You hit the gym religiously, go through countless reps of sit-ups and stability exercises and log tons of time on the treadmill—but you still don’t know how to get abs. Not even a one-pack. It’s disheartening, we know.
The saying “abs are made in the kitchen” is cliché by now, but its foundation is still true. It doesn’t matter how strong your core is, no one will be able to see your abs if you don’t do something about the pesky layer of lard that’s sitting on top of it. To beat the belly bulge and get those abs you’ve been dreaming of, you’ll not only have ditch the junk food, you’ll also have to incorporate fare into your diet that boosts metabolism, torches belly fat, wards off future weight gain, and banishes bloat. Down them all to trim inches from your waistline and make your abs pop—courtesy of this Eat This, Not That! special report.
RELATED: The 7-day diet that melts your belly fat fast.
Even if you eat well and exercise, constantly pulling your hair out can prevent your abs from showing. When we stress out, the body starts pumping out the hormone cortisol, which encourages the body to store cholesterol-raising fat around the midsection. The good news is that vitamin C-rich foods like peppers, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts can help keep you trim. How does eating the produce squash stress? The nutrient can lower levels of cortisol during stressful situations, helping those abs take center stage.
This breakfast favorite contains a nutrient called choline that boosts metabolism and may help turn off the genes responsible for belly fat storage. A study in the International Journal of Obesity revealed that eating eggs for breakfast instead of a high-carb dish like a bagel can make it easier to lose weight—likely due to egg’s satiety value. Make hard-boiled eggs or whip up a batch of mini frittatas so you can reap the nutrient-packed, ab-shredding benefits on the go. Bored with boiled eggs? No problem! Try any of these fat-burning ways to eat eggs to keep your healthy diet fun and delicious.
A bloated belly can make even the most toned stomach look a bit paunchy. Fight back against the gas and water retention with bananas. One Anaerobe study found that women who ate a banana twice daily as a pre-meal snack for 60 days reduced their belly-bloat by 50 percent! Not only does the fruit increase bloat-fighting bacteria in the stomach, it’s also a good source of potassium, which can help diminish water retention. Once you’ve kicked the bloat to the curb, you can hit the beach with confidence and show off that hard-earned body!
Help your six-pack show its full potential with a daily serving of milk and vitamin D-fortified yogurt. A 2013 Nutrition Journal study found consuming a combination of calcium and vitamin D can significantly decrease visceral (abdominal) fat and lipid absorption in overweight populations. To come to this finding, study participants were divided into two groups: The control group was fed a 500-calorie diet without vitamin supplementation. In addition to having 500-calories cut from their diet, the second group was given a 600 mg calcium supplement and a 25 IU vitamin D supplement. At the end of the 12-week experiment, the group who had taken the supplements had lost 2.6 percent of their body fat and 1.1 pounds of visceral fat while the control group only experienced a 1.5 percent decrease in overall body fat and a loss of 0.4 pounds of belly fat.
Sipping green tea can make your time spent at the gym more worthwhile. A Journal of Health Sciences study found that the tea increased belly fat burning at rest and even during exercise. What makes the drink such a powerful ab-chiseler? This brew contains catechins, an antioxidant that hinders the storage of belly fat. Not a fan of tea? Munch on fresh pears instead. The fruit is another good source of the antioxidant.
Double-team your belly bulge by eating lean cuts of turkey and chicken every day. A study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that eating protein not only boosts satiety and helps people eat less at subsequent meals, it also has a high thermogenic effect compared to fats and carbs. Translation: Your body actually burns off a fair amount of the meat’s calories as it digests. For the best flab-frying results, experts suggest consuming 0.8 to one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight each day.
Whole Wheat Pasta
You know brown is better, but do you know why? It’s because whole wheat contains three parts of the grain, all nutrient rich and fiber-filling. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who followed a diet rich in whole grains saw a significant decrease in body fat in the abdominal region. You can also whip up a pasta made with lentils, chickpeas, black beans, or quinoa. Before your next shopping trip, check out our guide to the best pastas for weight loss!
Besides serving up a third of the day’s fiber, a one-cup serving of this highly nutritious, naturally sweet veggie contains 30 percent of your daily vitamin C needs. The body uses the nutrient to form muscle and blood vessels, and it can even boost fat oxidization, according to Arizona State University researchers.
Lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans — they’re all magic bullets for revealing abs. In one four-week Spanish study, researchers found that eating a calorie-restricted diet that includes four weekly servings of legumes aids weight loss more effectively than an equivalent diet that doesn’t include them. Those who consumed the legume-rich diet also saw improvements in their “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure. To reap the benefits at home, work them into your diet throughout the week. Toss them with more of the best salad ingredients for weight loss!
The simple bean is actually an advanced fat-burning, muscle-building machine. “Beans are a great source of protein that includes fiber,” says Leah Kaufman, a New York City-based registered dietitian. “That’s going to ensure your blood sugar doesn’t spike and will give you energy to build the muscle you want.” One cup of black beans has 12 grams of protein and 9 grams of fiber; they’re also rich in folate, a B vitamin that stokes muscle growth, and copper, which strengthens tendons.
Yes, oats are loaded with carbs, but the release of those sugars is slowed by fiber, and because oats also have 10 grams of protein per half-cup serving, they deliver steady, ab-muscle-friendly energy. And that fiber is soluble, which lowers the risk of heart disease. The éminence grise of health food, oats garnered the FDA’s first seal of approval. For some crazy-delicious ways to add oats to your morning routine, check out these overnight oats recipes for weight loss!
Quinoa is higher in protein than any other grain, and it packs a hefty dose of heart-healthy, unsaturated fats. “Quinoa is also a great source of fiber and B vitamins,” says Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., R.D. a professor of nutrition at the University of Louisville. Try quinoa in the morning. It has twice the protein of most cereals, and fewer carbs.
Quinoa, make some space at the table—there’s a new ancient grain on the block. Kamut is a grain native to the Middle East. Rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, it’s also high in protein while low in calories. A half-cup serving has 30% more protein than regular wheat (six grams), with only 140 calories. Eating kamut reduces cholesterol, blood sugar and cytokines, which cause inflammation throughout the body, a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found. Toss it into salads or eat it as a side dish on its own.
They’re are a delicious, phytonutrient-rich snack. But the true cherry bomb is the tart cherry—not the sort you’re used to seeing each summer in bunches at the supermarket. In most of the country you’ll find them dried, frozen, or canned. But they’re worth seeking out because they are a true superpower fruit. A study at the University of Michigan found that rats fed tart cherries showed a 9 percent belly fat reduction over rats fed a standard diet. Moreover, researchers noted that the cherries alter the expression of fat genes!
Apples are one of the very best sources of fiber, which means you should eat them at every opportunity. A recent study at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that for every 10-gram increase in soluble fiber eaten per day, belly fat was reduced by 3.7 percent over five years. And a study at the University of Western Australia found that the Pink Lady variety had the highest level of antioxidant flavonoids—a fat-burning compound—of any apple.
The king of slow carbs (meaning they’re digested slowly and keep you feeling fuller and energized longer), sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber and nutrients that can help you burn fat. The magic ingredient here are carotenoids, antioxidants which stabilize blood-sugar levels and lower insulin resistance, which prevents calories from being converted into fat. And their high vitamin profile (including A, C and B6) gives you more energy to burn at the gym.
In addition to warding off prostate, breast, lung and skin cancers, this flowery vegetable can also help you whittle your middle. According to experts, broccoli contains a phytonutrient called sulforaphane that increases testosterone and fights off body fat storage. It’s also rich in vitamin C (a mere cup of the stuff can help you hit your daily mark), a nutrient that can lower levels of cortisol during stressful situations, helping your abs take center stage. Its cousins in the cruciferous-vegetable family are also excellent carbs for your abs: Chinese cabbage, kale, cauliflower, arugula and more.
A cup of blueberries has 21 grams of carbs, but they couldn’t be better for you. Not only are they loaded with polyphenols—chemical compounds that prevent fat from forming—they actively burn belly fat, spot-reducing it! A University of Michigan study found that rats that ate blueberry powder as part of their meals lost belly fat and had lower cholesterol, even when they ate a high-fat diet. It’s theorized that the catechins in blueberries activate the fat-burning gene in belly-fat cells. Additionally, blueberries are tiny little muscle-builders. Their skins are rich in ursolic acid, a chemical which researchers at the University of Iowa found prevents muscle breakdown in lab animals.
Like quinoa, buckwheat is gluten-free and a complete source of protein, meaning it supplies all nine essential muscle-building amino acids the body cannot produce on its own, says registered dietitian Isabel Smith. But what makes this relative of the rhubarb such a nutritional rock star is its magnesium and fiber content. “Fiber slows digestion, which wards off blood sugar spikes and hunger and helps maintain blood sugar control—all important keys to weight loss and management,” explains Smith. Studies have also shown that buckwheat may improve circulation and lower cholesterol.
This nutrient-dense bread is loaded with folate-filled lentils and good-for-you sprouted grains and seeds like barley and millet. Like quinoa, sprouted bread has been shown to increase the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals. It has this effect on important nutrients like vitamin C, a nutrient that counteracts stress hormones that trigger abdominal fat storage, essential amino acids that aid muscle growth and belly-filling fiber. Translation: Abs for you.
This mild, nutty whole grain is a complete protein that’s rich in vitamins and fiber, just like quinoa, says Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, a Pennsylvania-based corporate dietitian. What makes it nutritionally superior is its calcium and ab-building iron content. “Teff provides nearly four times as much calcium and two times as much iron as quinoa,” says Miller. Don’t underestimate these nutrients; their impact on your body is bigger than you would expect. “Diets rich in calcium have been associated with lower body weight and reduced weight gain over time. Calcium also helps keep our bones and teeth strong and may reduce the risk of colon cancer,” she explains. Teff can be cooked and added to vegetables, salads, soups, and casseroles, or you can enjoy a bowl of it for breakfast. For more non-diary sources of calcium, check out these 10 ways to get your calcium outside the dairy aisle!
Quinoa and amaranth are the ab-carving Wonder Twins of grains. Both are gluten-free sources of complete proteins and have nearly the same amount of fiber and protein. But amaranth has superpowers of its own: It has more anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats than quinoa, four times the calcium (an electrolyte that promotes satiety) and 20 percent more magnesium, a nutrient that may aid weight loss thanks to its ability to control blood sugar and ward off hunger,” says registered dietitian Isabel Smith. Amaranth makes a perfect substitute for your morning oatmeal. Alternatively, it can be used like quinoa in salads and side dishes.
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Packed with protein, crammed with calcium, popping with probiotics, yogurt has all the makings of the best weight loss foods. How would you like to take all the great weight-loss results you’ve just read about—and double them? That’s what happens when you supplement your diet with a combination of vitamin D and calcium, according to an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study. Just four weeks into the 12-week experiment, subjects who had taken these two nutrients—found in abundance in some yogurts—lost two times more fat than the other group! To get similar results at home, start your day with one of these best yogurts for weight loss!
It looks unassuming, but Popeye’s favorite veggie can help take your calorie-burning potential to the next level. The green is overflowing with protein (just one cup of the steamed variety has as much protein as a medium hard-boiled egg), a nutrient that aids post-pump muscle recovery and growth. And remember: The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn at rest! What’s more, the leafy green is also rich in thylakoids, a compound that’s been shown to significantly reduce cravings and promote weight loss.
Packed with bloat-banishing fiber, low in calories, high in muscle-building protein, wheat bran is definitely a nutritional champion. Made from the dense, outer hull of wheat grains, it adds a sweet, nutty flavor to homemade muffins, waffles, pancakes and breads. It also makes a good addition to hot and cold cereals. If you’re really trying to boost your dietary fiber, consume it solo, porridge-style, with a sprinkling of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey.
The vibrant tubers are called superfoods for good reason: Carrots are rich in carotenoids, powerful antioxidants which help stabilize blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance, which prevents calories from being converted into fat.
Or to-not? That is the question. As a prime source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), canned light tuna is one of the best fish for weight loss, especially for your belly. One study published in the Nutrients journal showed that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation had the profound ability to turn off abdominal fat genes. And you’ll find two types of fatty acids in cold water fish and fish oils—DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). But what about harmful mercury? Mercury levels in tuna vary by species; generally speaking, the larger and leaner the fish, the higher the mercury level. But canned chunk light tuna, harvested from the smallest fish, is considered a “low mercury fish” and can—and should!—be enjoyed two to three times a week (or up to 12 ounces), according to the FDA’s most recent guidelines.