If you binge on salty foods, you'll likely consume excess sodium -- a substance in table salt, and an ingredient in many cured, smoked, canned and processed foods. A high sodium intake can cause or worsen high blood pressure. Since sodium plays an important role in the body’s fluid balance, consuming excess sodium can also lead to edema, or fluid retention. If you have certain medical conditions that lead to fluid buildup around your organs, excess sodium can cause enough fluid weight gain to put you into a medical crisis. There isn’t a home treatment to quickly cleanse your body of excess dietary sodium. But through cutting back on dietary sodium and taking steps to decrease swelling and improve circulation, a healthy body can naturally and gradually remove excessive amounts of this mineral.
If your excess salt intake has caused you to gain more than 5 pounds in a week or less, the first thing you need to do is seek urgent medical attention, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. In this situation, you will most likely need treatment to remove the excess fluid. If you already have a condition that causes fluid retention, such as kidney disease or heart failure, your medical team may ask you to check your weight daily, and provide you with personalized guidance on when to call in, and when to seek urgent medical treatment.
Cut back on your intake of salt and sodium. According to the American Heart Association, adults should consume less than 2,300 mg per day. That's the amount of sodium found in about a teaspoon of salt -- but since sodium is found in so many foods, a low sodium diet may not have room for more than a dash of daily salt. Also aim to avoid salt-containing seasonings, such as garlic salt, seasoned salt or onion salt. Choose fresh or dried herbs, salt-free seasoning blends, vinegar, lemon juice or lime to flavor foods instead.
Limit or avoid high sodium foods. Cured, smoked, brined or canned meats and fish are high sodium. Other high sodium foods include fast food, canned vegetables, soups and packaged foods that include a seasoning packet -- such as boxed macaroni and cheese or dry noodle soup packets. Condiments such as soy sauce, fish sauce, barbecue sauce and ketchup are also high in sodium.
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Choose lower sodium options. Eat fruits and vegetables daily. While any form of fruit is low sodium, select fresh, frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables. Many fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium, and a diet rich in potassium can help the body remove excess sodium through the urine. Also choose low sodium grains such as rice, pasta, quinoa or barley, and include dried beans or low sodium canned beans regularly. Select fresh or frozen fish, poultry and meat -- but be careful to avoid meat or chicken with sodium solutions added. Milk and yogurt may have a small but acceptable amount of natural sodium, but limit cheese due to its high salt content.
Read food labels. If you are trying to limit sodium to 2,300 mg per day, that’s a limit of about 600 mg per meal with a few daily snacks at 100 to 200 mg each. Keep in mind the sodium listed on the label is based on the serving size, so if 1 cup of soup contains 900 mg of sodium, 2 cups has 1,800 mg.
Move your body. Physical activity improves blood flow which can enable your body to pump extra fluid from your extremities -- a common place for fluid to pool -- and ultimately help you get rid of this fluid through urination.
If your arms or legs are swollen, elevate them several times each day. This may help reduce swelling and ease your comfort. Your doctor may even ask that you wear compression garments on your arms or legs to improve blood flow and decrease swelling.
If you are bothered by mild fluid retention when you consume excess sodium, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Make a nutritious, low sodium diet a long-term lifestyle habit. Ask for a referral to a dietitian if you need guidance on how to follow a low sodium diet, or if you need help adapting this to your food preferences or other diet restrictions.
Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH RD
When you eat an abundance of salty foods, you may get thirsty and be prompted to drink more fluids. If you are in good health, this makes you urinate more, which can help your body naturally remove some excess sodium. However, sodium attracts water, and a high sodium diet makes your body hold on to excess sodium and fluids -- so you can’t simply and quickly flush out excess sodium by drinking more water. Also, certain medical conditions require a restriction of fluids in order to prevent fluid retention, so drinking more fluids is not always a safe option.
If you have a condition that can lead to fluid retention, or if you have high blood pressure, limiting your dietary sodium is an important strategy to manage your condition. Seek advice from your doctor on how to manage edema due to any pre-existing medical conditions. Contact your doctor right away if you have leg swelling that is new to you, or if you have any severe swelling, a weight gain of more than 5 pounds in 1 week, shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing at night, or any other discomforts associated with fluid retention.
- American Heart Association: How Much Sodium Should I Eat Per Day?
- American Heart Association: How to Reduce Sodium
- Congestive Heart Failure: Balancing Diuretic Therapy in Heart Failure: Loop Diuretics, Thiazides, and Aldosterone Antagonists
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Heart Failure
- American Heart Association: A Primer on Potassium
Timothy Banas has a master's degree in biophysics and was a high school science teacher in Chicago for seven years. He has since been working as a trading systems analyst, standardized test item developer, and freelance writer. As a freelancer, he has written articles on everything from personal finances to computer technology.