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If your belly is sapping your body confidence, don't despair. There's a good chance you don't even need to lose belly fat - your puffy midsection might actually just be bloating. This is especially true if you're a woman over the age of 40, since one of the worst culprits for belly bloat is a slow digestive system - a problem that worsens as we age.
So, how do you get rid of bloating? There's good news: Beating bloat, easing digestion, and bringing back your flat belly can be achieved with a few simple food swaps and lifestyle tweaks. Incorporate the following flat belly foods and menu swaps into your routine, and your clothes should fit more comfortably within just a few days.
Add: Two kinds of fibre
Why it beats belly bloat: Constipation distends your belly, but one easy way to get rid of it is by starting each morning with a breakfast that guarantees your body a daily dose of fibre. This gets the digestive system moving within a day or so and keeps it that way. Based on a study of breakfast cereals, University of Toronto researchers say that consuming two kinds of fibre at once is most effective.
The scientists found that participants had an easier time staying regular with a cereal that contained both bulky insoluble fibre and gel-like soluble fibre. The two types work together to pull water into your colon and speed up elimination, explains food science and nutrition expert Joanne Slavin. The result? You look and feel lighter.
Good food fix: You’ll find both types of fibre in porridge. No time to cook a batch before heading out the door? Try these stress-free, porridge recipes.
Subtract: Refined carbs
Why it beats belly bloat: Loading up on white bread, pasta, or sugary baked goods is a surefire path to Bloatsville. Why? “The body breaks refined carbs down into glucose, or sugar, very quickly,” explains nutrition expert Amy Shapiro. Some of that glucose gets used as energy, but whatever you don’t need right away gets stored in the muscles and liver for later. The problem? “When we store glucose, we store each molecule along with two molecules of water,” Shapiro says. That’s a recipe for water retention, which can leave you feeling puffy.
Good food fix: Swap refined carbs for complex ones (like whole grains or sweet potatoes). They’re higher in fibre and don’t prompt the body to store as much water, so they’re less likely to cause bloat, Shapiro explains. If you’re used to making white rice or pasta because they’re fast, try a quick-cooking whole grain like quinoa. Have dinner on the table in just 30mins with this quinoa bowl recipe.
Add: Potassium-rich foods
Why they beat belly bloat: High-potassium fare helps your body get rid of excess water weight, minimising your middle. The extra fluid is typically present because the two main minerals that control the amount of water in your body-potassium and sodium-have gotten out of balance. When your sodium level is too high, your tissues hold on to more fluid.
You can restore your sodium-potassium equilibrium by upping your potassium intake to an optimum 2,300 mg per day. Make an effort to load up on produce-rich fruits and veggies (like the ones below) along with lentils, milk, and orange juice. As you rebalance your system, you'll flush out the extra sodium along with the water. Presto! Less puffiness.
One thing to keep in mind: Food is a safe source of potassium, but supplements are not. They can cause potassium to build up in your body and potentially lead to abnormal heart rhythms and even heart attack, especially in people with kidney or heart problems, says dietitian Leslie Bonci.
Good food fix: You probably know bananas are loaded with potassium. But potatoes have even more.
Why it beats belly bloat: Sodium makes you retain water, puffing out your belly. And most of us eat more than twice as much as we should - topping 3,400 mg a day, rather than the recommended 2,000 mg.
Good food fix: Pay attention to the sodium count in packaged foods. They account for around 70 percent of the sodium in our diets. Then try these smart tips for adopting a lower-sodium diet.
Add: Peppermint tea
Why it beats belly bloat: Sip the herbal brew when a too-big meal leaves your belly feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. Peppermint helps speed digestion thanks to compounds that promote muscle contractions in the gut, findings show. “I use it all the time to ease indigestion and gas,” says nutrition expert Frances Largeman-Roth.
Good food fix: Use store-bought peppermint tea bags, or steep fresh mint leaves in hot water for five minutes.
Why it beats belly bloat: Consider taking a break from the booze if bloating is an issue. “Alcohol is an inflammatory agent, and it can cause gas,” Shapiro says. It’s also super dehydrating, which prompts the body to hold on to as much water as possible. “That can lead to visible bloat,” she adds.
Good food fix: Avoid alcohol altogether if you need to de-puff fast. And next time around? Enjoy a lower sugar option like a glass of wine or tequila with a squeeze of lime. Down a glass of water before and after your drink to stay hydrated, too, Shapiro recommends.
Subtract: Sugar alcohols
Why it beats belly bloat: We don't completely digest low-kJ sweeteners, which are often found in flavoured waters and low-carb, diabetic, and sugar-free foods. As a result, bacteria in the large intestine ferment them, causing gas, bloating, and even diarrhoea.
Good food fix: Check food labels for commonly used sugar alcohols like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and lacitol. If you choose to use a sweetener, stick with small amounts of natural ones instead.
Add: More fluids
Why it beats belly bloat: Staying well hydrated supports the other ways you're trying to flatten your tummy, says Bonci. For example, when there's enough fluid present in your system, dual-fibre foods like oats are better able to pull liquid into your lower intestine and ease constipation. "Women who don't drink sufficient fluids can get that blown-up belly feeling, despite all their other efforts to get rid of it," warns Bonci.
How much fluid do you need? Aim for at least 8 glasses of liquid each day, plus plenty of fluid-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables. You can meet your quota with any liquid, including water, milk, juice, coffee, and tea. (Though not alcohol, which has a dehydrating effect.)
Good food fix: Tap water is an excellent option because it has no kilojoules, salt, sugar, or additives. And it's free! If you’re not a fan of the taste, jazz things up with this bloat-busting water recipe.
Subtract: Lollies and bubbly drinks
Why it beats belly bloat: Once air from any source reaches your digestive system, you experience it as gas and a distended belly. Eating or drinking quickly, sipping through a straw, sucking on hard candy, and chewing gum can make you swallow air. The bubbles in carbonated drinks can puff you out, too.
Good food fix: "When eating, chew slowly with your mouth closed," says Bonci. Trade carbonated drinks for flat ones like water or unsweetened iced tea, and lose the gum and lollies.
Add: Probiotic yoghurt
Why it beats belly bloat: An imbalance of bacteria in your gut can cause your digestive system to slow down - leaving you backed up and bloated, findings show. But yoghurts containing belly-friendly bacteria like probiotics can help. The bugs seem to tame tummy bloat by causing an improvement in intestinal mobility, thereby relieving constipation, suggests a recent review.
Good food fix: Eat 120g of plain yoghurt containing live, active cultures daily.
Subtract: Raw produce
Why it beats belly bloat: Fresh fruits and vegetables are healthy, but they're also high-volume foods that take up room in your stomach. That can make your belly look like it’s sticking out more.
Good food fix: Spread your fresh produce consumption over the day, so at any sitting you're not eating more than one-third of the recommended daily total of 4½ cups. You can also shrink produce by cooking it, creating a more compact serving, Bonci says.
Why it beats belly bloat: It can help you steer clear of bloat-inducing snack foods like sugary cookies or salty chips. “Eating it at meals and snacks helps people feel fuller longer, so they’re less likely to reach for something unhealthy,” says Largeman-Roth.
Good food fix: Pairing your protein source with fibre-rich foods will keep you full even longer.
Subtract: Sugary coffee drinks
Why it beats belly bloat: That saccharine latte might give you a boost, but it’s not doing your belly any favours. Some coffee drinks can be sweetened with artificial sweeteners, which contain FODMAPs that are known to cause bloating.
Good food fix: Trade the fancy drink for a simple, sugar-free pick-me-up like green tea, Largeman-Roth recommends.
Add: Spices like ginger and fennel seed
Why they beat belly bloat: Both contain compounds that stimulate digestion and relieve gas to help your belly flatten out, Shapiro. As an added bonus? Relying on spices for flavour helps you cut back on the salt, which can also keep bloat at bay.
Good food fix: Steep fennel seeds or fresh grated ginger in hot water to make a bloat-banishing tea.
Add: Fatty fish
Why it beats belly bloat: Eating salmon, tuna, mackerel, or herring could help you shed more fat - including belly fat. The omega-3s found in fatty fish seems to boost kilojoule burning and promote the formation of metabolism-revving brown fat, recent research suggests.
Good food fix: Fish doesn’t just work for lunch or dinner. Help yourself to some salmon in the A.M. by tossing it in a breakfast wrap.
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