In the moment, having a delicious meal and drinks is one of life’s great pleasures. However, the aftermath of a gigantic dinner often doesn’t feel quite so good. You could retain water from overdoing it on salt and feel bloated and sluggish.
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It might be tempting to find a quick way to shed that excess water by reaching for an over-the-counter medicine or looking up the best natural diuretics. While the latter can be a good solution, registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, says you need to be smart about what you’re doing to reduce the bloat.
What do diuretics do?
Diuretics are pretty simple: They help your body get rid of excess accumulated water and salt. How do they achieve this? By making you pee more.
Diuretics are helpful if you have a medical condition that makes you retain water, such as kidney failure or congestive heart failure. In fact, they are also often included in medications used to treat high blood pressure.
Are there any natural diuretics?
Although diuretics commonly come in the form of water pills, there are both foods and activities considered to be natural diuretics.
Fruits and vegetables
Water-based fruits and veggies don’t just provide vitamins and minerals — they can also be good natural diuretics. Zumpano recommends adding these diuretic foods into your diet:
Certain herbs — including parsley and dandelion — are considered natural diuretics. The trick is how you use them, Zumpano says. “Avoid taking medications or herbs in a concentrated form if your need for releasing fluid retention is not disease-based, medication-based or directed by a doctor,” she says. “Using diuretic medications or herbs without proper advice from a certified healthcare professional is definitely not recommended.”
The reason for this comes down to science — or lack thereof. “Herbs are not regulated or researched very well,” Zumpano says. “Generally, it’s hard to manage and to figure out a proper dose because there aren’t enough clinical trials to show how much you should be really taking.” Some herbs could interact badly with medications you’re on and cause health issues, she adds. “That’s a big one. You want to be careful.”
Zumpano says the same guidance goes for using berries commonly advertised as diuretics, such as hawthorn and juniper.
However, she notes you can get diuretic effects by sprinkling parsley in a salad, rice, a sauce, or soup, or adding the herb to a smoothie or juice. “Incorporate herbs into your diet via a meal, not in a pill or liquid concentrated form,” Zumpano says. Hibiscus tea, which is herbal and doesn’t have caffeine, is another good option.
Caffeine is a natural diuretic, which is lucky for people who enjoy coffee and tea. Zumpano says black and green teas are best if you’re looking for diuretic drinks, not least because you know how much you’re ingesting. “Teas are a little easier to regulate,” Zumpano says. “You have a teabag. You’re not taking a pill or a vitamin or concentrated form of it. You’re drinking a glass of piping hot tea or iced tea.”
Exercise is one of the easier natural diuretics, since getting your heart rate up will help circulate whatever fluid you have built up. “It’s tremendously helpful to move that fluid around in your body,” Zumpano says.
Weight loss is another not-so-surprising natural diuretic — after all, about 60% of your body is water, so losing weight is one way to reduce fluid retention.
Reduce sodium intake
If you’re trying to get healthy enough so you don’t need diuretic medications, but want to resolve some of your fluid retention naturally, reduce your salt intake. “If you’re eating a high-salt diet, you’re going to retain a lot more fluid,” Zumpano says. “Naturally eliminating fluids with healthy foods, exercise and reducing salt intake is very safe.” Being mindful of liquids that may be secretly full of salt, like soda, is also key.
Can natural diuretics be dangerous?
If you’ve overdone it with the food and drink, Zumpano says changing your lifestyle for a few days (or upping your time at the gym) can help reduce the fluid you’re retaining. “There is no harm in consuming foods and beverages that are natural diuretics, especially as a part of a whole food-based eating plan, along with decreasing salt and increasing water intake and increasing your movement.”
She does recommend being careful about not overdoing it. For example, if you excrete too much water from your body, your electrolyte levels could be thrown out of balance, which can cause you to feel poorly or could even lead to further health concerns. “You do want to be careful with that,” Zumpano says. “That’s why you need to eat a balanced diet, to replenish some of those electrolyte losses.”
Starting to take water pills or another diuretic when you don’t need one also isn’t a good idea. “You should not be taking a diuretic if you’re not retaining water,” says Zumpano. “Only take a diuretic if it’s prescribed by a healthcare provider.”
Zumpano also says you should seek medical attention if you are noticing fluid retention on a consistent basis.
“If you experience bloating or edema that has been persistent — and it’s not just circumstantial, like associated near your menstrual cycle or after a heavy weekend of eating — definitely see a healthcare provider. It’s advised to have a proper health screening and your blood pressure checked. There may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.”