ater retention happens when there’s an excess fluid stuck inside your body tissues, circulatory system, or cavities. It is also known as edema, a condition which can cause swelling in your feet, hands, legs, ankles, or another area of your body.

These swellings can become so severe that can make the simplest everyday activities hard to achieve, and this includes even walking.

The thing is, our body is consisted mostly of water, or about 70%, both inside and outside our cells. This includes our organs, blood, and muscles.

While the lymphatic system is responsible for draining the excess fluid from the body tissues, it can fail to do this task properly. So, the water retains, causing swelling in those areas.

Types of Water Retention

There are two types of edema, generalized and localized. The first one occurs throughout the entire body, while the later in specific parts.

Symptoms of Water Retention

  • Feeling of puffiness, usually the legs, feet, and ankles
  • Stiff, swollen, and painful joints
  • Shiny, stretched skin
  • Headaches
  • Dimples when pressing the skin
  • Enlarged or bloated abdomen
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Rapid or sudden weight gain
  • Reduced flexibility of the joints (wrists, ankles, and fingers)

Other rare but serious symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, heat or redness in the swollen area. If you have them, make sure you consult a doctor immediately.

Causes of Water Retention

There are various causes of fluid retention, depending on different factors. The most common ones are the following:

  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • High salt intake
  • Hot weather
  • Burns, and sunburns
  • Side effects of certain medications (including oral contraceptives)
  • Pregnancy
  • Menstrual period
  • Menopause
  • Serious disease

The Condition Can Be Symptomatic

As we mentioned above, water retention can sometimes be a symptom of a serious disease, such as liver disease, heart failure, kidney disease, malignant lymphedema, chronic lung diseases, thyroid disorder, allergic reaction, arthritis, etc.

Therefore, it’s crucial to make various tests such as urine tests, blood tests, kidney and liver function tests, chest x-ray or ECG to determine the root cause.

If the cause proves to be heart failure, you will likely experience other symptoms like lightheadedness, weakness, tiredness, rapid heartbeat, and shortness of breath.

Factors That Trigger/Affect Water Retention


Believe it or not, diet is one of the most important factors that influence this condition. What you eat and drink directly affects the severity of edema. For instance, sodium-rich food is the first thing you should stay away from. Below in the post, you will find more foods you should avoid if you want to prevent or reduce the symptoms of fluid retention.


Physical inactivity, standing or sitting for too long can make your tissues retain water. So, it’s crucial to keep your blood circulating by moving around from time to time.


Usually, women feel bloated days before their menstrual cycle, and this is normal. Also, birth control hormones and those taken during hormone replacement therapy can also make your body hold water.


In some cases, water retention can occur as a side effect of the following medications:

  • NSAIDs like aspirin and ibuprofen, and other pain relievers
  • Hypertension medication
  • Chemotherapy medication
  • Antidepressants

As you can see, you’re able to make changes in some of these factors to improve your condition. For instance, if you work a desk job, you can stand up and move around every hour, thus improve your blood circulation and prevent your feet from swelling at the end of the day.

However, your diet is what affects your condition the most. Therefore, it’s crucial to know what foods are bad for water retention so you can avoid them.

Foods to Avoid

Even though sodium is important for keeping the balance of fluids inside and outside the cells, it can be harmful when consumed in excess amounts. You only need 2000 to 2500mg of sodium daily for normal metabolic function, so everything above that is harmful.

Studies prove that high levels of sodium increase the retention of water in the body. This doesn’t mean you should just quit salt or reduce the amount used in dishes, but also avoid foods that include high levels of sodium in their content, and some other unexpected items. So, here are the foods and drinks you should avoid.

1. Table Salt

It’s the biggest source of sodium. Instead of regular table salt, try adding some other spices to your dishes, like ginger, garlic, black pepper, cilantro, chives, or hot sauce.

2. Processed and Packaged Foods

Most processed foods contain high levels of sodium to maintain fresh, so it’s best if you can limit or completely avoid them.

3. Alcohol

Excess alcohol consumption can lead to dehydration, thus triggering water retention especially in the legs and stomach.

4. Flavor Packets and Condiments

Ketchup, mustard, and soy sauce are just some of the flavor packets and condiments that people with water retention should avoid. They are loaded with sodium, so try replacing them with lemon juice, fresh herbs and spices, cumin, ground pepper, and onion and garlic powder.

5. Canned Soups and Vegetables

Be careful when choosing canned veggies and soups, as some of them can contain 1,300 mg of sodium. Instead, try to make your own using fresh ingredients and low-sodium broth.

6. Deli Meats

Hot dogs and sliced deli meats are one of the greatest hidden sources of sodium. For instance, a slice of regular deli ham can contain more than 300mg of sodium, while a hot dog can have up to 700 mg. Other cold cuts you should avoid are sausage, bacon, and smoked ham.

7. Caffeinated Beverages

Coffee, tea, and aerated colas are dehydrating beverages you don’t want to consume when dealing with edema. So, it’s best to limit their intake.

8. Soft Drinks

These popular drinks are packed with sodium, thus not recommended for anyone with fluid retention. For example, a regular serving of soda contains 30-70mg of sodium.

9. Frozen Meals

Frozen meatloaf dinners or pizzas can contain up to 1,800mg of sodium. So, you can try finding some other meal the next time you’re hungry, right?

10. White Flour

Carbs in refined flour accumulate in the body, not allowing your kidneys to function properly. By slowing down your kidney’s function, they increase your body’s amounts of water. Therefore, it’s best to stay away from white bread, pasta, crackers, pizza, and other products from white flour. Try to reduce their intake or replace the white flour with whole wheat.

By limiting or avoiding these foods and drinks you will significantly reduce your symptoms of water retention.

What to Eat

  • Don’t forget to drink a lot of water as dehydration triggers fluid retention.
  • Drink herbal teas (green tea, mint, chamomile)
  • Also, eat plenty of potassium-rich foods like bananas, kiwis, prunes, apricots, etc.
  • Last but not least, consume a lot of veggies and fruits.

Source: Deeper Health Perspectives