Does your weight fluctuate from one day to the next? Perhaps you have form-fitting clothes for your "skinny days" and loose clothes for your "fat days?" You're not alone. The average person can easily gain up to 4 pounds on any given day due to water weight. Certain foods, especially those high in sodium and carbs, only make things worse.
High-sodium and high-carb foods are often the culprits behind fluid retention. If you want to flatten your belly and lose water weight, cut out processed products and limit your daily carb intake.
What Causes Fluid Retention?
Imagine waking up with a puffy face, swollen eyelids and a general feeling of heaviness. You eat a balanced diet and work out regularly and yet, your weight goes up and down. You can clearly see that your legs are swollen and your belly looks bigger than ever. It's not your fault, though — water weight is the culprit.
Also known as fluid retention, this problem can have a variety of causes. Hormonal fluctuations, prolonged sitting, sunburn and certain medications are just a few to mention. A diet high in sodium and/or carbs may cause bloating and water retention too. According to the World Action on Salt & Health, eating too much salt causes the body to retain around 1.5 liters of extracellular fluid.
Water retention may also be due to hormonal fluctuations, such as those occurring before your period. As the Mayo Clinic notes, most women experience bloating and gain water weight one to two days (or even five days!) before their period starts. Sometimes, fluid retention indicates more serious conditions, such as liver or kidney disease, hypothyroidism, lupus, arthritis or heart failure. Allergic reactions and certain drugs, such as corticosteroids and contraceptives, may contribute to this problem too.
Foods That Cause Water Retention
From smoked meat and potato chips to pasta, hundreds of foods may cause bloating and water retention. In general, high-carb and high-sodium products have the biggest impact. If you eat smoked salmon or pasta for dinner, expect to weigh more the next day.
Salty foods, for example, increase thirst, causing you to drink more water. At the same time, urine volume remains unchanged, according to a 2017 study published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism. Therefore, your body retains the extra fluid consumed, which leads to weight gain. A high-sodium diet also contributes to hypertension and puts stress on the kidneys.
Read more: 10 Myths About Salt Debunked
High-carb foods may cause water weight gain too. After ingestion, carbs are converted to glucose and used for energy, and the excess is stored in the muscles and liver. According to a 2015 research paper in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, the human body retains at least three grams of water for every gram of glycogen stored in muscle. That's why it's not uncommon to have puffy eyes and swollen legs after eating pizza, cookies, cakes, lasagna or fries.
Cut Back on Salt
Water weight gain can be frustrating at the least, especially if you're on a diet. One way to prevent it is to cut back on salt. The American Heart Association recommends consuming 1,500 milligrams to 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. The following foods are high in sodium, so they may cause bloating and water retention:
- Cured, smoked or canned meat and fish
- Deli meats
- Canned soups
- Canned vegetables
- Savory snacks
- Commercial sauces and salad dressings
- Pickled vegetables
- Noodle mixes
- Cheese spreads and most types of cheese
- Prepackaged mixes for pasta, rice and other dishes
- Frozen dinners
- Instant pudding
More than 75 percent of daily salt intake comes from processed foods. Fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts and other whole, natural foods have no added salt. They do contain sodium — but a lot less than their processed counterparts.
Smoked salmon, for example, provides 1,700 milligrams of sodium per serving. The same amount of raw salmon has only 50 milligrams of sodium per serving. There are 781 milligrams of sodium in one ounce of cured beef and 618 milligrams in one ounce of pan-fried bacon.
Reduce Your Carb Intake
A doughnut or a small serving of chips is unlikely to cause bloating and water retention. A large bowl of pasta, on the other hand, will leave you feeling heavy and push the scale up. If you tend to retain water, limit the following high-carb foods in your diet:
White rice (cooked) — 28.2 grams of carbs per serving
White potatoes (raw) — 37 grams of carbs per serving (one medium potato)
Pasta (cooked) — 42 grams of carbs per serving (one cup)
Bagels — 55 grams of carbs per serving
Pie — 43 grams of carbs per serving
White bread — 36 grams of carbs per serving (two slices)
French fries — 48 grams of carbs per serving
Cookies — 20+ grams of carbs per serving (one cookie)
Ice cream — 31+ grams of carbs per serving
This list may also include whole grains and breakfast cereals, pizza, sandwich wraps, soft drinks, milk chocolate, dried fruit, muffins, bananas, candies, smoothies, dates and more. Not all of these foods are unhealthy, though. Bananas, for example, pack high doses of potassium, manganese, magnesium, fiber and other essential nutrients. However, they may cause water weight gain when consumed in large amounts.
Let's say that you want to look and feel your best on your wedding day. In this case, it makes sense to cut down on carbs for a week or so before the event. This will allow your body to flush out excess water. Athletes and bodybuilders manipulate their carbs and water intake to get ripped before competitions or photo shoots.
Water Retention Remedies
You've cut back on carbs and sodium, but you're still struggling with water weight. Don't give up yet. There are a couple of things you can do to flatten your belly and banish fluid retention.
First of all, try to get more potassium in your diet. This mineral helps your kidneys flush out excess sodium, which in turn, may help prevent bloating and high blood pressure. Green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, grapefruit juice, peanut butter and avocado are high in potassium and low in carbs, so include them in your daily menu.
Dandelion tea, horsetail tea, nettle tea, fennel, garlic, parsley and other water retention remedies can help too. Fennel, for example, exhibits diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties, increasing the production of urine. Garlic has been used as a natural diuretic for thousands of years.
Beware, though, that herbs and spices may have potential side effects and interact with certain drugs. If you're under medical treatment, consult a doctor before using natural diuretics.
Read more: 10 Herbs and Spices to Help You Lose Weight
- Medical News Today: How to Lose Water Weight Naturally
- World Action on Salt & Health: Water Retention
- Mayo Clinic: Water Retention, Relieve This Premenstrual Symptom
- Better Health Channel: Fluid Retention (Oedema)
- Karger: Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism: Relationship Between Sodium Intake and Water Intake: The False and the True
- NCBI: Electrolytes & Blood Pressure: Dietary Salt Intake and Hypertension
- Springer Link: European Journal of Applied Physiology: Relationship Between Muscle Water and Glycogen Recovery After Prolonged Exercise in the Heat in Humans
- American Heart Association: Shaking the Salt Habit to Lower High Blood Pressure
- SELFNutritionData: Foods Highest in Sodium
- Heart Foundation: Foods High in Salt
- Nutritionix: Smoked Salmon
- Nutritionix: Raw Salmon
- SELFNutritionData: Cured Beef
- SELFNutritionData: Pan-Fried Pork Bacon
- SELFNutritionData: Cooked White Rice
- Nutritionix: White Potatoes
- Nutritionix: Cooked Pasta
- Nutritionix: Bagel
- Nutritionix: Pie
- Nutritionix: White Bread
- Nutritionix: French Fries
- Nutritionix: Cookies
- Nutritionix: Ice Cream
- SELFNutritionData: Bananas
- T-Nation: Shredded in 6 Days
- American Heart Association: A Primer on Potassium
- NCBI: BioMed Research International: Foeniculum vulgare Mill: A Review of Its Botany, Phytochemistry, Pharmacology, Contemporary Application, and Toxicology
- SagePub: Nephrology @ Point of Care: Diuretic Plants Cited in the “Moretum” Poem From the Appendix Vergiliana