You can beat belly fat on a full stomach—as long as you choose the right foods. Making simple substitutions, such as the greens you use in your salads and the snacks you munch come mid-afternoon, can help blast away excess chub. Erin Palinski, RD, has suggested some simple swaps for a flat belly, and she provided the following nine strategies for cutting calories while keeping hunger at bay.
Rolled Oats or Bran Cereal for Breadcrumbs
Try substituting rolled oats or crushed bran cereal for breadcrumbs in meatballs, or slip barley into your chicken noodle soup. A 2008 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who loaded their diets with whole grains were more likely to lose fat from their guts than those who noshed on the enriched kind. Whole grains are higher in fiber than refined starches, so you’ll feel fuller eating less, explains Palinski.
Avocado for Butter
This may sound a little adventurous, but you won’t taste the difference: Switch out half of the butter in a cookie recipe for mashed avocado. This simple change will reduce fat content by 40% and cut the number of calories by nearly as much. You’ll still get the creaminess of butter and the fatty taste, but this substitution knocks out some of the saturated fat in favor of the belly-flattening monounsaturated kind. Sure your cookies might have a green tinge, but they should also be chewier and softer.
Cauliflower for Rice
Cauliflower is the low-carb dieter’s go-to food. Its mild taste makes the veggie a perfect substitute for carb-heavy potatoes and rice. Whipping up a dish is easy: Use a food processor or hand grater to break up cauliflower florets and stalks into tiny rice-sized pieces, and then sauté them in olive oil. Cauliflower has a lower glycemic index than rice, so your body won’t experience that spike in insulin that can lead to carb cravings, says Palinski.
Spinach for Iceberg Lettuce
When it comes to weight loss, any kind of vegetable gets the green light, but if you really want to ditch that spare tire, choose dark leafy greens over iceberg lettuce. True, the fiber levels are nearly the same, but you’re sacrificing a lot of nutrients for that extra crunch of iceberg. Spinach is higher in iron and packs three times as much folic acid, so it’s a much better nutritional choice all around, says Palinski. Folate is important for the developing brains of unborn babies, and it may also help peel back the pounds in adults. Research found that people with the highest levels of folate lost more than 8 times more weight on a low-cal diet compared with those having the lowest levels, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Beans for Enriched Flour or Shortening
Use beans in place of flour or shortening in brownies made from scratch. It may sound odd, but you probably won’t even notice the legumes: In a blind taste test in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2005, study participants rating brownies made with pureed cooked cannellini beans gave the low-fat confections high marks. If you’re more inclined to bake from a box, just add a can to a ready-made mix to give your batch a boost of belly-flattening fiber. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who increased their daily intake of fiber by 6 grams shrank their bellies by 4%, and these moist brownies pack about 3 grams per serving.
Sliced Zucchini for Lasagna Noodles
Increase your veggie intake by layering zucchini or eggplant instead of noodles in your lasagna. Hiding vegetables in your food increases veggie consumption and decreases the number of calories that you eat, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers at Penn State added pureed carrots, squash, and cauliflower to breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrées to make low-cal meals. Even though study participants consumed fewer calories, they felt as full and thought the veggie versions were as tasty.
Nuts and Seeds for Pretzels
Instead of mindlessly munching bite-sized twists, snack on nuts or seeds to satisfy your craving for something crunchy. Both are loaded with gut-busting monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and research shows that people who eat two or more servings a week are less likely to gain weight than those who don’t. “You need to watch your portions—nuts have lots of calories,” says Palinski. “But they’re loaded with protein and fiber, so they’re more filling.” Her favorite: omega-3–rich walnuts. If you must satisfy a craving for pretzels, choose a whole grain or pumpernickel variety, she advises.
Yogurt for Sour Cream
The next time you’re preparing a veggie party platter, make your dip out of yogurt instead of sour cream, recommends Palinski. It’ll have less fat and calories, plus you’ll get the bonus of extra calcium. University of Tennessee researchers found that dieters who ate three servings of yogurt a day lost 81% more belly fat than once-a-day yogurt eaters. The researchers hypothesize that calcium helps breaks down fat in your gut. (In fact, there are tons of foods that blast calories.) For a heartier dip, go with plain Greek yogurt.
Dark Chocolate for Milk Chocolate
Indulge your sweet tooth with a bite or two of dark chocolate. A small bar contains fat-fighting MUFAs, and because dark chocolate is richer than the milk varieties, typically you’re satisfied with a smaller amount. This can make portion control a little bit easier, says Palinski.