5 Food Fixes for Flat Abs

You can’t down 3,000 calories a day and expect to lose your belly, but calories aren’t the entire story. Certain foods seem to pack pounds on the midsection: Last fall, experts from the ongoing Framingham Nutrition Studies reported that women who ate almost 400 fewer daily calories but chose the least nutritious foods had a 2 1/2 times higher risk of abdominal obesity than those who ate that much more but made better choices. They also had dramatically higher risk of such serious health issues as type 2 diabetes and heart attacks, says Barbara Millen, DPH, the study’s director of nutritional research. You don’t have to “diet”: Just fold these strategies into your life and watch ab flab pare down.

1. Eat fruits and vegetables. Especially orange ones. Women trimmed their waists by replacing refined grains like white bread and simple or added sugar with carbs from fruits and vegetables, according to the latest review from Copenhagen University Hospital.

Besides packing in the fiber, which keeps you feeling full longer, researchers suspect it’s the rich antioxidants, such as vitamin C and beta-carotene, that ward off ab fat. Carrots, cantaloupe, squash, and peaches are great sources of beta-carotene, while oranges, berries, and kiwi provide a good dose of C. To keep calories down, pick veggies, like bell peppers, before fruits, and choose fruits over juice.

2. Get more selenium. This cancer-fighting mineral is also linked to lower rates of abdominal obesity, according to a survey of more than 8,000 Americans. People with low blood levels of selenium and other antioxidants had bigger waistlines than those with higher levels.

Selenium is found in many foods, but it can be hard to know if you’re getting the recommended 55 mcg a day because amounts vary based on the soil in which food is grown and the feed livestock consume. To meet your requirement, try a supplement or eat a varied diet. Also, opt for foods grown in different areas: such as grains from the Midwest, Vermont cheeses, and nuts from California.

3. Add some protein. Eating more protein keeps you full and boosts energy, which leads to overall weight loss and – for those over 40 –  reduced ab fat in particular, according to findings from Skidmore College and Copenhagen University Hospital.

But studies show that eating high amounts of protein may stress the kidneys as they work to eliminate the excess, which can also cause calcium loss. Aim to get 25% of your calories from protein (if you eat 2,000 calories a day, that’s 500 from protein). Just make lean choices such as low-fat yogurt, fat-free milk, fish, and poultry. Nuts are another great source but can be high in calories: Have just five 1-ounce servings a week (an ounce is about 24 almonds, 18 cashews, or 35 peanuts).

4. Drink a glass of wine a day. Don’t start drinking wine just to fight ab fat, but if you enjoy a glass with dinner, it’s a great benefit. Some studies even suggest that light to moderate drinking protects against female midsection weight gain, compared with teetotaling. Based on a review of data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics, one 4-ounce glass of red or white wine most days a week (up to 20 a month) seems to be best.

More, however, is not better. That extra glass of wine – or even just one cocktail – adds inches, found the Copenhagen study, while other research implicates beer in the proverbial “beer belly.”

5. Eat the right fats. Research from Spain shows it’s easier to stay slim eating monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil) and omega-3s (found mostly in fish but also in flaxseed and walnut oils and tofu), while omega-6 fats (prevalent in cereals, corn oil, baked goods, and eggs) caused ab fat to pile on.

Fats that should be eliminated completely: trans fats, which have no nutritional value and are mostly found in calorie-dense baked goods and chips. In a Wake Forest University study, monkeys eating a typical American diet for 6 years gained the human equivalent of 10 pounds more when the fat they ate was all trans fat, compared with those eating monounsaturated fat. Worse, “30% more fat was added in the abdominal region, and they had early signs of diabetes,” says researcher Kylie Kavanagh, DVM.

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