6 Belly-Flattening Food Tips

Because crunches alone won't "cut" it!


by Kim Kash

The weather is warming, and if you're like me, you're probably hauling out your bathing suits, shorts and sundresses and cringing at the notion of wearing this stuff in public. (Did I really wear these last year?)

To address the winter pounds that have gathered around your middle, you may have already started doing crunches and other ab work. But, lingering myths to the contrary, there is no such thing as spot fat burning. All the crunches in the world won't reveal a six pack that's hiding under a layer of belly fat.

Don't get me wrong, any work you do to tighten your core is a good thing, for the sake of your posture and your lower back health. And standing up straight and tall is definitely flattering to your waistline. But really whittling the middle takes more than that. You need a three-pronged attack: cardio, core work and cooking.

And when I say cooking, my thoughts turn naturally to greens.

Sure, summer abundance isn't here quite yet, but some fresh veggies are beginning to make appearances in the fields and markets. The high fiber and water content in these spring veggies will fill you up, but their low-calorie goodness won't fill you out. And the array of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients will supercharge your workouts.

Let's take a look at what's fresh this season.

Cooking greens. Swiss chard, mustard greens, escarole and other hearty varieties of cooking greens make a filling side dish. They're also the perfect base for a one-skillet meal with other vegetables, beans or meat. Do not simply boil cooking greens, because boiling dulls the color and adds a bitter flavor. Instead, drop greens for just an instant into a pot of boiling water and then drain, freshen with cold water and pan-cook them with a little olive oil. For variety, add combinations of nuts, dried fruits, seeds and seasonings. You'll never tire of this nutritional powerhouse.

Salad greens. Fresh spring baby lettuces, arugula and dandelion greens are high in fiber and low in calories. Leafy greens are also very hydrating, which is important for flushing toxins from the system. Toxins are stored in body fat, so if you're losing weight it's important to stay hydrated. Keep a salad spinner full of washed salad greens in the fridge (remember to give them a fresh rinse and spin right before using).

Watercress. This small leafy green has a mild but distinctive fresh flavor and a very satisfying texture. It's substantial, more like raw spinach than lettuce. Though you can definitely throw this into salads just like the other spring greens, I like using it in other ways, too. Its meaty texture makes it a great sandwich stuffer. It also holds up well when you stir big handfuls of it into finished hot vegetable dishes such as oven-roasted beets, or a medley of grilled vegetables and new potatoes.

Asparagus. Grilled, roasted, steamed, drizzled in extra-virgin olive oil, or dressed with sesame vinaigrette, asparagus is a simple springtime treat. It's also a great source of the B-complex vitamins, which help your body regulate energy (a very helpful thing for your revved-up spring workouts). Look for pencil-thin, crisp, fresh varieties that were grown near you.

Vidalia onions. Don't be fooled: Vidalias may look similar to regular cooking onions, but they're a whole different animal! All onions are packed full of antioxidants, which, among other things, help the body deal with stress, and a growing body of research indicates that stress raises cortisol levels, which contributes to the accumulation of belly fat. As for tasty spring Vidalia onions, they are juicier than regular cooking onions and have a sweeter flavor. This makes them a good choice for serving raw in salads and on burgers and veggie platters.

Artichokes. These beautiful and strange thistles can look intimidating, but artichokes are easy to prepare. Many recipes call for trimming the points off each leaf or other time-consuming steps. The points are rather sharp thorns, so if you don't trim them off, be careful not to put them in your mouth or prick your finger. I don't bother to trim them. Just chop off the stem at the base of the artichoke and drop the head into a pot of lightly salted water with a little lemon juice or white vinegar to prevent discoloration during cooking. Test for doneness after about 20 minutes; a knife blade should easily pierce the base of the choke. Large artichokes may take longer to cook. Serve artichokes whole, with lemon juice or vinegar for dipping. If you don't mind some extra  calories, artichokes are delicious with homemade mayonnaise, aioli or hollandaise. To eat an artichoke, pull a leaf (or petal) off the head. Then, holding onto the pointy end of the leaf, put the part that had been connected to the base in your mouth, and pull between your teeth—a tender morsel of artichoke flesh will remain on your tongue. Repeat until all the leaves have been removed. Then, unless it is a very small artichoke, you will need to use the edge of a spoon to gently scrape away the hairy choke, until all that's left is the tender artichoke heart. Slice it into chunks and enjoy.

So, there are six tips to give you a running start on healthy, fresh eating for the spring. As you ramp up your fitness routine with the longer, warmer days, a diet based on fresh, local produce will serve you well.

Trust me, your belly will thank you!

Kim Kash has been a writer and editor for over 20 years, many of those with Daedalus Books. The author of the bestselling Ocean City: A Guide to Maryland's Seaside Resort (Channel Lake, 2009), Kim is a founder of the Greenbelt Farmers Market near Washington, D.C. Topics she covers as a freelance writer range from federal government policy to yoga, food and travel. She often writes for beachbody.com which provides effective weight loss fitness programs for all fitness levels. Two years ago at age 40, Kim and her husband sold everything and moved to the Middle East. Since then, she has traveled to 12 new countries and has taken up sailing, diving and rock climbing.

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