Are they even a thing? And should you be eating them, if you're looking to lose fat? Three nutritionists share their takes.
If you’re Googling ‘flat stomach foods’, the likelihood is you’re looking to lose stomach fat and want to know what foods to be piling your plate with to make sure you’re getting the best results.
While there’s no doubt there’s unnecessary societal pressure for women to lose weight, stomach fat in particular can pose a high health risk. Just last month, a new Journal of the American Heart Association study found that, for women, carrying excess stomach fat, rather than carrying weight all over, may be worse for your heart health.
Studying 500,000 people aged 40 to 69 in the UK, the research found that women who carried more stomach fat had a 10% to 20% greater risk of suffering from a heart attack than those who carried weight all over.
Visceral fat, otherwise known as the fat that lies below your skin and cushions your organs, can actually play a part in a whole variety of harmful health conditions, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes and breast cancer.
Keen to lose a little stomach fat? Let the qualified experts help, and remember, this article is not a replacement for seeing a medical expert or nutritionist to aid your weight loss journey.
Flat stomach foods: so, do they exist?
First things first: there are a whole load of things that affect how women carry fat, and particularly, how we carry stomach fat. There are factors you can’t control, like your genetics, hormones and metabolism, and then, of course, the things you can mix up, such as your daily movement and what foods you’re eating.
So, can what foods you eat affect your levels of stomach fat? Sure – but it’s not quite called that. “While some foods are more nutritionally dense and beneficial for your overall health than others, I wouldn’t say there’s such thing as a ‘flat stomach food'”, shares Lauren Windas, registered nutritionist at Ardere.
“However, in order to achieve a flat stomach and the body composition you desire, your focus should be on eating in a healthy calorie deficit and enjoying a balanced nutritious diet, as well as strength training, running or exercising regularly,” she goes on.
How do I create a healthy calorie deficit and lose stomach fat?
Weight loss, once you get your head around it, is actually a pretty simple formula. According to Windas, making sure your body is using more energy than you are consuming is the the simplest way to lose weight.
This is called a calorie deficit.
“A healthy calorie deficit will allow you to acquire enough calories to keep the body healthy,” Windas shares. She’d recommend a deficit of 500 calories daily. “That means women who consume the NHS guideline of 2000 calories a day to maintain their weight would want to consume 1500 calories a day to be in a deficit,” she explains.
Don’t dip any lower or you’ll struggle with focus, lacking energy levels and risk malnutrition, she warns.
Why is a calorie deficit important for weight loss?
Essentially, as it means your body begins to breakdown its fat stores to use for energy, the nutritionist explains. “As a result of this, you lose weight,” she explains.
Do note here: weight loss should be about making sustainable changes, she shares. Don’t be tempted by faddy diets – they won’t work long term.
I eat healthily but don’t have a flat stomach. Do I need to worry?
Short answer: probably not.
While this will vary on a case-by-case basis, generally speaking, if you know you’re eating well and still have a slightly rounded stomach, you’re all good.
“Remember, being healthy is not solely defined by having a flat stomach,” Windas explains. She points out that there are people who have flat stomachs that aren’t healthy but simply have a fast metabolism. “Remember, what you look like is not a marker of health status.”
10 flat stomach foods that could help with weight loss
Aim for: nutritionally dense foods and meals that are also high protein.
1. Green leafy vegetables
Windas recommends kale, spinach and chard. “While being low in calories, these vegetables are packed full of quality nutrition; plenty of vitamins and minerals that are supportive for our immune system and our overall health,” she shares.
Nutritionist Lorna Driver-Davies from NutriCentre agrees, adding that eating plenty of greens will help by keeping your bowels moving. Her favourites are broccoli, green beans and spinach.
Windas also recommends you include plenty of protein in your weight loss plan, to help keep you satiated for long periods of time. “Eggs are high in protein and also very cost effective,” she explains.
Nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville adds here that the research agrees. “Research showed that leucine, one of the essential amino acids found in eggs, can help with weight loss by stabilising blood sugar levels and encouraging the body to shed fat,” she shares.
Aka, is porridge good for you if you’re looking to lose weight? Oh yes. “Oats are a great staple to begin your day with,” Windas explains. The nutritionist explains that they’re a great source of fibre, which keeps you fuller for longer and helps to stabilise your energy levels for long periods of time. “They make an ideal choice for those looking to lose weight because you remain satiated and therefore don’t tend to snack throughout the rest of your morning,” she adds.
Fun fact: Windas always recommends dusting some cinnamon over porridge or a snack, particularly for those who have a sweet tooth. Why? Well, because cinnamon has been shown to reduce sugar cravings and has a naturally sweet taste itself, helping to curb that sweet tooth and consumption of energy-dense high sugar foods.
“It’s also great for digestion, is anti-fungal, and will keep your sugar cravings at bay,” adds Driver-Davies.
Berries are a great go-to fruit because you can enjoy them for snacking or adding onto a slice of toast or porridge, explains Windas.
“Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and cranberries are all very high in antioxidants and are a low GI fruit,” she explains. “This means they score low on the glycaemic index (GI) and metabolise into sugar in the bloodstream much slower than other fruits.” Neat.
6. Wholemeal bread
Carbs aren’t the enemy and, ultimately, provide your body with the energy it needs to survive. “Wholegrain alternatives are arguably better than white, as they release energy more slowly,” says Glenville.
7. Healthy fats
Think avocado, chia seeds, flax, olive oil and nuts.
“Getting enough good oils in your diet can be helpful for reducing bloating – they help keep your bowels moving by lubricating your stools,” explains Driver-Davies.
“Fish is good quality protein,” explains doctor Glenville. “It slows down the rate that the stomach processes food and delays the passage of the carbohydrates through it,” she shares.
Fun fact: as soon as you add a protein (be it animal or vegetable) to a carbohydrate, you change it into a slower releasing carbohydrate, which will keep your sugar levels steady and energy up.
No, you don’t need to eat it on the reg, but celery is a great veg to snack on and include in meals, if you like it, as it’s high in potassium, which can help ease bloating, explains Driver-Davies.
As above on the healthy fats point, nuts can be a good food to include in your diet if you’re looking to lose weight as they contain – yep, you guessed it – healthy fats.
Just be careful with portion size. They are high calorie, as a result, so can halt weight loss efforts if overeaten.
Did you know? Eating probiotic-rich foods are key for a healthy gut, which in turn, is key for maintaining a healthy weight, explains Driver-Davies. “Try live yoghurts and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and miso,” she reccomends.
“Certain herbs like peppermint and ginger can aid the digestive system,” explains Driver-Davies. Not sure why this is important for weight loss? Well, simply, because if your body isn’t digesting food properly, your whole system can get out of balance, contributing to bloating and difficulty losing weight, shares the nutritionist.
Asparagus is a low-calorie and high-nutrient food, just like the green veg mentioned above. It’s also high in both vitamin E and C, key for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Did you know? Fennel has been used to treat gastrointestinal issues in Chinese, Indian, Egyptian and Greek medicine for centuries, shares doctor Glenville. “The tiny seeds are great for stimulating digestion and their anti-inflammatory properties help to relax contracted intestinal muscles, which can contribute to keeping your stomach looking flat,” she shares.
Aside from being packed with vitamin C, lemons are a great way to battle fluid retention, which can leave you feeling swollen. Try adding a slice of lemon to hot water in the morning for an easy way to get more of the fruit into your diet.
Bottom line: You’ll be most successful if you opt for a weight loss plan that works for you, that includes foods you actually enjoy that don’t leave you feeling deprived.