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“It’s all about the gut,” says Taz Bhatia, MD, the founder and director of CentreSpringMD in Atlanta,Georgia, and author of The 21-Day Belly Fix (Zinc Ink, 2014). “Research continues to pile on showing how the balance of gut bacteria – our microbiome – determines our response to stress and insulin regulation. Adding probiotics can help balance gut bacteria and reduce belly bloat and abdominal weight,” she says. Recent studies have also found that probiotics help with irritable bowel syndrome.
Slim pickings: Yogurt, miso soup, a high-quality probiotic supplement and fermented pickles (brined in salt and water).
2. Citrus fruits
“The high vitamin C in citrus fruits can help lower cortisol,” says Dr. Bhatia, “improving the stress response and boosting the immune system.” That’s backed up by several studies, including one study published in Psychopharmacology where German researchers asked 120 healthy young adults to complete a public speaking task and math problems. Before completing the tasks, half of the participants were given either three daily doses of 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C or a placebo. The vitamin C group experienced the most resilience, saw lower blood pressure and bounced back from stressful situations faster than those with low levels of the vitamin.
Slim pickings: Grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, clementines, lemons and limes, miso soup and a high-quality probiotic supplement.
3. Lactose-free dairy products
If you’re of African, Asian, Mexican or Native American descent, there’s a good chance you’ve stopped producing lactase, the enzyme that digests milk. If your ancestry is northern European, you probably have lactase, with only around a 2% chance of being lactose intolerant. Any way you slice it, lactose intolerance means that dairy products can leave you feeling like a cow when you can’t digest.
Slim pickings: Almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, Green Valley Organics Lactose Free Whole Milk Plain Yogurt (it’s got another double-whammy in probiotics and protein, too).
As a mom of two who works full-time and works out a lot, I keep a lavender candle on my bedside table and regularly bathe in lavender-infused bath salts specifically so I can sleep better at night. And my instincts are right. “Leptin, insulin and somatostatin are all hormones that regulate weight,” says Dr. Bhatia, “and without consistent sleep, weight becomes an issue – regardless of diet and exercise.”
Slim pickings: Lavender oil – dab on pillows and pajamas.
5. Mushrooms and mushroom supplements
As Dr. Bhatia explains, mushrooms play a role in insulin regulation as well, supporting the endocrine system and hormonal balance. “They’re helpful in slimming the belly,” she says, “the first sign of abdominal weight.”
Slim pickings: Shiitake, which also has vitamin D, and porcini, for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Can serving salmon for dinner help keep you slimmer? Provided you practice portion control, yes. A study in Diabetes & Metabolism has found that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, the kind found in fatty fish and in supplements, reduces the way stress hormones activate your adrenal glands. And when your stress hormones and sympathetic nervous system are stable, you’re less likely to feel the effects of excess cortisol (the primary stress hormone) as extra weight around the midsection.
Slim pickings: Flaxseed oil, salmon, chia seeds and nuts.
See also Can Fish Oil Help with Weight Loss.
7. Green tea
A study in The Journal of Nutrition found that consuming green tea enhances the way exercise reduces abdominal fat. “Green tea contains antioxidants and polyphenols that also help with insulin regulation, resulting in weight loss,” adds Dr. Bhatia.
Slim pickings: Yogi Green Tea Pure Green, Teavana Sencha Jade Reserve Green Tea.
See also Green Tea Pomegranate Lemonade.