List of Foods That Cause Water Retention

List of Foods That Cause Water Retention

Are you finding it difficult to lose weight despite exercising and reducing your calorie intake? Do you have swollen joints and puffy muscles? Unable to achieve that lean, ripped beach body appearance?

It’s likely that you are suffering from water retention. Officially called edema, water retention refers to an excess holding of water in the body. This extra H2O is held directly under the skin, giving a puffy appearance to the muscles. 

In this article, I”ll reveal the 6 key foods that lead to water retention that you need to eliminate from your body in order to overcome water retention. 

Water Retention Overview


Water is a vital component of our bodies. In fact, about 60 percent of your body, by weight, is water. Water’s roles include protecting joints, ligaments, and organs by acting as a cushion as well as facilitating digestion and the movement of oxygen and nutrients around the body.

Blood, which is the key transport of nutrients, is 90 percent water.

Our bodies have built-in water-regulating mechanisms that help us to get the right balance of water. But there are lifestyle habits that we can adopt that interrupt that ideal water balance. 

An obvious problem is not drinking enough water. This will cause the body to go into survival mode by hanging on to every ounce of water that it does have.

Causes of Water Retention

In this article, we will focus on water retention due to food intake, But that is not the only thing than can cause fluid retention. Here are some other causes you need to know about:

  • PMS – water retention that causes bloating and a general feeling of unease is common among women in the days before their monthly cycle.
  • Menopause – the hormonal changes that accompany menopause may result in a build-up of excess fluid under the skin.
  • Pregnancy – when a woman becomes pregnant, she will immediately begin retaining excess fluid in order to supply the needs of the developing life within her. 
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6 Foods That Cause Water Retention

Your first line of defense against fluid retention should be to remove foods and beverages that are contributing to the problem. Here are the six biggest culprits that need to be shifted to your no-go list.

1. Canned Foods

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Canned foods, such as tinned soups, vegetables, ready-made meals, and fruits are usually filled with preservatives that could lead to water retention. The biggest problem is sodium, which draws water, leading to a fluid imbalance. [1]

In addition to having unacceptable levels of sodium, canned foods are likely to be high in sugar as well as artificial flavors and preservatives that are doing nothing good for your body and are likely to be toxic.

2. Alcohol

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It is easy to be fooled by alcohol. When we get thirsty we are likely to crave a cool beer to quench our desire. While that beer might give you an immediate sense of satisfaction, it will actually cause you to lose water. That is because alcohol is a diuretic. It will flush water from your body and make you want to urinate more frequently.

Too much alcohol intake, though, leads to fluid retention. Alcoholic drinks usually also contain high levels of sugar, which contributes to the water retention problem. 

Excessive intake of alcohol can also contribute to a range of kidney diseases, as well as a host of social problems. People who drink too much tend to be overweight, have high blood pressure and have a higher risk of heart disease. [2]

3. Salty Foods

salty snacks assortment shot from above

Salt intake draws water and causes the body to hang onto H2O. Here are some salty foods that you need to cut from your diet in order to get on top of your edema problem:

  • Salted nuts
  • Potato chips
  • Tinned soup
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Tinned fruit
  • Bacon
  • Salami
  • Processed cheeses
  • Sausages

4. High Sugar Foods

assortment of products with high sugar level

You probably already know that high-sugar foods lead to fat retention in the body. That’s due to a combination of their high proportion of simple carbohydrates and the effect that it has on the body’s production of insulin.  

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Sugar also causes the body to retain water. So, by doing your best to cut sugars from your diet, you will be fighting weight gain on two levels:

  1. Reducing fat accumulation
  2. Reducing water retention

It is impossible to cut all sugar from your diet. However, by reducing your intake of the following foods, you can reduce it to a level that will not cause water retention:

  • soda drinks
  • baked goods
  • sweets
  • cakes
  • candy
  • ice cream
  • energy drinks
  • fruit juice
  • breakfast cereals

In addition to cutting back on these sources of sugar, you should also stop adding sugar to beverages. The most obvious case of this is coffee or tea. If you are in the habit of adding one or more teaspoons of sugar to your hot drink, you will have to change that habit if you want to beat edema. 

5. Refined Carbs

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Refined carbs are whole-grain foods that have been heavily processed. In that process, many of the health-giving nutrients, including fiber, have been removed from the grain. As a result, these carb foods are more quickly absorbed into the body. This causes an increase in insulin production from the pancreas as well as fluid retention.

Here are some common refined carbohydrates that you should remove from your diet:

  • Breakfast cereals
  • White bread
  • Pasta
  • White rice

6. Fried Foods

variety of beer snack

Fried foods, such as French fries, will also lead to the body holding onto an excess amount of water. In addition, fried foods are high in omega-6 fatty acids but very low in omega-3 fatty acids. Our bodies are generally way overbalanced in favor of omega-6. What we need are more omega-3 fatty acids to promote overall good health and reduce edema. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between water retention and edema?

Edema is a medical condition that results when you have too much water in your body. The symptoms of edema are swelling around the joints, puffiness of the muscles of the legs and arms, and weight gain. 

Edema may be the result of eating foods that cause water retention. Other possible causes are congestive heart failure and inefficient activity of the blood vessels that restricts blood flow leading to increased blood pressure (remember, your blood is 90 percent water). 

What are some natural diuretics to remove water from the body?

There are some effective natural herbal diuretics that will help flush excess water from your body. Six of the best natural diuretics are dandelion, hawthorn, juniper, horsetail, hibiscus, and parsley.

What are the best foods to eat to prevent water retention?

The best foods to eat in order to prevent excess water retention are lean proteins like eggs, chicken, fish, and protein powder. Be sure to also drink plenty of water. Your balanced diet should also include leafy green vegetables, healthy fats like nuts and avocado, and fiber-rich whole grains. 


Water retention is a common problem that prevents people from getting lean, leaving them feeling bloated and looking puffy. It may also lead to some serious health issues. By eliminating the water-retaining foods we have covered in this article, you will be able to help get a handle on this problem. 

At the same time, you should eat a balanced diet that has a low sodium level, along with a constant water intake to promote frequent urine production. 

  1. Gozansky DM, Herman RH. Water and sodium retention in the fasted and refed human. Am J Clin Nutr. 1971 Jul;24(7):869-71. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/24.7.869. PMID: 4253703.
  2. Hobson RM, Maughan RJ. Hydration status and the diuretic action of a small dose of alcohol. Alcohol Alcohol. 2010 Jul-Aug;45(4):366-73. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agq029. Epub 2010 May 24. PMID: 20497950.

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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