The Worst Foods To Eat for a Flat Belly, Says Dietitian
A balanced, nourishing diet is key to losing weight, but when it comes to stubborn belly fat, there's one specific food group that can be particularly troublesome: Refined carbohydrates. Also known as "simple carbs," these foods have been stripped of their fiber and nutrients—so they do very little good, but can do a lot of harm.
"When your body takes in carbohydrates in general, it needs vitamins and minerals to break down the food and digest it," says Kate Turner, MA, RD, founder of Live Well with Kate. "The issue is, when you take in refined carbohydrates—pretty much anything made with white flour or sugar—you're typically missing the vitamins and minerals needed to do an efficient job of processing your food."
What refined carbs do to the body
There's an understanding of how bad sugar is—you know that if you eat donuts for breakfast every day, you won't feel your best. But you may not realize that refined carbs and sugar are basically the same thing.
"All carbohydrates (including fruit) turn into sugar in the body," says Turner. "But that doesn't mean you should never eat carbs. It's more about which type you're eating. For example, fruit (a complex carb) contains fiber, which helps keep your blood sugar from spiking as high."
When you do eat a refined carb, such as bread, it's best to "pair it with a protein—like nut butter—to temper the spike," suggests Turner.
Another negative about refined carbs, says Turner, is they have "minimal, if any, amounts of fiber, protein or healthy fat, which in turn can lead to a quick and large spike in your blood sugar."
And when your blood sugar elevates, it can have a domino effect of not-so-great reactions—like weight gain, weight retention, inflammation, and a major energy rollercoaster ride—rising, crashing and "leaving you with jitters and a hunger for more sugar… and the cycle continues," Turner says.
Why refined carbs grow your belly fat
When you eat carbs, they mainly get stored in three different places. "A few get stored in your liver, then more is stored in your muscles, and the rest are stored as fat (often in the form of belly fat)," says Turner, adding: "So essentially, if you overeat carbs and aren't consistently creating room in your muscle stores (through strength-training, for example), it can increase your body fat."
Plus, "refined carbohydrates can cause inflammation and dysbiosis in the gut, promoting more bad bacteria than good, which can negatively affect our brain health, skin, health, immunity, mood, and weight," says Turner.
You may be well versed in the common culprits (white pasta, white bread), but often refined carbs are hiding in foods we may not expect—or worse, that we think are healthy.
Here, a few of the worst foods to eat for a flat belly. Then, be sure to read up on our list of the 15 Simple Tips To Follow To Lose Weight, According to Dietitians.
While they may make an easy morning meal, breakfast cereals can be a double whammy—sugar bombs and refined carbs. This means you're setting yourself up for a major energy crash right out the gate and not doing any favors to your waistline. Here's a tip from Turner: "If the first ingredient isn't 'whole' or from a whole-food carb, it's refined."
Read up on our list of The Worst Cereals on the Planet.
Along the same lines as breakfast cereals, yogurts can be packed with sugars or sweeteners (like high fructose corn syrup), which spike your blood sugar and can end up packing on the pounds. Look for these healthier yogurt alternatives instead.
Flour tortillas and wraps
If you're reaching for tortillas or other wraps as a better option than bread, think again! They're just another source of refined carbs and are often loaded with other questionable ingredients—like sugars, oils, and fillers. For healthy alternatives (and the ones to avoid), check out these 6 Best Tortillas and Wraps, and 5 to Avoid, According to a Nutritionist.
According to Manuel Villacorta, RD, author of Eating Free: The Carb-Friendly Way to Lose Inches, in order for a bagel to really be nutritionally worthwhile, it should be paired with a two or three hour run. If you're not one for that much cardio (who is?) then it's better to lay off a daily bagel (which has around 50 grams of carbs and 250 to 300 calories) and opt for a healthier fiber-rich, whole-grain breakfast instead.
Commonly used as a thickening agent, cornstarch is high in calories and carbs with little nutritional value. And while you're not likely scooping cornstarch right out of a tub and dumping it on your plate, you may be eating it in common foods that you're not aware of—like french fries, high-calorie soups, sauces, and desserts—all of which can impact belly fat.
For some easy swaps to eat instead, check out these 12 Best Carbs To Eat for a Flat Belly.