Nothing jolts you to your senses like that first day of warm weather. At first you're pumped you can finally shed your layers of winter cable knit sweaters. But then it dawns on you — bikini season will be here soon and you're still in fat-mounting hibernation mode.
Don't panic. Not only is there is still plenty of time to prepare yourself, but getting yourself beach-body ready only requires a bit of sweat and the proper nutrition.
Along with working in a regular sweat — and yes, it can even just be on the weekends — introducing the following nutrient-dense foods into your diet will help tone and shape your body while assisting in rapid weight loss efforts.
Some foods dial up your metabolism so you can burn even more calories and torch belly fat, some heal your gut by offering up healthy probiotic bacteria, some decrease the stress and inflammation that's causing weight gain and bloating, some turn off your fat-storage genes, and others vanquish hunger and build muscle by filling you up with healthy fats, lean proteins, and fiber. So, get a pen in one hand and a shopping list in your other—and get to it! (Psst! Don't stress over when you'll get to the gym. "Abs are made in the kitchen!" Plus, you can try one of these 35 Fun Activities that Don’t Feel Like Exercise.)
Eat This! Because: The potassium will help flatten your belly
Potassium-rich foods are ideal for looking and feeling slim and trim in that swimsuit, so think ahead and pack one in your bag before heading off to the gym or to work. Potassium is a nutrient that helps the body flush out water and sodium—two things that make you appear bloated. Conversely, foods like potato chips and pickles are packed with sodium and can force your body to retain water, which makes you swell. Besides providing a healthy dose of potassium, bananas also increase bloat-fighting bacteria in the stomach. But wait, there's more! Keep reading about the magical benefits of this fruit in these 21 Amazing Things That Happen to Your Body When You Eat Bananas!
Eat This! Because it: Turns off fat genes
Your beach trip with the girls is only a few weeks away and you're not looking forward to it as much as you should be thanks to your ever-softening stomach. Don't panic, the solution is a simple one: Add some cinnamon to your diet. According to an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, the sweet spice helps reduce levels of the hormone, insulin, so less of the sugar you consume is stored as flubber. Sprinkle it in your coffee, in greek yogurt, on apple slices, or in your morning oatmeal and start seeing results—stat!
Eat This! Because it's: A fermented food that's teeming with gut-healthy probiotics
Tighten up your bod and boost your confidence by grabbing a bottle of kefir. Although this smoothie-like drink resides next to yogurt, it won't cause the same stomach-irritating effects as the lactose-carrying dairy product does. In fact, it can actually counteract them! Ohio State University researchers found that drinking kefir can reduce bloating and gas brought on by lactose consumption by 70 percent! Some of these magical debloating abilities come from the fact that kefir is a fermented food, which has high levels of probiotics that improve digestive health and, over time, prevent bloat.
Eat This! Because it's: A natural detoxifier
We're definitely not on board with those food-free, detoxifying juice cleanses to get ready for showing off a little more skin, adding some naturally-detoxifying beets to your plate is a strategy we can get behind. These jewel-toned roots contain a type of antioxidant called betalains that help repair and regenerate cells in the liver, the body's primary detox center. If you've been boozing to stay warm (no judgment, hot toddies are delicious), your liver may be feeling overworked. Beets will give it a bit of support so you're ready for that beach party when summer hits.
Eat This! Because: Its carotenoids will improve your skin complexion
After your winter-long hibernation leaves you looking a bit pasty, we can certainly understand your lack of enthusiasm to jump into a swimsuit. Rather than getting a fake tan, cook up some sweet potatoes. You'll get a sun-kissed complexion from the carotenoids, an organic pigment that gives the spuds their orange color. This antioxidant also helps to stabilize blood-sugar levels and lower insulin resistance, which prevents calories from being converted into fat. What's more, sweet potatoes' high vitamin profile (including A, C, and B6) give you more energy to burn at the gym.
Eat This! Because it: Clears out your fat cells
Adding a cup of green tea to your daily regimen can help fire your fat furnace by controlling blood sugar and quashing hunger. In a Swedish study that looked at green tea's effect on hunger, tea-sippers reported less of a desire to eat their favorite foods than those who didn't drink the green elixir. In another study, participants who combined a daily habit of 4 to 5 cups of green tea each day with a 25-minute sweat session lost an average of two more pounds than the non-tea-drinking exercisers. It's all thanks to the powerful and unique catechins found in green tea — antioxidants that blast adipose tissue by triggering the release of fat from fat cells (especially in the belly), and then speeding up the liver's capacity for turning that fat into energy. Make the most of the benefits from tea with The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse! Test panelists lost up to 10 pounds in one week!
Eat This! Because it: Keeps you hydrated
When people are trying to get rid of their problem areas, the belly always seems to be number 1. Contrary to what many might think, water won't make your bloating worse, it's actually necessary to keep your metabolism functioning optimally. Since water retention is the body's way of holding onto fluid so it doesn't dehydrate, the opposite is true. Drinking lots of water (and skipping dehydrating booze) signals the body that it no longer needs to hold onto every last drop to stay hydrated. For even more of a kick, add a lemon to your glass. Limonene, an antioxidant in lemon peel, helps flush toxins from the body and gives sluggish bowels a kick, flushing fat from your system to keep your tummy toned and tight. And don't miss our favorite 50 Best Detox Waters for Fat Burning and Weight Loss.
Eat This! Because it: Is a nutrient-dense source of fiber
Keep that doctor away! Eating an apple each day can help prevent metabolic syndrome, a disorder associated with abdominal fat, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. They'll keep the doctor away and your muffin tops at bay because apples are a low-calorie, nutrient dense source of fiber, which studies have proven to be integral to reducing visceral fat. In fact, according to a study published in Diabetologia, the higher your fiber intake, the lower your BMI and your chance of Type II diabetes. Need we say more?
Eat This! Because it: Has anti-inflammatory omega-3s and lean protein
Fatty salmon that is rich in omega-3s helps fight inflammation while the high-quality lean protein content fights excess fat accumulation. Even better, this delicious fish will help your skin bounce back after a hot day under those UV rays. Loading your plate with a serving of salmon twice a week will not only keep your heart healthy and waistline trim, but your skin will be glowing from head to toe from all the healthy fats. Not all fish have the same flat-belly benefits, read more from our exclusive report, Every Popular Fish—Ranked for Nutritional Benefits!.
Eat This! Because it: Provides you with calcium, a dairy free alternative and loads of muscle-building magnesium
If you're looking to get your body bikini-ready in a jiffy, you'll have to cut the cow milk. Dairy can be very bothersome to the belly because many adults naturally produce less of the necessary digestive enzyme lactase as we get older. Rather than ban that refreshing iced coffee altogether, add some almond milk. Like milk, almonds are high in calcium, which can help the body burn more—and store less—fat. They're also a great source of magnesium, a mineral that's involved in muscle and nerve function as well as protein synthesis — which, in turn, increases lean muscle mass. According to researchers, magnesium intake helps boost lipolysis, a process by which your body releases fat from its stores. It's not just almonds, check out these Best Foods To Eat For Magnesium.
Eat This! Because it: Burns fat while reducing appetite
You don't have to completely overhaul your diet to get in bikini body shape, simply eat half a grapefruit before each meal. This tactic can help whittle your middle—by up to an inch—in just six weeks, according to a study published in the journal Metabolism. The scientists attribute the powerful effects of the grapefruit's fat-zapping phytochemicals. But that's not all! Another study conducted by Japanese researchers found that the scent of grapefruit can "turn on" calorie-burning brown fat cells, enhancing the breakdown of fat while reducing appetite.
Eat This! Because it: Boosts your metabolism to help you lose unwanted pounds
Just because you're trying to tone up doesn't mean you can't indulge in a burger once in awhile. When you do, just be sure to leave the mayo in the fridge and grab some mustard. Thanks to the capsaicin and phytochemicals that give the mustard its characteristic flavor, eating just one teaspoon of the stuff—for just 5 calories—can boost your calorie-burning furnace by up to 25 percent for several hours after you consume it, according to Oxford Polytechnic Institute researchers. That means avoiding anything that's neon yellow or honey-based. Our go-to is Grey Poupon Classic Dijon.
Eat This! Because it: Protects your skin from UV rays
As the weather gets warmer, the sun's UV rays get stronger. Although it's important to protect your skin year round, it's even more crucial to do so when you're about to be laying out by the pool. Consuming foods high in antioxidants, like lycopene-rich tomatoes, will help ward off skin damage from the inside out. If you're just looking for a quick snack, pop some cherry tomatoes in your mouth—they contain the highest amount of lycopene compared to other tomatoes—but for even more skin-protecting power, be sure to cook the red fruits. Cooking tomatoes actually increase their concentration of lycopene, so add some tomato paste to sauces or omelets or whip up a batch of marinara sauce for cauliflower pizza!
Apple Cider Vinegar
Eat This! Because it: Quiets your hunger hormones and torches belly fat
Studies show acidic foods help increase the rate at which the body burns off carbs by up to 40 percent! And the faster you burn off carbs, the sooner your body starts incinerating fat, so you can fit into that suit you bought. Apple cider vinegar, in particular, is composed mostly of acetic acid, which has been shown to delay gastric emptying and slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream. Research published in the journal Bioscience, Biotechnology, Biochemistry found that a small pool of study participants given ACV over a 12-week period lost more weight, body fat and inches from their middle than participants that were given a placebo. How does it work? Besides maintaining stable blood sugar levels, ACV produces proteins inside the body that burn fat.
Eat This! Because it: Banishes bloat and eases digestion
Your love of processed, chemical-additive-laden foods—which cause inflammation, a puffy tummy, and a sluggish digestive system—certainly isn't doing any wonders for your bikini body. There is a simple solution, however. You can wake up your innards by starting the morning with a cup of ginger tea. According to numerous studies, ginger, traditionally used to ease stomach pain, blocks several genes and enzymes in the body that promote bloat-causing inflammation. This drink will help improve the digestion and elimination of your food and cut unhealthy cravings for salt or sugar. Boil 1/2 tsp grated ginger with 1 cup of water and pour into a cup with your favorite tea bag.
Eat This! Because: Protein helps you burn calories, incinerate fat, build muscle, and keep you fuller longer: a quadruple-threat
In order to get in the best bikini body shape, it's not just about what you eat, it's also about pumping the weights. Cardio and light weights torch fat and build lean muscle tissue that hungrily melt your problem areas. But you'll need to feed your muscles in order to reap the benefits. Start your day off with a burst of protein. A high-protein start will prevent surprise mid-morning or early afternoon energy crashes that leave us reaching for sugar, caffeine or a carbohydrate load for a quick boost. Supplementing your smoothie with protein powder is excellent for satiety, not to mention supporting the lean muscle that enables you to burn more fat. You're best off with plant-based protein—whey, casein, and other dairy-based powders can cause bloating. Read up on our Best and Worst Protein Powders.
Eat This! Because it: Helps you rest and recover
Sleep is a huge part of making any diet and exercise plan work, as it allows your body to process and recover from all the sweat and breakdown of muscle. And cherries are the perfect fruit for the job. A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who drank just one ounce of tart cherry juice a day reported that they slept longer and more soundly than those who didn't. What's going on? Cherries act as a natural sleep aid thanks to their melatonin content, a hormone that helps control your sleep cycle. So enjoy a cup of cherries for dessert—they'll help you maintain your toned physique by replacing less virtuous desserts and moving along your snooze process. Having trouble sleeping? Try changing up your schedule and check out these 7 Habits of Highly Rested People.
Eat This! Because it: Decreases both inflammation and reliance on bloat-inducing salt
Cutting out extra sodium is a must to obtain your best bikini body. The mineral causes water to move from your bloodstream into your skin, which is why a dose of cheese puffs with give you a puffy look. Instead of seasoning with salt, try seasoning meals with other herbs and spices. Turmeric, in particular, is one of the magical nutrients that's been shown to work directly on our fat genes, turning off the specific genetic mechanism that's responsible for inflammation and obesity.
Eat This! Because: It's full of healthy fats that keep you satiated and shut off fat genes
A healthy snack can help keep you satisfied long enough to get you to your next meal. The perfect things to reach for when you need a quick, nutrient-packed meal on the go, at your start your day, or if you find yourself swamped in the middle of a hectic one, are walnuts! Healthy fats like the polyunsaturated fats found in walnuts activate genes that reduce fat storage and improve insulin metabolism. At about 13 grams per one-ounce serving, walnuts are one of the best dietary sources.
Eat This! Because: The vitamin C helps to minimize stress and boost immunity
You exercise and eat right, but you can't seem to get rid of that stubborn bit of flab above your belt—and it's your biggest birthday suit insecurity. Since you're doing everything else right, the trouble may lie in your day-to-day stresses. If your job is really demanding and you're constantly super-stressed, your cortisol levels are likely sky-high, which encourages the body to store fat around your midsection. While you likely can't up and quit your job, you can add some vitamin C-rich foods to your diet. Studies show that in addition to immune-boosting benefits related to the common cold, vitamin C helps reduce both the physical and psychological effects of stress on people. And red peppers serve up nearly two days' worth of the nutrient in every cup.
Eat This! Because it's: Good for a healthy gut and reduces inflammation
If your bikini body diet has you missing out on the indulgences in life, look no further than dark chocolate. A study at Louisiana State University found that gut microbes in our stomach ferment chocolate and boost our body's production of gut-healthy polyphenolic compounds, including butyrate, a fatty acid that encourages the body to burn fat as fuel and turns off genes linked to inflammation. (Add fruit to the chocolate to boost fermentation and the release of the compounds.) Make sure you go with chocolate that has a cacao content of 70 percent or above—these have the highest concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols.
Eat This! Because it's: A natural diuretic that keeps your tummy flat
Dandelion greens—one of our favorite Spring Foods To Help Shed Your Winter Weight—are great for when you're feeling "flat belly-focused weeks." They're gentle diuretics that blast excess weight by helping your body get rid of extra fluids. These bitter-sweet spring greens are bursting with fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. A recent study found that steaming the greens increased their total antioxidant properties by 67 percent. And studies have found that this plant is protective against obesity as well as depression, fatigue, immune system problems, and even cancer.
Eat This! Because it's: A nutrient-dense alternative to refined carbs
On your slim-down mission, it's important to limit your intake of refined carbs and turn towards the more wholesome options whenever possible. Lisa Moskovitz, R.D. explains that you should "think fiber when choosing your carbohydrates, as it helps regulate digestion while keeping energy levels stable." Pick grains like quinoa over white pasta. Not only is quinoa high in fiber, it's also a complete protein so it contains essential amino acids like lysine—the branched amino acid (BCAA) that burns fat, builds muscle, and maintains healthy bones and skin. On top of that, a study published in the journal Food Chemistry found quinoa has the highest level of betaine, a chemical that revs your metabolism and actually shuts down the genes that encourage fat to hang around.
Eat This! Because it: Contains a fatty acid that promotes fat loss and is a high source of iron
Although all lean proteins can boost satiety and help people eat less at subsequent meals, grass-fed beef is a fat-burning all-star because it's packed with a type of healthy fat called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA has been shown to promote fat loss, decrease body fat and reduce cholesterol levels, making it a must-eat for anyone looking to sculpt a lean summer bod. It's also provides around 33 percent of your DV of iron—deficiencies of which have been linked to a significant increase in fat gene expression.
Eat This! Because: Its vitamin D boosts your immunity and aids in increasing muscle strength
Studies suggest that vitamin D aids in increasing muscle strength as well as in boosting your immunity. That's because the sunshine vitamin—so named because the sun produces D upon skin contact—is actually a hormone that triggers the response of your immune cells. The more you get sick, the less you feel like exercising, the more susceptible you are to reaching for those "feel-good" foods, and the more delayed you'll be in reaching your beach body goals. Just 3 ounces of mackerel provides you with 65 percent of your DV of D!
Eat This! Because it's: Full of flat-belly nutrients and fills you up
We're not talking about commercially prepared soups that have added sugar, salt, or other unsavory ingredients that will mess up your middle. Rather, opt for chunky soups like minestrone, which are higher in fiber. According to a study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, researchers found that soups provided the most satiety compared to liquids and solids with the same calorie content. The researchers explained that several factors can play a role—for one, soups generally have more macronutrients variety (a mix of protein and carbs) than most drinks and shakes typically do. And they also suggested that our brains play a role, too: We interpret soup as a meal, so our brains tell us that we're supposed to feel full after we eat them.
Eat This! Because it: Fills you up without filling you out
While eating something that can give you gas to slim down for swim season may sound counterintuitive, it's actually a solid strategy. In one four-week study, researchers found that study participants who ate a calorie-restricted diet that included four weekly servings of legumes lost more weight than those on a calorie-equivalent diet that didn't include beans—likely due to the legume's high fiber content. To reap the benefits at home, prioritize adding lentils to your diet. These pulses are high in iron to keep your body working at its best—an iron deficiency, which occurs in 1 in 5 women, can keep your body from burning calories as optimally. Check them out in these 25 Recipes and Ideas For Pulses.
Eat This! Because it: Lessens IBS symptoms
If you have sluggish bowels or suffer from chronic constipation, you may be sporting a bit of a belly. While you've likely heard that adding fiber to your diet may be helpful, you may not know that few sources of the nutrient are as effective as kiwi. Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) who ate two kiwis a day for a month had less constipation and a general lessening of IBS symptoms than those who didn't in a study conducted by researchers in Pacific Asia. Add the powerful fruit to your oatmeal, throw it into smoothies or combine it with other fruits in a light, refreshing salad.
Eat This! Because it: Increases blood flow to your muscles and reduces inflammation
Berries are packed with antioxidants that will help burn fat—and prevent it from forming—as well as boost your workout benefits by improving blood flow to your muscles. These red fruits stand alone as the single best source of insoluble fiber. A cup of the little ruby jewels has 8 grams of satiating fiber, compared to less than 3 grams in the same amount of strawberries. Insoluble fiber helps feed the healthy bacteria in your gut, triggering the production of a fatty acid that reduces fat-causing inflammation throughout your body. And in a Canadian study, researchers discovered that those whose diets were supplemented with insoluble fiber had higher levels of ghrelin—a hormone that controls hunger.
Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Eat This! Because it: Stops formation of new fat cells
We've finally discovered what Victoria's secret is to looking so amazing in those racy bedroom get-ups—and now you can get it, too! It's ground pepper! Piperine, the compound that gives pepper its distinct taste, stops the formation of new fat cells. Who would have thought? Sprinkle some of the spice on your morning omelet, into your afternoon soup or salad and into your dinner dishes for a fat-fighting punch of flavor.
Eat This! Because it: Full of satiating lean protein and fat-burning choline
Breakfast is no longer considered a nutritional make-or-break, but waking up to a protein-rich meal can set your fat-burning pace for your entire day. In a study of 21 men published in the journal Nutrition Research, half were fed a breakfast of bagels while half ate eggs. The egg group was observed to have a lower response to ghrelin, was less hungry three hours later and consumed fewer calories for the next 24 hours! Bonus: Egg yolks contain choline, a nutrient with powerful fat-burning properties.
Eat This! Because it: Helps break down protein to ease digestion and banish bloat
Pineapple contains potassium—an important part of any anti-bloat diet—but it also contains bromelain. Bromelain is an enzyme that aids in the digestion of proteins as well as decreases inflammation. While all parts of the pineapple contain this magical compound, most of the bromelain in pineapple is in the stem. Because the stem is a little on the tough side, you can blend or juice the core with the sweeter flesh to reap the bloat-beating benefits. Try it in our Pina Colada Smoothie, it's one of our 15 Healthy, 5-Ingredient Breakfast Ideas.
Eat This! Because it: Scorches belly flab
Yet another reason to love avocados? Their oil will help you get rid of flab—in all the right places. Penn State University researchers say consuming about three tablespoons of an oleic acid-rich fat—like avocado oil—can burn abdominal flab, fast—likely because of its satiating effects. After just four weeks, the UPenn study participants who consumed this type of oil decreased their belly fat by 1.6 percent!
Eat This! Because it: Is a powerful appetite suppressant
You know consuming fewer calories can help you slim down, but if you're perpetually hungry, cutting back can be a challenge. Add some spinach to your plate to ward off hunger naturally. The green's membranes contain a powerful appetite suppressing compounds called thylakoids. Plus, a cup of spinach is super low-cal. But because raw spinach can sometimes cause bloating and gas due to its high fiber content, cook your spinach before delving in. Cooking breaks down the spinach's fibers, which may help your body process them easier and reduces your bloating.
Eat This! Because it: Reduces the appearance of cellulite and acts as a natural detoxifier
Not only will this "South-of-the-border" herb be a reminder of your upcoming beach vacay, it'll also prep your body for it. Research shows that cilantro's unique blend of oils work like over-the-counter meds to relax digestive muscles and alleviate an "overactive" gut, helping you beat bloat. As an added benefit, cilantro promotes detoxification by helping to remove heavy metals from the body that tend to hide in fat cells. These heavy metals can disrupt normal tissue function and, as a result, prevent your body from healing and functioning properly. By reducing overall toxins in your body, you can get rid of excess stored fat, which can help lessen the appearance of dreaded cellulite.
Eat This! Because: Via its resistant starches, it promotes fat oxidation, reduces abdominal fat and sends a message to your brain that you're full
After you roast 'em, throw those potatoes in the fridge! Eating your potatoes warm means you're missing out on the spud's super fat-fighting powers. When potatoes are cooked and then cooled, their digestible starches turn into resistant starches. As the name implies, the body has to work harder in trying to process the resistant starch—which it can't—so it passes through the small intestine undigested. This promotes fat oxidation, reduces abdominal fat, and delays hunger pangs, setting you up to be a fitter, slimmer you.