and your muscles need to relax; a deficiency in this critical nutrient has been strongly associated with increased inflammation.
- Anti-inflammatory fats, including monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3s, can both help keep inflammation at bay and target the fat in and around your belly.
Fat-Loss Foods #1: Leafy Green Vegetables
Veggies are high in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fiber, and they’re generally low in calories and fat. Our plan focuses on easily digestible vegetables that are low in fermentable carbs, with special attention on those rich in anti-inflammatory magnesium and other important minerals.
Standouts in this category are leafy green vegetables, especially kale, Swiss chard and spinach.
Kale contains more than 45 different antioxidants, many with anti-inflammatory properties. A 1-cup serving of cooked kale, for instance, contains almost a full day’s supply of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, which may inhibit the formation of pro-inflammatory immune cells while promoting the production of anti-inflammatory immune cells. And kale is one of the best nondairy sources of calcium.
Swiss chard contains syringic acid, which has received special attention recently for its ability to stabilize blood sugar. This helps prevent the cravings that lead us to overeat and gain weight. One cup of cooked chard contains 150 milligrams of magnesium, almost half your daily recommended allowance.
Spinach is also high in magnesium, with 157 milligrams per cup when it’s cooked. It’s also chock-full of anti-inflammatory antioxidants that help protect our eyes, skin, bones and immunity.
Fat-Loss Foods #2: Bananas and Blueberries
Some diet plans forbid fruits because they’re high in sugars. But nature’s own desserts are also bursting with antioxidants, fiber and other healthful ingredients.
That said, fruits without excess fructose (a sugar that can be hard on the digestive tract) may be better for our tummies. Luckily, many refreshing choices have a balanced glucose-to-fructose ratio. The best? Bananas and blueberries.
We often hear that bananas are too starchy and sweet to be part of a lean diet. But they’re actually carb-light and packed with filling fiber. And they’re rich in anti-inflammatory magnesium, as well as vitamin B6 (which helps even out blood sugar) and potassium (which contributes to lower blood pressure).
Blueberries regularly make the lists of “healthiest foods” or “superfoods.” Low in fat and high in fiber, they’re filling and help relieve constipation. But what really makes these tiny fruits stand out is the dizzying list of phytonutrients they contain, including anti-inflammatory anthocyanins, tannins, and other antioxidants that destroy the free radicals associated with everything from wrinkles to colon cancer. Blueberry antioxidants may also help improve memory.
Fat-Loss Foods #3: Quinoa and Oats
Sadly, almost all grains are carb-dense and therefore may be bad for your tummy, especially in the quantities we’re used to eating them. But some high-fiber grains are also relatively carb-light and low in fermentable carbs.
Slightly nutty and chewy, quinoa is actually not a true grain but more closely related to beets and spinach. It contains just 21 grams of carbs per 100 grams. Quinoa is also high in fiber and protein, both of which make it a satisfying superfood. In fact, along with soy, quinoa is one of the few plant-based complete proteins (meaning it provides our body with all of the amino acids it needs to function). It’s also naturally gluten-free and contains thiamin, vitamin B6, iron, folate, zinc, potassium and selenium, as well as anti-inflammatory magnesium. All these nutrients plus 5 grams of fiber in one cup (cooked), and for only 220 calories!
Oats are another favorite. Oat fiber contains beta-glucans, which are good for appetite control, glucose control, and healthy gut bacteria. Eating a whole grain oat cereal once a day for 12 weeks decreased waist circumference by more than an inch, according to a 2012 study of more than 200 adults published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Fat Loss Foods #4: Nuts and Nut Butters
Nuts are concentrated nutrition, with protein, unsaturated fats, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals all jammed into a tiny, portable and delicious package. The mix of protein, fat and fiber makes nuts a great source of sustained energy. In one Purdue University study, people who ate peanuts or peanut butter for a snack stayed satisfied for 2-1⁄2 hours, while people who ate other snacks got hungry again within just half an hour.
Nuts are also great sources of monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to target visceral fat. Walnuts in particular also contain a significant amount of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats.
When buying nut butters, get the all-natural types that don’t have hydrogenated fats. If the contents look like they need a good stir, it’s probably a natural product (because the oil separates). You can also make them at home by blending nuts and a little salt in a food processor; if you like it a little runnier, add some olive oil.
Fat-Loss Foods #5: Seeds
Like nuts, seeds are great sources of low-fermentable fiber and anti-inflammatory fats, along with protein to keep you feeling full. They’re also rich in antioxidants that can protect against cell damage from chronic inflammation.
Chia, pumpkin and flaxseeds, for example, all contain anti-inflammatory magnesium and healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds also provide calcium (1 ounce of chia seeds has more calcium than half a glass of milk!). Pumpkin seeds are high in glutamate, a substance that helps your body manufacture GABA, a brain chemical that reduces stress. And flaxseeds contain lignans, a type of phytochemical that may help protect against certain cancers. (Whole flaxseeds pass through your body undigested, so be sure to buy ground flaxseeds or grind your own with a coffee grinder.)
Fat-Loss Foods #6: Healthy Fats
Research points to two types of fats that we should be eating more of: omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids.
The anti-inflammatory omega-3s we want are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). We can get them from fish, or our bodies can make a limited amount from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), found in oils such as flaxseed and walnut.
Monounsaturated fatty acids, otherwise known as MUFAs, are found in avocados, nut oils and olive oil. They may reduce intestinal inflammation along with “bad” cholesterol levels, and maintain or increase “good” cholesterol.
Best of all, they can help your quest for a flat belly. When overweight people we’re put on different diets with the same number of calories, the group that consumed the most MUFAs lost the most belly fat, according to a 2007 Spanish study.
Fat-Loss Foods #7: Lean Protein
The secret to weight loss on low-carb weight diets may not be the carbs at all, but rather the protein they’re replaced with. In one 2012 study at the University of Georgia, overweight women and men who ate a high-protein diet lost more body fat than those following a high-carb diet.
Protein has been shown to help you feel full longer, so you end up eating less throughout the day. In addition, if you’re exercising to burn calories as well as dieting to restrict them, eating protein provides your body with the building blocks to create muscle during your workouts.
It’s important to choose lean protein sources, though; to avoid too much pro-inflammatory saturated fat. Some good examples include eggs and egg whites, fish (especially those high in omega-3 fats), shellfish, skinless poultry, lean cuts of beef and pork, and tofu.
Fat-Loss Foods #8: Greek Yogurt
All yogurts are good sources of calcium, protein, potassium, zinc and vitamins B6 and B12, and most have probiotic effects on the digestive system. In a 12-week study at the University of Tennessee, participants who replaced some foods with yogurt lost more body fat and had a “markedly greater reduction in waist circumference” than those who didn’t.
Greek yogurt has twice the protein content of regular yogurts and is lower in lactose – a plus for anyone who might be lactose-intolerant. It makes an easy, filling snack on its own and can stand in for fattening cream in many recipes.
Fat-Loss Foods #9: Coconut Milk
Coconut is rich in vitamins and minerals, along medium-chain triglycerides – which make it of particular interest to those of us with tummy issues. Compared to long-chain fats (the kind in most other plant and animal foods), they’re more easily digested and less likely to get stored as body fat.
Coconut milk, made by pressing coconut juice mixed with coconut meat, is a great lactose-free alternative to regular milk. Because it’s high in fat, we suggest that you go for low-fat or light versions and limit yourself to 1⁄4 cup per serving. You may also want to look for varieties that are fortified with calcium.
Fat-Loss Foods #10: Ginger
Most of us are familiar with ginger as a remedy for nausea, but it’s also an anti-inflammatory and strengthens the muscle movements of your GI tract. When volunteers took ginger tablets, their stomachs emptied faster and muscle contractions in the abdomen were more frequent, according to a 2011 Taiwanese study. That’s a great combination for creating a calm, happy digestive system.
Ginger is very common in Asian food, but can be used in a wide variety of dishes – you can even grate ginger root into salads, stir-fries and sauces. Powdered ginger, ginger candy and ginger tea can also help your tummy, but fresh is better in cooking.