Edema is a swelling of the tissues that occurs when excess fluid is retained within the body. A variety of medical conditions and dietary factors can cause or contribute to edema. Regardless of the cause, the primary dietary method for reducing edema is to limit intake of sodium. The first step in achieving this is to identify which foods are high in sodium and which foods are low in sodium. Increasing the low-sodium foods will not help your edema if you continue to eat other foods that are high in sodium.
Sodium and Edema
Sodium, the primary mineral found in table salt, plays a key role in fluid balance. When there is an excess of this essential mineral in the body, the tissues will hold onto water to balance the fluid-sodium ratio. This is why you may feel bloated after a high-salt meal. For healthy people, maintaining a moderate sodium intake will reduce or prevent fluid retention. For those with severe edema resulting from chronic conditions such as heart, kidney or liver failure, reducing sodium will aid the body in releasing some of the stored up fluids. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that people with severe or chronic edema restrict sodium intake to 2,000 milligrams or less per day.
Foods with less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving are considered low-sodium foods, while high-sodium foods contain more than 400 milligrams per serving, reports the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Generally, the less processed a food is, the lower in sodium it is. Fresh or frozen fruits or vegetables are naturally low in sodium, and certain dairy products, such as milk and yogurt, may be considered low-sodium. One cup of milk has 120 milligrams of sodium, and 1 cup of plain yogurt has 150 milligrams. Beware of cheese and cottage cheese, however, as these tend to have more sodium due to processing. Grains such as rice, oats and pasta are naturally low in sodium, but many higher-processed grain products such as bread, bagels, cereal or pancakes tend to be higher in sodium. Fresh meats, fish and poultry are also naturally low in sodium, but avoid those that have had salt added through seasonings, marinades or injected solutions.
Avoiding High-Sodium Foods
Following a low sodium diet means not only increasing low-sodium foods in your diet but decreasing intake of high-sodium foods. One way to do this is to cut back on salt, as just 1 teaspoon of salt contains 2,325 milligrams of sodium. Salt is just one part of the picture, however. According to the FDA, only 11 percent of sodium in the diet comes from adding salt to foods during preparation or at the table, while 77 percent comes from eating prepackaged and prepared foods. The remaining 12 percent is naturally occurring in foods that grow in the ground. So while reducing the salt shaker habit will decrease sodium intake, it is important to limit eating processed foods as well. Flavor your food with herbs and spices instead of salt, and avoid foods that come prepared with seasonings or sauces, such as seasoned pasta or rice in a box.
Balancing Your Diet
To treat edema, focus on a balanced diet high in foods that are naturally low in sodium, and avoid foods high in sodium. Individuals experiencing edema, regardless of the cause, will benefit from eating fewer highly processed and prepackaged foods with added salt, preservatives and seasonings and focusing on a diet of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, fish, poultry, minimally processed grains, nuts, legumes and beans.
- PubMed Health National Library of Medicine: Swelling
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Evidence Library: Sodium and Fluid Restriction and Heart Failure
- MedlinePlus: Salt: Too Much of a Good Thing
- Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: Reduce Salt and Sodium in Your Diet
- Food and Drug Administration: Sodium in Your Diet: Using Nutrition Facts Labels to Reduce Your Intake