If your belly is zapping your body confidence, don’t despair. There’s a good chance you don’t even need to lose belly fat—you might just be bloated! 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.
The good news is that 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.
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 2,300 mg, according to the CDC.
Do this instead: Pay attention to the sodium count in packaged foods. They account for around 70 percent of the sodium in our diets, the CDC reports. Then try these smart tips for adopting a lower-sodium diet.
Drink: Peppermint tea
Why it beats belly bloat: Sip the herbal brew when a 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 Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, nutrition expert and author of Eating in Colour.
Do this: 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.
Do this instead: Avoid alcohol altogether if you need to de-puff fast. And next time around? Enjoy a lower sugar option like a glass of wine, tequila with a squeeze of lime, or one of these low-calorie alcoholic drinks. Down a glass of water before and after your drink to stay hydrated, too, Shapiro recommends.
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 eight 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.)
Do this: Tap water is an excellent option because it has no calories, salt, sugar, or additives. And it’s free! If you’re not a fan of the taste, jazz things up with by infusing it with fresh fruit.
Skip: Candy 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.
Do this instead: “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 candies.
Add: Greek yogurt
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, research suggests. But yogurts containing belly-friendly bacteria like probiotics can help. Probiotics help tame tummy bloat by causing an improvement in intestinal mobility, thereby relieving constipation.
Do this: Eat four ounces of plain yogurt containing live, active cultures daily. If you’re bored with the usual yogurt and fruit combo, shake things up by adding it to homemade salad dressings, using it to prepare a meat marinade, or swapping it in baked goods recipes for sour cream.
Why it beats belly bloat: Protein 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.
Do this: Pairing your protein source with fibre-rich foods will keep you full even longer. Try these protein-and-veggie-packed foil packet dinners, and pack up the leftovers for lunch the next day.
Skip: 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 high fructose corn syrup or agave nectar, which both contain fructose,” Largeman-Roth says. But large amounts of fructose can be tough to digest, resulting in gas and bloating.
Do this instead: Trade the fancy drink for a simple, sugar-free pick-me-up like green tea, Largeman-Roth recommends. These healthy Starbucks drinks make great options too. Or make your own low-sugar coffee drink at home, like this Lightened-Up Mocha Latte.
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 calorie burning and promote the formation of metabolism-revving brown fat, according to a 2019 study.
Do this: Fish doesn’t just work for lunch or dinner. Help yourself to some salmon in the a.m. with this Everything Bagel Salmon Breakfast Wrap.