Trying to get flat abs? Here are 11 foods that can help

Get back on track with healthy eating and make this the year that you finally get the flat abs you've always wanted. To aid you in this quest, here, Ella Magers, author of The Six Weeks to Sexy Abs Meal Plan cookbook and founder of Sexy Fit Vegan, reveals her picks for the best foods for flat abs and how to incorporate them in everyday eating.

Best foods for flat abs

    "The key is to focus on filling your plate with as many whole plant foods as possible," says Magers. "They'll make you feel really good while you drop off the flab and get those abs you've always wanted."

    1. Leafy greens

    "They're my absolute favorite because they're nutrient-dense and calorie-light," says Magers. "Making huge salads is a great way to get lots of nutrients and helps you eating slowly so know when you're full." Don't love raw leafy greens? Try them cooked. "It's good to eat a variety that's raw and cooked," says Magers. Sautée spinach and add lemon to help with nutrient absorption. Massage kale, add a touch of extra virgin olive oil and bake until crispy for a snack. Don't forget that heartier vegetables like bok choy and beet greens also fall in the leafy greens bucket. "Beet greens are one of my favorites and are delicious sautéed, but most people don't think about them because they just focus on the beets," says Magers.

    Nathan Congleton / TODAY

    Servings: 8-10

    This comes straight from my Brazilian friend Michelli, who dissects and prepares the collards like a surgeon. She does not use the stalks at all, and finely shreds the leaves. This helps both the cooking and the flavor, since there's more surface area to soak up the yummy garlicky oil.

    Ingredients

      • 3 bunches collard greens (about 3 pounds)
      • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
      • 9 cloves garlic, minced
      • .25 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for seasoning

    Preparation

    Cut out the stems and center ribs of the collard greens, keeping the leaves whole. Clean the greens thoroughly by submerging them in a bowl or sink of water. Lift out and repeat the process until the greens are grit-free, then stack them, still wet, starting with larger leaves on the bottom. Tightly roll stacks of leaves lengthwise, like a cigar. Slice crosswise as thinly as possible.

    Heat the oil and garlic together in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring until the garlic is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the collard greens, folding with tongs so the garlic gets tossed with the greens and they start to wilt, about 1 minute. Add the salt and continue folding until the greens have all wilted and begin to release their moisture, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the collards to a serving bowl. Season with salt to taste and serve.

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    2. Avocado

    "Yes, it has fat, but it's healthy fat and it's a whole food fat instead of a derivative fat," says Magers. "Having a fat as a part of a whole food is the best way to consume it." Filling and satisfying, the fruit is a great addition to salads and sandwiches. "Avocado's creamy texture makes it a great replacement for mayo, and of course when it's turned into guacamole with chopped tomatoes, onion and cilantro, it's a perfect ab-flattening snack."

    Nathan Congleton / TODAY

    Prep time: 45 minutes

    Servings: 8

    Grown-ups and kids alike will love this spin on the traditional ranch dip. Thin it with a little water and it also dresses a salad.

    Ingredients

      • 1 small clove garlic, peeled and smashed
      • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
      • 1 avocado (8 ounces), chopped
      • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
      • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
      • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
      • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
      • 1 cup mixed fresh herbs (such as chives, tarragon, basil, cilantro, and parsley), plus more for serving
      • Crudités, for serving

    Preparation

    1. Using a flat side of a knife, mash garlic with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt until a paste forms. Transfer to a food processor with avocado, vinegar, buttermilk, mustard, oil, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper; purée until smooth. Add herbs; pulse just to combine.

    2. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. Sprinkle with more herbs and serve, with crudités.

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    3. Fresh fruit

    It doesn't matter what fruit you choose—the key here is to have a variety. "Every fruit has different nutrients and you should eat a new one every day," says Magers. "Berries may be the most nutritious and grapefruit may have the fewest calories, but that doesn't mean that you should limit yourself to them. Ideally, you should eat fruit by itself in the first half of your day because it is digested quickly and will give you quick release energy and won't bog you down, especially before a workout. Eating it alone is best because combining it with protein or dairy makes it harder for your body to break it down." If you absolutely can't eat fresh fruit by itself, try it with a dairy-free coconut yogurt.

    4. Chickpeas

    Garbanzo beans are high in fiber and protein and a great addition to leafy green salads. Blend them into a creamy hummus and use raw vegetables for dipping. In soups, leave them whole or blend them to make a creamy base.

    Siri Daly/Siriously Delicious

    Servings: 4

    These Chickpea Burgers are a hit (between Carson and I of course, kids were like, Chickpea wha??).  The coriander, cumin and cilantro add so much flavor, and the mushrooms combined with the beans made it taste hearty and delicious. I love them, and will make them again and again. We serve ours in pita pockets topped them with avocado, tomato and a store-bought tzatziki sauce (and I will forever have to Google the spelling of that word).

    Ingredients

      • 1 19-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
      • 1 clove garlic
      • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro (or parsley)
      • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
      • 1½ teaspoons ground coriander
      • 1 teaspoon salt
      • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
      • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
      • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
      • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
      • 1 egg, beaten
      • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
      • 2 tablespoons olive oil
      • 4 large pita pockets, for serving
      • Sliced avocado, for serving
      • Sliced tomato, for serving
      • Store-bought tzatziki sauce, for serving

    Preparation

    In a food processor or blender, add the chickpeas, garlic, cilantro, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper. Pulse until the mixture has a choppy, paste-like consistency.

    Using a rubber spatula, transfer the chickpea mixture into a large bowl and set aside.

    Add the mushrooms and carrots to the food processor and pulse until finely minced. Using a rubber spatula, add the mushroom mixture to the bowl with the chickpea mixture. Add the flour, egg and panko, then stir until combined. Form into four burger patties.

    In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the patties and cook for about 7 minutes per side, until golden brown. Serve in pita pockets topped with avocado, tomato and store-bought tzatziki sauce.

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    5. Flaxseed meal

    "This is better than straight flax seeds because it's ground up and easier for the body to digest," says Magers. "Adding a tablespoon to a smoothie thickens it up and also adds fiber, protein and omega 3s. Flax meal is also a great egg replacement in baked goods: just add some water and whisk together to create a gel-like consistency."

    Grace Parisi / TODAY

    Cook time: 40 minutes

    Prep time: 5 minutes

    Yield: About 8 cups

    Bringing a batch of this crunchy, yummy granola to the hosts of your next party will absolutely guarantee repeated invitations for years to come. If you bring along a quart of premium yogurt and maybe even some fresh fruit, you’ll provide them, post–party, with a luscious next–day breakfast.

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    Ingredients

      • 1/3 cup maple syrup
      • 3 tablespoons canola oil
      • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
      • 1/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
      • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
      • 1/2 teaspoon salt
      • Pinch of baking soda
      • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (preferably thick-cut)
      • 1 cup raw slivered almonds
      • 1/4 cup golden flax seed meal (or seeds ground in a coffee grinder)
      • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
      • 1/2 cup golden raisins
      • 1/2 cup dried sour cherries, chopped

    Preparation

    Preheat the oven to 300°F and line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. '

    In a large microwave-safe bowl, combine the maple syrup, canola oil, coconut oil and brown sugar. Microwave on high for 30 seconds.

    Add the cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Whisk until smooth. Add the oats, almonds and flax. Stir until completely coated. Spread out on the baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven, stirring occasionally, until golden, toasted and fragrant, about 40 minutes.

    Let cool completely, then add the cranberries, raisins and cherries. Store the granola in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

    Grace Parisi is a New York City-based food writer, cookbook author and food stylist. Her book, Get Saucy, was nominated for a James Beard award. Her latest book, Quick Pickles comes out in Spring 2016. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

    6. Fresh vegetable juice, especially green juice

    "It's great to give your digestive system a break sometimes and a green juice lets you pack in the nutrients of leafy greens but requires less work to digest," says Magers. To get started, choose a darker vegetables like kale, which is more nutrient-packed than lighter colored lettuces like romaine. But also consider dandelion greens — they're something you probably wouldn't eat alone but they're great in a smoothies. Since leafy greens don't produce that much juice on their own, Magers likes to add cucumbers, parsley, carrots and a little celery.

    7. Portobello mushrooms

    They're a perfect meat substitute with their deep umami flavor and hearty texture. "You can grill, sauté or broil them, plus they're filling and very low-calorie," says Magers. Another bonus: they soak up any flavor and are great alone or in a sandwich. For a healthy and easy marinade without any oil, Magers puts the mushrooms in a combination of Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar and BRAGG Liquid Aminos, a soy sauce substitute that's very low in sodium.

    Cook Smarts

    Cook time: 45 minutes

    Prep time: 25 minutes

    Servings: 4

    Ingredients

      • 1 onion, sliced
      • 1/2 lb, brown mushrooms, quartered
      • 8 large eggs, whisked
      • 2 Tbsp milk
      • 4 oz feta, crumbled
      • 1 1/2 Tbsp cooking oil
      • 4 oz baby kale

    Preparation

    To prep:

    1. Chop onions and mushrooms (can be done up to 3 days ahead).

    2. Whisk eggs with milk and some salt and pepper. Stir in feta.

    To cook:

    1. Preheat oven to 400F degrees.

    2. Heat up a skillet over medium heat. Add in cooking oil and then onions to heated oil with a dash of salt. Saute for about 5 minutes, until softened. Next add in mushrooms and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, to let mushrooms soften.

    3. Add in kale leaves and toss through to let the heat wilt the kale. Pour in egg and feta mixture. Stir to mix everything through and then transfer to oven. Cook for 18 to 22 minutes until knife comes out cleanly.

    8. Any nut milk

    Dairy is the worst for promoting flat abs, according to Magers, but nut milk is a perfect replacement in cereal, coffee, oatmeal and smoothies. "I never thought I'd do this, but I make my own nut milk and it only takes 5 minutes!" says Magers. As a back up, she also buys unsweetened nut milks which are often fortified and keeps flax milk at home because it has a very neutral flavor.

    For her homemade nut milks, Magers soaks raw almonds, hazelnuts or brazil nuts overnight in water. The next morning, she blends the nuts with water, a couple of dates for sweetness, and some vanilla and cinnamon. "Strain the liquid through a nut milk bag and you've got your nut milk," she says. If you want to skip the last step, use soaked cashews which are soft enough that you don't even have to strain them.

    Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

    Cook time: 30 minutes

    Prep time: 20 minutes

    Servings: 12

    Ingredients

      • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
      • 1/2 cup almond butter
      • 2 large eggs
      • 3/4 cup sugar
      • 1/4 cup prune puree
      • 2 teaspoons vanilla
      • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
      • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
      • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
      • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
      • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
      • 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt

    Preparation

    Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease an 8-by-8-inch pan with butter. Cut a piece of parchment to hang over 2 sides of the pan.

    Mix together the butter and almond butter by hand in a large mixing bowl. Beat the eggs in a small bowl, then add them to the butter mixture. Mix in the sugar, prune puree and vanilla.

    Whisk together the cocoa powder, flour and salt in a separate bowl. Gently stir the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Mix by hand just until combined; do not over-mix. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with the flaky sea salt.

    Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the brownies comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool, and then cut into squares.

    9. Tempeh

    "A lot of people are unfamiliar with tempeh, but it's a great ab fat blaster that's packed with protein," says Magers. "Tempeh is made with soy beans but unlike tofu, it's fermented so it's easier to digest. Cut it in blocks, then grill it alone, bake it or put it in stir-fries or salads to add that much more protein to your meal." For a quick fix, buy a pre-made low-sodium spice rub or make your own (Magers likes a combination of garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme and paprika), massage it into the tempeh and then put it in a frying pan.

    10. Dates

    "They can totally be considered a super food," says Magers. "They're a perfect whole food and are full of fiber. Plus, they're such a great sugar substitute and can sweeten up anything." Their sticky texture makes them ideal for the base of raw food desserts and homemade protein bars. Throw them in smoothies or blend them with nut milk for a quick snack. Magers also likes to mash them into a paste which she uses as an unrefined substitute for honey and agave. Or just enjoy them whole. "I put a few in my bag everyday and they provide immediate energy when I need them, especially before a workout."

    Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

    Servings: 8

    Whether you're looking to feed a big crowd or need delicious breakfast before work, this overnight oatmeal will make mornings so much easier.

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    Ingredients

      • 1 1/2 cups steel cut oats
      • 1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk
      • 4 cups water
      • Pinch kosher salt
      • 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
      • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
      • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
      • Chopped dates, for serving
      • Yogurt or half-and-half, for serving

    Preparation

    In a large slow cooker, combine oats, coconut milk, water, salt, coconut, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Cook for 7 to 8 hours on low. To serve, scoop into bowls and top with chopped dates and yogurt or half-and-half if you like.

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    11. Farro

    "We all know about quinoa, but farro is an ancient green that has same amount of protein, calories and fiber as quinoa, but has twice the amount of calcium," says Magers. "It's a slow-release energy grain that's very filling and has lots of nutrients. Plus it has a nutty flavor that's so delicious. It takes a while to cook, but putting it in a slow cooker makes it easy. I especially love to make a Slow-Cooker Farro Soup in the winter."

    Here, Manger's recipes for Slow-Cooker Farro Soup and Easy Beet and Quinoa Salad:

    Courtesy of Page Street Publishing Co.

    Cook time: 8 hours

    Prep time: 5 minutes

    Servings: 4

    This soup not only offers many important vitamins and minerals, but it will also keep you full while helping you lose weight through improved digestive and metabolic systems. The high fiber content of the farro, kale and cannellini beans promotes healthy digestion, and the kale is also especially effective at aiding in detoxing and fat burning. This soup is as delicious as it is filling, and the slow cooker will also bring out the rich flavors this recipe has to offer.

    Related: 10 foods for flat abs

    Ingredients

      • 1 cup farro, rinsed
      • 8 cups vegetable broth
      • 2 cups chopped kale
      • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
      • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
      • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
      • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
      • 1/2 large lemon, juiced
      • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
      • Black pepper to taste
      • 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

    Preparation

    Place all the ingredients except the cannellini beans in the slow cooker. Cook in the low setting for 8 to 10 hours.

    Add the beans to the soup and cook another 30 minutes before serving.

    Reprinted with permission from The Sexy Weeks to Sexy Abs Meal Plan by Ella Magers, Page Street Publishing Co. 2015.

    Courtesy of Page Street Publishing Co.

    Cook time: 10 minutes

    Prep time: 10 minutes

    Servings: 1

    Beets are a highly nutritious root vegetable that play a role in improving cardiovascular health. They’re also a brilliant color and make for a gorgeous salad! The quinoa adds complete protein and fills your tummy; the oranges add citrus sweetness and the pistachios add a perfect crunch to top it off!

    Related: Trying to get a flat abs? Here are 11 foods that can help

    Ingredients

      • 3 beets, peeled and sliced
      • 3/4 cup cooked cold quinoa
      • 2 handfuls of arugula, chopped
      • 1 stalk green onion, diced
      • 1 clementine or other seedless orange, peeled and sectioned
      • 2 tablespoons pistachios (or walnut pieces)
    • Dressing

      • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
      • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
      • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
      • 1/4 tablespoon Dijon mustard
      • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
      • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt to taste

    Preparation

    Place a steamer insert into a saucepan, and fill the pan with water to just below the bottom of the steamer. Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. Add the beets to the steamer, cover the pan and steam until the beets are just tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.

    Whisk the Dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. You can also use a similar store-bought version if you prefer.

    In a larger bowl, combine the quinoa, chopped arugula, green onion, orange sections and beets.

    Add 3 tablespoons of the dressing—the rest is to be stored in the fridge for another meal—and toss. To garnish, sprinkle the pistachios on top.

    Reprinted with permission from The Sexy Weeks to Sexy Abs Meal Plan by Ella Magers, Page Street Publishing Co. 2015.

    This post was originally published on Jan. 4, 2016.