A bloated tummy from fluid retention can be uncomfortable, and for many people they equate this to feeling ‘fat’, which of course there is no relationship between the two. Water retention can cause swelling in other parts of the body too, but most commonly many people experience it around the stomach. Water retention can happen for a number of reasons which can sometimes be medical, but if there are no underlying health reasons and the bloating is fairly mild then a few simple dietary changes can make a huge difference:
- Stay hydrated – being dehydrated can result in the body holding on to water. Make sure you drink enough water throughout the day and account for any water losses through hot weather, exercise or alcohol consumption.
- Reduce your sodium intake – sodium helps regulate fluid levels in the cells. Excess sodium can result in water retention. Most commonly high salt foods tend to be processed foods. However, those that follow a diet containing mostly whole natural food probably don’t have a diet high in salt and so this may not always apply. However, there are natural whole foods that may be high in salt such as cheeses or cured meats. In addition, some people do not experience fluid retention at all with increased salt intake and so this is very individual.
- Avoid eating too much refined carbohydrates (e.g. sugary foods, foods made from white flour) – these types of foods produce an insulin spike which causes the reabsorption of sodium back into the kidneys which results in the body holding on to more water. Eat minimally refined carbohydrates instead along with healthy fats and protein to produce a steady release of carbohydrate so that there aren’t rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin.
- Eat potassium rich foods – potassium and sodium work in conjunction with one another and this helps regulate water balance. To ensure you are getting enough potassium make sure you try to get your 5-7 portions of veg and fruit each day.
- Get enough B6 – some research has found that B6 as well as magnesium, can potentially help reduce bloating, particular for women around the menstrual cycle. Foods rich in B6 include poultry (e.g. chicken, turkey), eggs, vegetables, bananas, nuts, potatoes, milk. Foods containing magnesium include nuts, wholegrains and leafy green veg. Bear in mind however that commonly a woman’s diet can change slightly around the period (e.g. increased sugar intake) which potentially could be responsible for some of the ‘puffy’ feeling.
- Reduce stress – stress increases cortisol which in turn can increase water retention. Stress overall can impact negatively on blood sugar and inflammation which ultimately can lead to fat retention as well as the bloat. Take steps to reduce stress by being more mindful and try to take time out to relax.
- Take regular exercise – a lack of exercise can cause water retention because we need muscle action to keep blood flowing and to stimulate the lymphatic system. That’s why we need to try and move about when we are on long flights!
This list is not exhaustive and of course there can often be other underlying reasons for bloating, but give these a go and see how you feel!
Ann-Marie (RNutr, MSc, BSc) provides nutrition advice for individuals and groups. Get in touch if you need any help.