Despite diet and exercise, getting rid of bloating and body fat around the waistline can be difficult, especially during the holidays. Erin Palinski-Wade, co-author along with Tara Gidus and Kristina LaRue of “Flat Belly Cookbook For Dummies,” states “There is a balance between enjoying the season and overindulging, and it begins with a working knowledge of foods and drinks that are and aren’t, waistline-friendly.” In the book, they reveal the top “Belly-bloaters,” including:
Belly Bloater # 1: Sugar alcohols. These sugar substitutes are only partially digested, and so provide fewer calories per gram than regular sugar. But they can also cause uncomfortable gastrointestinal side effects such as bloating, gas and diarrhea, all of which can cause your belly to look and feel distended. Sugar alcohol is often found in sugar-free snacks, gums, and candies. Look for ingredients such as xylitol, sorbitol and maltitol, and you’ve found sugar alcohol.
Belly Bloater # 2: High-sodium foods. “Excess sodium intake can do more damage than just making you look bloated” notes LaRue. “In addition to the negative impact sodium has on your waistline, it can also increase blood pressure and stiffen arteries. Aim to keep daily sodium intake under 2,000 mg (or under 1,500 mg per day if you have high blood pressure).
Belly Bloater # 3: Refined carbohydrates. These grains have been stripped of the outermost and innermost layers of grain, leaving all the carbohydrates and calories, but little protein, fiber and nutrients. Processing allows grains to be digested rapidly, but provide little in the way of fullness after eating. Rapid digestion leads to spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. “Enjoy grains, but choose whole grains such instead,” recommends Palinski-Wade. “Reach for brown rice over white rice, whole wheat pasta over white, and popcorn over snack chips.”
Belly Bloater # 4: Processed meats. Meats such as bacon, sausage and hot dogs are high in sodium and saturated fats. “Limit processed meats to special occasions and occasional treats to prevent a negative impact on your health and your belly,” Gidus suggests. Look for lower-fat options made with turkey or chicken breast over beef and pork varieties. But keep in mind that these lower-fat options typically contain just as much sodium as the original options, so don’t overdo it!”
Belly Bloater # 5: Carbonated beverages. Carbonation is mostly water, and it’s typically calorie free, so it seems innocent enough, but it can really bloat your belly. “Because the carbonation comes from gas blended with water, when you drink a carbonated beverage, the gas can “puff out” your stomach, making it appear distended and bigger than it really is,” explains Gidus. “This puffiness will last for only a few hours, but even so, avoid carbonated drinks on days when you want to look your slimmest.”
Belly Bloater # 6: Soda. A staple in most restaurants and homes (and at most holiday parties), it’s a big belly bloater. Soda contains gas-producing carbonation. Even more potent is sugar, a rich source of empty calories that does not provide fullness. Soda sparks a spike in blood sugar, which is followed by an insulin spike, leading to excessive belly fat storage.
“Diet soda isn’t the solution,” warns LaRue. “In addition to bloating carbonation, diet sodas are loaded with artificial sweeteners, which are a foreign chemical to your body. If you take in too much of an artificial ingredient, it may increase inflammation, which stores fat. In addition, some studies have linked diet soda with an increase in hunger and cravings, which can make staying on track with your meal plan a challenge.”
Belly Bloater # 7: Alcohol is a source of empty calories that can actually increase your appetite, leading to weight gain and increased belly fat when consumed in excess. In addition to limiting the amount of alcohol you drink, Palinski-Wade suggests simple guidelines:
• Your best choice for alcohol is red or white wine, a wine spritzer or light beer.
• If having a mixed drink, avoid high-calorie mixers such as soda. Instead, mix with club soda or seltzer with a splash of juice for flavor.
• Drink alcohol at the end of the meal instead of before. Alcohol can stimulate appetite and lower inhibitions, resulting in less healthy food choices or larger portions.