Eat This, Shrink Your Muffin Top

Eat your way to a slimmer silhouette.

When trying to trim down, it's easy to focus on all of the foods you can't eat. The good news? There are tons of tasty foods you can add to your plate that help fend off unhealthy cravings and decrease belly fat, taking your dreaded muffin top down a notch.

MORE: What's Causing Your Sugar Cravings?

Along with eating belly-busting foods, it also helps to step away from the salt shaker and get your stress levels under control, which can sabotage your efforts to eat healthfully. "High levels of sodium cause excess fluid retention, which is when your body holds on to too much liquid, making you look puffy all over," says Keri Glassman, R.D., author of "The New You and Improved Diet: 8 Rules to Lose Weight and Change Your Life Forever". "Even if you're eating healthy, you may still be getting added salt from foods you wouldn't think of, like cottage cheese and olives."

So always check labels for sodium content. And check in with yourself. "Paying attention to stress is critical to overall health, including a flat belly," says Glassman. "The more stress you have, the less able you are to make empowered food choices and the more cortisol you have raging through your system. Cortisol causes food cravings. Studies have shown that overweight people gain even more weight with more stress."

Feeling tense? Glassman recommends this quick and simple stress-buster: Take an eight-count breath-inhale for eight counts and exhale for eight counts. Repeat for eight minutes.

MORE: How Stress Boosts Belly Fat

Now that we're all zen, try adding these slimming eats to your diet:

Avocado. The fruit is rich in glutathione, a substance that helps block intestinal absorption of certain fats, according Glassman. "Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to reduce belly fat, and fiber, leaving you feeling satiated," she says. Just practice portion control and stick to ¼ avocado.

Nuts. These protein-packed morsels are rich in monounsaturated fats, which help reduce belly fat, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids, which have also been shown to reduce fat. Try munching on a small handful of nuts daily instead of reaching for a bag of chips-same satisfying crunch factor, less guilt.

Green tea. "Green tea is rich in antioxidants called catechins, which may trigger weight loss by stimulating the body to burn calories and decrease body fat," says Glassman.

MORE: Drinks That Reduce Your Appetite

Yogurt. It's a great snack option and a must for people trying to lose weight, according to Glassman. "Research has shown that people who consume plenty of low-fat dairy products are able to lose more weight than those who don't," she notes.

Berries. All berries, including strawberries, blackberries and raspberries, are rich in vitamin C, which has been shown to help combat stress, according to Glassman.

Water. Drinking eight glasses of water a day will prevent you from becoming parched-and help keep you from reaching for food you don't actually need. "People often think they're hungry when they're just dehydrated," says Glassman. "Water can also help you fill up before a meal. A study confirmed that having two glasses of water before eating increases satiety and cuts the calories consumed."

Red chili peppers. These fire red peppers contain an antioxidant called capsaicin, which has been found by some studies to reduce hunger, notes Glassman. To spice up your diet and lose weight, sprinkle in some cayenne pepper when cooking meals.

MORE: Spice It Up For Health

Fatty fish. Salmon and sardines, for example, are packed with Omega-3 fatty acids. Aside from being heart-healthy, fatty fish may help burn fat. "Some studies have shown that eating salmon prevents weight gain," says Glassman.

Grapefruit. Besides being packed with vitamin C and filling fiber, this citrus fruit aids weight loss. "One study found that people who ate half a grapefruit with each meal lost 3.6 pounds, while those who drank a serving of grapefruit juice three times a day lost 3.3 pounds," says Glassman.

Celery and fennel. These tasty, crunchy vegetables act as diuretics, helping you to lose excess water you're retaining.

MORE: Skin-Boosting Antioxidant Salad

Lean protein. Nutritionists are always raving about lean protein and for a good reason: It keeps you fuller than other nutrients because it takes your body more time to digest and absorb. That means, you're less likely to start fishing around the kitchen for food well before your next meal. But what you may not realize is that when you eat protein also matters. A Purdue University study found that eating lean protein (think: turkey bacon, egg whites or low-fat yogurt) at breakfast keeps you satisfied longer than if you were to consume it at other times of the day, according to Glassman. She recommends aiming to get around 15 grams of protein at breakfast. For example, a container of Greek yogurt packs in around 17 grams of protein.

Sweet potatoes. They contain a special type of starch that resists digestive enzymes so they take a while to breakdown, delaying the onset of hunger pangs. Bonus: The sweetness in sweet potatoes can also help calm a sugar craving.

QUIZ: How Much Does Your Mood Affect Your Meals?

- by Rachel Grumman Bender