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Foods to Eat and Avoid

Foods to Eat and Avoid

Building abs is possible both inside and outside of the gym. Incorporating whole grains and fatty fish while cutting sugar-sweetened drinks is a great start to an ab-building diet.

If you’re looking to get a six pack, switching up your diet is essential.

Certain foods can boost metabolism, enhance fat burning, and keep you feeling full between meals.

Meanwhile, others contribute little more than extra calories and sugar, increasing your risk of weight gain and excess body fat.

This article examines the best diet to get defined abs, including which foods you should eat and avoid to maximize your results.

Surprisingly, your kitchen is a great place to start building abs. It’s important to fill your diet with lots of nutritious, whole foods, such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, and high-protein items.

These foods are not only high in micronutrients and antioxidants but also low in calories. Thus, they can support weight loss and increase fat burning.

Additionally, they supply fiber, protein, and healthy fats, all of which play a central role in improving body composition (1, 2, 3).

However, it’s important to focus on overall fat loss rather than spot reduction, which involves targeting a specific area of your body, such as your belly, for weight loss or fat burning.

Despite the popularity of this technique in the fitness industry, studies show that spot reduction is generally ineffective (4, 5).

Additionally, keep in mind that diet isn’t the only factor when it comes to getting more defined abs.

In fact, getting regular physical activity is just as crucial to burning calories and toning your muscles.


A diet for abs should include plenty of whole foods rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. It’s also important to focus on overall fat loss rather than spot reduction and pair your diet with regular physical activity.

Aside from hitting the gym, choosing the right foods can help you get abs quicker. Here are a few of the best foods to eat on an ab-building diet.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and veggies are very nutrient-dense, meaning that they’re low in calories but high in antioxidants, fiber, and an assortment of vitamins and minerals (6).

They may also boost weight loss and fat burning, making them a must-have for any ab-building diet.

According to a review of 10 studies, eating at least 4 servings of veggies per day was associated with a lower risk of weight gain and reduced waist circumference in women (7).

Another study in 26,340 people showed that eating more fruits and veggies was linked to lower body weight and less overall body fat, while more fruit intake was tied to less belly fat (8).

Whole grains

Whole grains like oats, barley, buckwheat, and quinoa can be a great addition to your diet if you’re looking to get abs.

In addition to being high in fiber, which can enhance weight loss, digestion, and blood sugar levels, whole grains are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (9, 10).

Some research suggests that eating whole grains can reduce appetite and influence your body’s energy use, both of which can affect body composition (11).

One small, 12-week study in 50 people also found that swapping refined wheat bread for whole-grain wheat bread led to significant reductions in belly fat (12).

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds provide the perfect balance of fiber, protein, and healthy fats, all of which can be incredibly beneficial for getting abs.

In a 6-week study in 48 people, eating 1.5 ounces (43 grams) of almonds per day led to significant reductions in belly fat (13).

Another study in 26 people showed that eating 1.2 ounces (35 grams) of chia flour daily for 12 weeks decreased body weight and waist circumference (14).

Pistachios, walnuts, almonds, pecans, and Brazil nuts are all great nuts to incorporate into your diet, alongside seeds like chia, flax, pumpkin, and hemp.

Fatty fish

Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which play a key role in heart health, brain function, inflammation, and weight control (15, 16, 17).

Eating fish can not only help you drop belly fat but also potentially reduce rick factors for heart disease, such as high triglyceride levels.

One study in 2,874 adults found that those who regularly ate fatty fish tended to have less belly fat and lower triglyceride levels. Similarly, eating lean fish was tied to lower waist circumference and triglyceride levels in women (18).

What’s more, fish is high in protein, which may promote abdominal toning.

Research suggests that higher protein intake may be associated with less belly fat and could help reduce appetite and increase weight loss (2, 19, 20).


Legumes are a family of plants that include lentils, beans, peas, and peanuts.

They’re typically a great source of essential nutrients like protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, and zinc (21).

In particular, eating more protein has been linked to improvements in body composition and reductions in belly fat (19, 20, 22).

Meanwhile, increased fiber intake is associated with weight loss and decreased belly fat (23, 24).


Green tea has been studied for its potential to rev up weight loss and fat burning.

This is largely due to the presence of catechins like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a compound shown to increase the number of calories burned throughout the day (25).

One review of six studies noted that regular green tea intake led to a decrease in belly fat, weight, and waist circumference (26).

Black tea is also rich in flavonoid compounds that can stimulate weight loss.

One 3-month study in 111 people found that drinking 3 cups (710 ml) of black tea daily led to a 3/4-inch (1.9-cm) reduction in waist circumference and 1.4 pounds (0.6 kg) of weight loss (27).

Other teas, such as white, oolong, and herbal varieties, may also be beneficial.

In fact, a study in 6,432 people determined that tea drinkers tend to have lower body weight and waist circumference than people who don’t drink tea (28).


Fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, legumes, and tea are all nutritious additions to an ab-building diet.

Besides adding healthy ab-building foods to your diet, you should avoid a few that may harm your waistline or overall health.

Here are a few items that you should limit or cut out completely if you want to get abs.

Sugar-sweetened drinks

Sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, and juice can increase body fat and stall progress on getting abs.

These drinks are not only high in calories but also packed with sugar.

Studies show that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages may be linked to a higher risk of belly fat and weight gain (29, 30, 31).

Plus, a study in 31 people revealed that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages for 10 weeks reduced both fat burning and metabolism compared to not drinking them (32).

Fried foods

In addition to being high in calories, fried foods like French fries, chicken strips, and mozzarella sticks are also high in trans fats.

Trans fats are produced via hydrogenation, a process that allows oils to remain solid at room temperature (33).

Not only are trans fats linked to a higher risk of heart disease, but animal studies have also found that they may contribute to weight gain and increased body fat (34, 35).

In fact, one six-year study in monkeys discovered that a diet high in trans fats caused weight gain and increased belly fat — even without excess calories (36).


In moderation, an alcoholic beverage here and there can be enjoyed as part of a healthy, ab-building diet.

However, excessive drinking can harm both your health and your waistline.

For example, one study in over 8,600 people found that greater alcohol intake was tied to larger waist circumference (37).

Another study in 11,289 people showed that those who drank more alcohol during each outing were more likely to have excess belly fat than those who consumed less than 2 drinks per occasion (38).

Sugary snacks

Sugar-filled snacks like cookies, cakes, and candies should be kept to a minimum if you’re looking to reduce belly fat and increase ab definition.

Many of these foods are high in calories, as well as added sugar in the form of fructose.

One study showed that adolescents who consumed the highest amounts of fructose per day tended to have more belly fat and approximately 5.7 lbs (2.6 kg) more fat mass than those who consumed the lowest amounts (32, 39).

Plus, research suggests that fructose may increase hunger and appetite more than regular sugar, which could potentially lead to weight gain (40).

Refined grains

Refined grains like white rice, bread, and pasta have been stripped of many nutrients during processing to extend shelf life and improve texture.

Compared to their whole-grain counterparts, refined grains are typically lower in fiber and several key vitamins and minerals.

Studies indicate that swapping refined grains for whole grains may help support weight loss and decrease body fat.

One study in 2,834 people found that eating more whole grains was associated with less belly fat while refined grain intake was tied to increased belly fat (41).


Limiting your intake of sugar-sweetened drinks, fried foods, alcohol, sugary snacks, and refined grains can help decrease belly fat to help you get abs.

Exercise is just as important as diet when it comes to building muscle and increasing ab definition.

Cardio or aerobic exercise involves increasing your heart rate through activities like jogging, biking, boxing, or swimming.

Adding cardio to your routine can help burn calories and increase overall weight loss to help you get abs more quickly (42, 43).

You may also want to consider ramping up your routine with resistance training, which is a form of physical activity focused on building strength and endurance.

According to one review, resistance training could help increase lean body weight, reduce fat mass, and boost metabolism by 7% within just 10 weeks (44).

Resistance training typically involves lifting weights or doing bodyweight exercises, such as push-ups, squats, and lunges.

Exercises used to tone core muscles can also help you get abs. These include crunches, planks, mountain climbers, and sit-ups.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is another regimen that involves rotating between intense bursts of physical activity and brief recovery periods.

Studies show that HIIT may reduce belly fat and total body fat more than other types of exercise, making it a good addition to your ab-building routine (45, 46).


Cardio, resistance training, and HIIT can increase fat loss and build muscle to lead you toward strong, defined abs.

If you want to get a six pack, changing your diet is key.

Fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fatty fish, and tea can all help accelerate fat burning and improve body composition.

Meanwhile, you’ll want to avoid fried foods, sugary snacks, refined grains, sugar-sweetened beverages, and excessive alcohol intake.

For best results, be sure to combine your nutritious, ab-building diet with a regular exercise routine and healthy lifestyle.