When you finish a fast-food or sodium-rich meal, you may notice your stomach looks a little larger than it did before. While the extra food in your stomach is one contributing factor to this increase, the sodium in your diet could be another. Excess sodium attracts more water in your body, which leads to water retention and the feeling you’re puffier than your favorite winter down vest. By keeping your sodium intake in check, however, you can prevent water retention.
Your body is all about balance, and this applies to the concentration of electrolytes and water in your body. You need some sodium to maintain normal fluid balance and blood pressure. Sodium, which attracts water, influences your blood pressure and other physiological functions. These functions are best supported when you consume the right amount of sodium in your daily diet. When you eat foods containing excess sodium, however, your kidneys signal your body to hold onto extra fluid to maintain the electrolyte-water balance. That’s when water retention takes places.
Daily Sodium Intake
You should not have more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day. Actually, 1,500 milligrams is better, especially if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure. The 2,300 milligrams is roughly equal to about a teaspoon of table salt. The bad news is the average American consumes about 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day. If you are like the average American, you are likely to experience some water retention and bloating.
Even if you never use your salt shaker or hit up the drive through on a regular basis, you may still be eating a diet high in sodium because there's "hidden" sodium in many foods. Lots of pre-packaged and frozen foods contain extra sodium to enhance taste and preserve the food. So, read food labels carefully. A frozen entrée that contains more than 800 milligrams is too high, according to “Woman’s Day” magazine. Other hidden sodium sources include ketchup, soy sauce and vegetable juices. Whenever possible, choose foods that are sodium-free or are labeled “lite” or “light” sodium, meaning it has 50 percent less sodium than regular versions.
Water and Sodium
If you do have a high-sodium meal that leads to water retention, you may prevent further bloating and discomfort with a counterintuitive method: drinking a glass or two of water. When you add more water to your blood, this signals your kidneys it’s time to release some of the excess sodium and fluid. If you cut back on your sodium and drink more water and your water retention does not subside, talk to your doctor because this could be a sign of a more serious condition.
Rachel Nall began writing in 2003. She is a former managing editor for custom health publications, including physician journals. She has written for The Associated Press and "Jezebel," "Charleston," "Chatter" and "Reach" magazines. Nall is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing at the University of Tennessee.