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Top 10 Best Foods for a Flat Belly (And 5 to Avoid)

Detrick Snyder
woman with flat belly in jeans
A wider midsection may just be stubborn belly fat, bloating caused by food, or it could be a harbinger of health issues down the line.

Regardless, if you have tried slimming down but the weight just won’t come off, try these foods as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle for a toned belly.

This list features foods high in fiber, healthy fats, and protein. Some have specific nutrients that may help you burn fat off. 

Eat these alongside regular, full-body exercises to feel great, optimize your metabolism, and lose the midline inches.

1. Leafy Greens

Green leafy vegetables are probably one of the most important foods you can eat for a flat belly.

Spinach, kale, chard, broccoli, and all the other related vegetables are each high in minerals like magnesium and calcium, the electrolyte potassium, B vitamins and choline, while also being stellar sources of gut-healthy fiber.

Fiber helps you feel full for longer. Minerals like iron, magnesium, and calcium are essential for exercise. Potassium hopes to flush water weight. 

B vitamins are particularly important for fat metabolism, and choline has even been shown to facilitate weight loss

2. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

An analysis that pooled 50 diet studies clearly shows that a Mediterranean diet can improve metabolism and help people lose weight. 

Besides being a balanced whole foods diet, a key feature of the Mediterranean diet is extra virgin olive oil.

How much?

In one of the largest diet studies ever conducted, people were given an entire liter of olive oil every week and instructed to consume a quarter cup every day. 

Say farewell to low-fat dressing, say hello to the rich flavor of EVOO and balsamic vinegar!

3. Berries

Berries are a light substitute for conventional calorie-rich, sugar-laden desserts.  

They are full of inflammation-fighting antioxidants, satisfying fiber, and vitamins and minerals to keep you feeling your best.

The best berries are somewhat tart and deeply colored. Wild blueberries, raspberries, blackberries are some of the more conventional ones; aronia, goji, and acai are some less typical berries with potent inflammation-reducing effects.

4. Almonds (and other nuts)

Almonds are an excellent source of protein, healthy fats, fiber, vitamin E and a number of B-complex vitamins. All of these nutrients combined make almonds one of the best snacks to keep you fueled on the go.

One weight loss study showed that a serving of almonds per day resulted in a slimmer waistline than people who ate a complex-carb snack instead. 

Most other nuts have been shown in clinical research to be helpful for weight loss thanks to their filling effect and high nutritional value. 

5. Flax and Chia Seeds

Flax seeds and chia seeds are work horses when it comes to weight loss. 

They have very few net carbohydrates because almost all of the carbs in these tiny powerhouses are fiber. Fiber promotes gut health, fights inflammation, reduces risk of multiple diseases, and helps you feel full for longer after a meal.

Besides the benefits of fiber, flax and chia both contain high doses of omega-3 fatty acids which may help to regulate weight.

Choose ground seeds over whole, it's the only way for your body to absorb the nutrients.

6. Fish

Fish, particularly salmon and sardines, are unparalleled as sources of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.  

They are also high in magnesium, calcium, protein, and provide a lot of choline. Choline is essential for clearing out fat that’s accumulated around your liver.

Vitamin D deficiency has been linked with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease —  a condition where fat accumulates around the liver in your midsection.

Interestingly,one analysis shows that additional omega-3 fatty acids may not help with weight loss, per se, but do seem to help decrease waist circumference, one indicator of metabolic health.

7. Herbs and Spices 

Herbs and spices are primarily used to add flavor in place of less healthy flavor bombs like salt, sugar, and saturated fat. 

With a more flavorful dish, you may be more satisfied with fewer calories, which is also what research studies show for the majority of culinary spices that have been tested.

Traditionally, some medicinal herbs have also been used to aid in weight loss.  Although some herbs have clinical data to support them, in reality, using herbal supplements to lose weight does little to nothing compared to a healthy diet and lifestyle. 

Plus, numerous cases of liver damage have been attributed to poorly regulated weight loss supplements, so stick with real foods for sustainable weight loss goals!

8. Yogurt

Besides the satiating protein in yogurt, this fermented food provides healthy bacteria that foster a positive microbiome. 

A healthy microbiome fights infections, generates additional nutrients from your food, and breaks down fiber to form anti-inflammatory short chain fatty acids. 

Studies that supplement with probiotics even show that they may help weight loss. 

Yogurt also helps people to digest dairy. If your waistline has more to do with bloating, then switching to fermented dairy products may alleviate some of your gassy symptoms.

Just make sure you're getting the unflavored varieties: one flavored yogurt cup has about half of your sugar allotment in a day! 

9. Beans and Legumes

Beans provide a balanced source of complex carbs, protein, and fiber. They are also high in choline, vitamins, and some minerals.

In addition to your more typical beans like kidney, black, or pinto beans, there are a variety of other legumes to choose from. 

For example, soybeans (edamame, tofu, tempeh) provide meaningful amounts of all amino acids and contain antioxidants called genistein and daidzein that you can’t find anywhere else. 

Dark colored beans like black beans and kidney beans are packed with anthocyanins — the same antioxidant that gives blueberries their positive reputation.

If you buy your beans canned, make sure to check the ingredients for added sugar!

10. Ancient Grains

Ancient grains are whole grains that have been around for millennia. Quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, teff, barley, bulgar, and spelt are some examples.

These grains are packed with nutrients like B-vitamins, and they’re high in fiber and protein.  The complex carbs in these grains gives your body slow-burning energy to fuel your fat-burning exercise.

Be careful about processed versions of these grains: they have been stripped of their nutrients. Try to eat them in their whole form as part of a grain bowl, salad, or a substitute for something more traditional like rice.

Avoid these foods for a flat belly

This list includes the foods that have been shown in research studies to be terrible for your waistline. Don’t worry if one of these holds a special place in your heart, but try to save them for special occasions

1. Sugar and fructose

It seems like you always have to check the ingredients label for added sugar — it is everywhere!

Sugar essentially hijacks the feedback loops in your brain that tell you when you’re full and when you should keep eating. 

If you’ve ever felt like you can’t stop eating sweets once you start, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

“High fructose corn syrup” is usually half fructose and half glucose, just like table sugar. That means fructose is no more dangerous than plain old sugar for your health. 

That said, experts believe that if you’re gaining weight, fructose will lead to more fat around your middle than glucose will.

Common sources of sugar are fruit juice, soda, condiments (ketchup, BBQ sauce, etc.), sweetened yogurt, candy, baked goods, pizza sauce, and a litany of other common, processed foods.

2. White Carbs

White bread, white rice, and white pasta — mainstays of the Western diet — are highly refined grains that can lead to weight gain around the waist and poor metabolism. 

They make your body rely on burning sugar for fuel, rather than giving your body the opportunity to switch over to burning fat.

Plus when you mix the effect of sugar and the effect of fat together, you get a combo that’s terrible for your heart and your waistline.

Cereal, waffles, pancakes, french toast, and other baked goods are some of the most common forms. 

3. Fried Food

Besides providing the carb-plus-fat combo that wrecks waistlines, fried foods are full of damaged fats that amplify the negative effect of high LDL cholesterol.

The high temperatures and unstable fats used in deep frying also increase your intake of trans-fats, which have been definitively shown to damage your heart and lead to weight gain. 

Try an air-fryer or a convection oven to get a similar crisp without all the unhealthy fats. Try to avoid the prepackaged ready-to-bake frozen foods; they have been pre-fried already!

4. Convenience foods

Ultra processed foods include all pre-packaged, ready-to-eat convenience foods. Not only are these high in calories, sugar, fat, and salt, but they also take no work to prepare. 

Making food convenient makes it easy to eat too much. 

Then there’s the problem that these foods contain remarkably little nutritional value. 

Imagine a prepackaged food that stays preserved in the open air for years. It doesn’t decompose.

Then think about how that food is going to sit in your stomach. Not a pleasant idea, to say the least.

If you need a grab-and-go snack, consider fruit, nuts, or a packaged food made healthier with whole grains and reduced sugar.

5. Food Triggers

An estimated 1 in 5 people in the United States complain of bloating. The most common food triggers are gluten, dairy, and certain types of sugars.

Work with a qualified nutrition professional to figure out what foods you should limit in order to avoid bloating.

Avoiding food triggers will not help you lose weight, but it can help you feel better. Plus, if you address the root of your gut issues, you’re sure to look better in the mirror without all that gas in your system!

Takeaways

The best foods for a flat belly are packed with nutrients and high in fiber, healthy fats, and protein. 

Don’t just assume that adding these ingredients are your ticket to a toned belly. Keeping the weight off is a lifelong challenge that requires a lot of support!

First get sugar, refined grains (“white carbs”), fried food, and convenience foods out of your diet as much as you can. 

Replace these with the top foods that support healthy metabolism, healthy weight loss (especially around your midsection), and a healthy gut. These are:

  • Leafy greens
  • Berries
  • Nuts, seeds, and beans
  • Fish
  • Herbs and spices
  • Unsweetened yogurt
  • Whole grains


If you’ve tried all kinds of things to get that stubborn belly fat off, then check out our list of top weight loss programs

Whether you need additional nutrition support, to talk with a health coach or nutrition professional, the added accountability and resources of an app, or the extra support from an online community, one of these on our list of weight loss programs is sure to be helpful!

Detrick Snyder
Detrick Snyder is a Denver-based dietitian and consultant who loves developing best-in-class content for companies on a mission to promote better health. Detrick brings expertise in clinical research, public health, and evidence-based food-as-medicine practices so that you get the most relevant and accurate content possible.

The information on this site is based on research, but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new diet plan, we recommend consulting with a physician or other professional healthcare provider. Results may vary based on various health factors, individual weight loss plans and adherence to the meal plan.