7 Ways to shrink your belly with food

Good news: If your midsection is feeling puffy, the reason may be bloat, not fat. Why is this good news? Because it's a whole lot easier to de-puff, quickly, than it is to lose actual body fat, which takes more time. Try these food tips and you should be flatter, sexier, and fitting more comfortably into your clothes in less than a week.

1. Eat fiber-rich cereal

Why It Beats Bloat: Constipation distends your belly, and one easy way to get rid of it is by starting each morning with a breakfast cereal that guarantees your body a daily dose of fiber. This gets the digestive system moving within a day or so and keeps it that way. Based on a recent study of cereals, University of Toronto researchers say that consuming two kinds of fiber at once is most effective. The scientists found that participants had an easier time staying regular with a cereal that contained both insoluble fiber (from bran) and gel-like soluble fiber (from psyllium). The two types work together to pull water into your colon and speed up elimination, explains Joanne Slavin, PhD, a professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota. The result? You'll look and feel lighter.

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2. Watch the salt

Why It Beats Bloat: Sodium makes you retain water, puffing up your belly. Most of us eat more than twice as much sodium as we should--topping 3,400 mg a day, rather than the recommended 1,500 mg, according to the CDC. A few strategies: Stop salting your food at the table, and check for sodium on the labels of packaged foods, which provide about three-quarters of the daily intake for most women.

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3. Go, ahem, bananas

Why It Beats Bloat: Tired phrases aside, foods such as bananas and potatoes help your body get rid of excess water weight, which in turn minimizes your middle. The extra fluid typically occurs because the two main minerals that control the amount of water in your body-potassium and sodium-have become unbalanced. When your sodium level is too high, your tissues hold on to fluid. You can restore your sodium-potassium equilibrium by increasing your potassium intake to an optimum 4,700 mg per day. Some good sources include1 medium baked potato with skin, 1 medium banana, 1 medium papaya, 1/2 cup steamed edamame, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, 1/2 cup cooked spinach, 1 medium orange.

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4. Steer clear of sugar alcohols

Why It Beats Bloat: We don't completely digest these low-cal sweeteners (found in flavored waters and low-carb, diabetic, and sugar-free foods). Bacteria in the large intestine ferment them, causing gas and even diarrhea. Check food labels to help avoid them; common ones are sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and lacitol.

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5. Drink up

Why It Beats Bloat: Drinking enough liquid supports the other ways you're trying to flatten your tummy, says Bonci. For example, she explains, when there's enough fluid present in your system, the dual-fiber cereal you have eaten is 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? Getting rid of bloat means being well hydrated, so 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 on your system.

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6. Avoid candy, soda, gum

Why It Beats 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.

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7. Dig into yogurt with probiotics

Why It Beats Bloat: Research published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics reveals that an imbalance of bacteria in your gut can cause your digestive system to slow down and your belly to puff up. However, yogurts that contain live bacteria, otherwise known as probiotics, can help. Though researchers don't fully understand the mechanism, a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that the bacteria seem to tame tummy bloat by causing an improvement in intestinal mobility, thereby relieving constipation.

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[photo credit: Getty Images]

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