If you want to flatten your belly after hitting 40, listen up. Making whole, nutrient-rich foods a staple of your diet is an excellent way to help you maintain a healthy body weight and shrink belly fat, says Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices. Plus, research links high amounts of belly fat to chronic health issues, including certain cancers and heart disease. Adding items like fresh veggies and fruits into your meals can help you preserve your weight, give you energy, and avoid diseases in the future. We spoke with experts who share some of the best flat-belly foods to eat after 40.
When it comes to losing weight, the math is pretty simple: You need to burn more calories than you consume. So if you want to reach your goal weight and achieve a flat stomach, establishing a calorie deficit is essential. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM, a member of our Medical Expert Board and a certified personal trainer and nutrition coach, explains, “Weight loss also occurs from all around the body at once—not just from specific areas—so there’s no way to eat certain foods to target weight loss in your belly. Instead, to get a flatter stomach, you need to follow a diet that allows you to lose overall fat mass.”
There are many nutrient-dense foods to choose from, but there are staples you should always have around to work into your regular meal rotation. Keep reading for some of the best flat-belly foods to eat after 40. And after that, don’t miss the 10 Best Superfood Snacks to Strip Away Belly Fat.
“One of my favorite fruits to snack on is bite-sized blueberries,” raves Burgess. “A one-cup serving of blueberries provides just 80 calories alongside 4 grams of satiating fiber to help you feel fuller longer. Blueberries also contain essential nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin K, and manganese alongside anthocyanins (a type of phytonutrients).”
Plus, research shows just how beneficial eating blueberries can be. A recent study published in Scientific Reports revealed that consuming one cup of blueberries each day for a total of 14 days before and for four days following a 90-minute eccentric exercise workout (such as downhill running) helped with inflammation in adults who typically work out less than three times a week.
Burgess suggests enjoying fresh blueberries with a handful of nuts or adding them into a tasty pancake bake for a seamless, nutrient-packed breakfast.
Dr. Bohl backs up the power of fruit when it comes to fat loss. He tells us, “Fruit is an important part of following a healthy diet. Fruit is full of nutrients, low in calories, high in fiber (which helps keep you fuller for longer), and is a better mid-day snack than a bag of chips when you have a craving.”
“Mushrooms are a rich, low-calorie source of fiber, which can promote feelings of fullness and aid in weight management,” Burgess explains. So if you don’t already eat a lot of mushrooms, now is the perfect time to start! Plus, science says the benefits of mushrooms cannot be denied. According to a one-year clinical trial, participants who stuck with a mushroom-dense diet dropped a greater amount of weight (seven pounds) and achieved a lower BMI and waist circumference. In addition, after losing weight, these participants were successful at maintaining their new weight.
“Try adding them into a ‘mushroom meat blend’ by sauteing together one pound of ground meat and one pound of finely chopped mushrooms with seasonings of choice,” Burgess suggests. (This is an especially great hack if you don’t love the taste of mushrooms because you likely won’t even notice them once they’re combined with the seasoned meat.)
According to Dr. Bohl, getting your fill of lean protein is the name of the game if you want a tight, toned tummy. Consuming foods such as fish and chicken is an excellent way to add more lean protein to your diet without the high calorie count that comes with other meats.
“Protein is essential in the diet—especially if you’re trying to lose weight,” Dr. Bohl tells us. “When you eat at a calorie deficit, you don’t only lose some fat—you lose muscle as well. Engaging in strength training and having a high-protein diet are ways to minimize the amount of muscle you lose.”
Another one of the best flat-belly foods Dr. Bohl recommends is a hearty bowl of oats. Oatmeal is chock-full of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and protein, he says. “Perhaps most helpful on a weight-loss journey is that it is high in fiber, which can help keep you fuller for longer during the day.”
Consider upgrading your plain bowl of oatmeal with toppings like Greek yogurt, bananas, cinnamon, chia seeds, flaxseeds, or nuts that support your belly fat loss efforts.
You may immediately shy away when you hear the word “fats” during your weight loss journey, but Dr. Bohl assures us that even when you’re trying to lose belly fat, it’s still essential to incorporate some fat in your diet. This is especially true when it comes to healthy fats such as polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. “Avocado is one such food that’s full of healthy fats and is easy to pair with a salad or slice and put on top of a piece of whole-grain bread,” he says.
Last but not least, if you want a flat belly after 40, eat plenty of carrots and celery—or any fresh veggies, for that matter. “Carrots and celery are great snack foods that are low in calories and high in fiber, keeping you fuller for longer,” Dr. Bohl explains. “If you’re starting to feel hungry between meals, a small bowl of both vegetables can help bridge the gap without throwing you off your weight loss journey.”