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Foods That Make You Retain Water

author image Jill Corleone, RDN, LD
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and lecturing on diet and health for more than 15 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and in the book "Noninvasive Mechanical Ventilation," edited by John R. Bach, M.D. Corleone holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition.
Foods That Make You Retain Water
Foods high in sodium such as pizza make you retain water. Photo Credit: gbh007/iStock/Getty Images

It can be discouraging to step on the scale and see the number has jumped up several pounds in 12 hours. But such a sudden weight gain is most likely fluid retention, and you may be able to lose it as quickly as you gained it with a few tweaks to your food choices. Consult your doctor if you're concerned about fluid weight or you're having a difficult time losing it.

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Salt and Water Retention

Sodium is one of the primary elements found in salt. It is also an essential nutrient that helps regulate blood pressure and fluid balance, but you only need it in small quantities. When you consume too much sodium, your body may hold onto water, causing uncomfortable fluid retention and weight gain. Not adding salt to your food -- in cooking or at the table -- is one way to reduce sodium intake to help prevent water retention. For reference, it's recommended that you limit your daily sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams or less a day, which is the amount of sodium found in 1 teaspoon of salt.

To flavor food without the salt, use herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger, dill, oregano, paprika, cumin, pepper, onion or sage. Vinegar, lemon juice and mustard also add flavor without all the sodium.

Processed Foods Make You Retain Water

Salt from the shaker isn't the only source of sodium in your diet. Processed foods -- such as deli meat, canned soup, frozen dinners, boxed meals, flavored rice mixes, snack chips, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salad dressing, pickles, fast food and Chinese food -- are also high in sodium. It's not just salt that contributes to the sodium content in these foods but other ingredients such as monosodium glutamate, or MSG, baking soda, sodium nitrite, sodium saccharin and sodium benzoate. For example, a 1 1/2-cup serving of frozen macaroni and cheese can have as much as 1,100 milligrams of sodium. The amount in a slice of frozen pizza ranges from 530 to 1,090 milligrams. Cutting these types of foods from your diet reduces your daily sodium intake, which may help lessen the amount of water you retain.

Instead of all these processed foods, prepare your own food. Roast a fresh turkey to use as meat for sandwiches, then use the turkey bones to make your own broth for soup. Use the broth as the liquid when making rice. Instead of chips, snack on fresh fruits and vegetables. When eating out, ask that your food be prepared without salt, or order foods that are naturally low in sodium such as a salad and use vinegar and oil instead of the usual salad dressing.

A Word About Carbs and Water Retention

Carbs, found in foods such as bread, pasta, rice, fruit, vegetables and milk, also cause your body to hold onto water, but this is normal and does not cause swelling of hands, feet or belly. As a source of energy, carbs are stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen. Glycogen requires water for storage. The more glycogen your body has stored, the more water your body holds. That's one of the reasons people who follow a low-carb diet lose weight quickly when they begin the diet. Carbs contribute to normal water retention, and carb-rich foods -- whole grains, fruits and vegetables -- are an important part of a healthy diet plan.

What to Eat for Fluid Balance

While there are certain foods that cause your body to retain water, there are also foods that may help you lose some of that water. Potassium is a mineral that works with sodium for proper fluid balance in the body. Getting more dietary potassium helps your body get rid of excess sodium, which may also help you get rid of the extra water. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium, especially bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, oranges and spinach. Potassium supplements, however, are not recommended as a way to reduce fluid retention and may be dangerous. To counteract fluid retention from a high-sodium meal, try increasing your intake of potassium-rich whole foods.

Drinking more water also helps reduce fluid retention. Water helps kidneys flush out excess sodium, which in turn helps reduce the amount of water your body holds.

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