Here’s A Complete List Of Foods That Cause Water Retention

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We all want to look and feel our best, and not only does that come down to having a strong, muscular body and healthy body fat percentage, but also minimizing water retention and bloating.

Sometimes, we feel like we are following a good diet and should be seeing more definition in the abs rather than a “water retention stomach“ that looks like a bloated belly.

This can cause frustration, and you may even throw your hands up in the air and exasperation, asking yourself: “Why am I retaining water?“ So, what makes you retain water? What causes water weight gain? What causes water retention in terms of the foods that you eat?

In this guide to a list of foods that cause water retention, we will discuss what causes water retention in general, the ingredients or types of foods that cause water retention, and a list of the worst foods for water weight gain that you should eliminate from your diet to lose water weight.

We will look at: 

  • What Causes Water Weight Gain?
  • Complete List Of Foods That Cause Water Retention
  • What Can I Eat to Get Rid of Water Retention?

Let’s get started!

A person holding their stomach due to bloating.

What Causes Water Weight Gain?

Why am I retaining water?

Before we look at what makes you retain water foodwise, let’s briefly discuss what causes water weight gain for water retention in general.

The kidneys are responsible for excreting excess water and helping maintain proper water balance.

It is an intricate process governed by not only the kidneys but various hormones such as antidiuretic hormone (which causes water retention) and vasopressin, estrogen balance, particularly for women, electrolyte concentrations, among others. 

Certain foods promote diuresis or act as “diuretics,“ which means that they help you excrete excess water, whereas other foods cause water retention, meaning that you store more water and may feel bloated or experience water weight gain.

Certain conditions aside from eating “water retention foods” can cause “water retention stomach bloating” or water retention in your ankles, legs, or other parts of your body. 

Examples include general edema, premenstrual symptom (PMS), hormonal fluctuations often due to the menstrual cycle or pregnancy, hormonal imbalances in men or women for other reasons, peripheral vascular disease, obesity, congestive heart failure, pregnancy in general, and menopause.

A variety of salty foods such as chips, pretzels and other snack foods.

Complete List Of Foods That Cause Water Retention

The following is a list of foods that cause water retention and bloating. Minimizing these foods in your diet can help you drop water weight:

#1: Salty Foods

Sodium is one of the worst offenders when it comes to foods that cause water retention.

Research suggests sodium promotes water retention in the body because the body holds onto more water in order to dilute the sodium concentration in your blood and interstitial fluids.

Evidence demonstrates that dietary sodium may also affect hormones that impact water excretion.

Another reason that salty foods cause you to retain more water is that they tend to increase thirst but do not increase the volume of urine that you excrete, according to research.

Ketchup, snack foods and olives.

This means that your total body fluid level increases when you eat salty foods.

Many people assume most of the dietary salt consumption comes from salting our food before we eat it, but up to 75% of dietary sodium intake is usually attributable to sodium found in processed foods.

Foods such as frozen pizza, deli meats, condiments, pickles, peanut butter, cereals, soups, cheese, pretzels, chips, and biscuits are particularly high in added salt.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day, but under 1,500mg is recommended.

Some of the salty foods to avoid to decrease water weight gain include the following:

PretzelsFish sauceClams
Potato chipsCondiments like tomato sauce, salsa, Tabasco sauce, hot sauce, etc.Lobster
Tortilla chipsCommercial pizza dough and frozen pizzaSports drinks
Crackers Some peanut butter, hummus, and guacamole, depending on the recipe usedMany curries and Indian food dishes, particularly in the United States or outside of India
Packaged trail mixProcessed meatsCanned gravy
Beef jerky, Slim Jim’sPopcorn, especially microwave popcorn, movie theater popcorn, and flavored prepared popcorn like SmartfoodBullion, broth, and stock for soup
Deli meatsSalted nuts, such as salted mixed nuts, seasoned flavored nuts like chili almonds, etc.Seaweed salad
SalamiCapersCocktail weenies and pigs in a blanket
PepperoniOlivesNachos 
BaconPicklesQuesadillas
KielbasaCanned vegetablesHamburgers
SausageCanned soupsRaisin Bran cereal and certain other cereals that are often marketed as “healthy. “
Hot DogsCanned refried beansBoxed instant mashed potatoes
Corn DogsCanned chiliRaisin Bran cereal and certain other cereals that are often marketed as “healthy.“
CombosSauerkrautMalt-O-Meal Cereals
BuglesKimchiRoquefort cheese
Frozen appetizers like pizza rollsSalted codFlavored instant grits
Tater totsCured hamInstant pudding
French friesCured meat of any kindMost commercial salad dressings
Home friesCanned meat like SpamCertain protein powders
Onion ringsMany plant-based vegan meat like soy chicken nuggets or soy crumbles intended to taste like beefSeasoning packets
Appetizers like mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, potato boats, chicken nuggetsParmesan cheeseTable salt
Fish sticksSpray cheese and nacho cheeseLean Pockets
Pot pieAmerican cheese and other processed cheeseTV dinners
Frozen meals Salted butter or salted butter spreadsLean cuisine
Certain bread products like breakfast biscuits from a can, pie doughMarmiteHot Pockets
French breadBran muffinsSalted sunflower seeds
Soft pretzels and salted bagelsAnchoviesInstant seasoned rice
Fast foodChicharronesPork rinds
American Chinese foodSoy sauceCracklins 
The word carbs surrounded by carbohydrate heavy foods such as grains, pasta and fruit.

#2: Sugar and High-Carb Foods

High-carb foods also increase water retention in the body because the body stores 3 to 4 grams of water for every gram of glycogen stored.

This means that both complex carbs and simple carbs can increase water retention, and you might feel puffy after a big pasta dinner.

Some of the examples of high-carb foods that cause water retention include the following:

BreadPizzaPeanut butter
PastaRiceCracker jacks
CookiesCouscousAnimal crackers and teddy grahams
MilkshakesLasagnaNaan
CustardRavioliPad thai 
PuddingLo meinPretzels
Hot cocoaPierogiesDinner rolls
Cereal barsBiscottiCorn starch
Nutri Grain barsTortelliniCream of wheat cereal
GranolaFried doughOvernight oats
MuesliBulgurSteel cut oatmeal
DumplingsRice PilafPorridge
CakeGranola bars and energy barsMuffins
PiePopsiclesDonuts
Cinnamon bunsFrozen yogurtPaninis
Coffee cakeLow-fat yogurtOatmeal and oats
BiscuitsCotton CandyCereal
Canned fruit in syrupGo-gurtFig newtons
FudgeFruit on the bottom yogurtFruit juice
Caramel Goobers Peanut ButterBagels
Barbecue sauceDunkaroosEnglish muffins
Powdered creamersCrackersPotatoes and sweet potatoes
Sweetened condensed milkPotato chipsTortillas
Powered Instant BreakfastCorn chipsPastries
Dulce De LecheChocolate barsToaster pastries like Pop Tarts
Whipped cream and cool whipMarshmallows and fluffJams and jellies
Ice cream conesPackaged and processed foodsBreakfast syrup
Agave syrupSugary coffee drinksPancakes
Home fries and potato latkesCrepesWaffles
People toasting with alcoholic drinks.

#3: Alcohol

Although alcohol is actually a diuretic, drinking too much alcohol can increase water weight gain and water retention, particularly over time, as chronic alcohol consumption can damage the liver.

Also, in an acute sense, a night of drinking alcohol can increase water retention, particularly if you are drinking beer, which is high in carbs, or other cocktails and sugary alcoholic drinks because the sugars will also cause water retention and the carbonation in beer can cause bloating.

Salty drinks such as salted margaritas, tequila shots with lime and salt, or Bloody Marys with salty tomato juice can also lead to water retention after drinking alcohol due to the sodium in your alcoholic beverages.

A cup of green tea.

What Can I Eat to Get Rid of Water Retention?

Just as there are many foods that can cause water retention, there are certain foods and drinks that contain compounds that encourage the body to excrete excess water.

For example, green tea and black tea can be natural diuretics because they contain caffeine

Studies also suggest that foods and herbs like dandelion, coriander, fennel, radish, and melon have been shown to reduce water retention as well.

Eating foods high in potassium, such as bananas, avocados, mushrooms, beet greens and other greens, potatoes, Lima beans, dairy products like yogurt, citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits, honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon can also potentially help you lose excess water weight.

Potassium is an electrolyte that has somewhat of an antagonistic role relative to sodium, such that increasing your potassium intake can help the body excrete excess sodium.

Therefore, because sodium increases water retention, lowering your sodium levels by boosting your potassium intake can help your body let go of water retention caused by a high sodium diet or eating salty foods. 

If you’re concerned about chronic water retention, it is important to speak with your doctor about potential underlying health conditions and potential medications to help you manage your body water and decrease water weight retention.

For help getting on a low-sodium diet, check out our guide here.

Low sodium diet written out in sea salt granules.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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