Beat the bloat
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Drink more—yes, more—water It may seem counterintuitive, but this helps relieve bloating. “When you don’t drink enough water, your body releases a hormone that reduces the amount of urine you produce,” says Molly Kimball, R.D., nutrition program director at the Ochsner Clinic’s Elmwood Fitness Center in New Orleans. Aim for 64 ounces a day.
Shake the salt habit While some people are more sensitive to sodium than others and thus retain fluids more easily, many people experience temporary fluid retention after eating a particularly large load of salt. If this happens, cut back for a while and increase your water intake. Sodium is everywhere, so read labels and try to keep your intake to 2,300 milligrams a day, or 1,500 milligrams max if you are 40 or older, African-American or have high blood pressure.
Eat pee-producing foods Many vegetables, including cucumbers, asparagus, celery, eggplant and fennel—as well as herbs such as parsley, coriander and cardamom—act as natural diuretics, says Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D., director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Sports Medicine. These foods have high water contents and/or contain minerals such as potassium and magnesium, along with phytochemicals that promote proper water balance, she explains.
Drink your diuretics Cranberry juice and several teas, including black, green, chamomile and alfalfa, are safe and well known for their diuretic properties. “Dandelion leaf is one of the best herbs for this purpose,” says herbalist Christopher Hobbs, Ph.D., founder of the Institute for Natural Products Research in the San Francisco area. He recommends using it in tea or extract form. “Celery seed tea (but not tinctures) can also be safely used,” Hobbs adds. Commercial diuretic teas, sometimes called dieters’ teas, should be used with caution. “If you overdo them, you can lose normal fluid from your bloodstream as well as essential minerals,” says Brent A. Bauer, M.D., director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “You could become dehydrated and harm your kidneys, or develop an electrolyte imbalance that could trigger fatigue, muscle cramps and even potentially fatal heart rhythm disturbances.”
Cut carbs Eat fewer high-carbohydrate foods like pasta, bread and pastries, and more lean proteins and vegetables. “Extra carbs are broken down and stored in the body as glycogen, which has a high water content and so contributes to excess water weight,” Kimball explains. Protein, by contrast, has a lower water content, and body fluids are used in the process of breaking it down.
Limit alcohol Alcohol blocks the release of an anti-diuretic hormone, so heavy drinking can lead to dehydration. This might sound like a good thing when you’re bloated, but it eventually backfires and causes your body to retain fluid.
Maintain a consistent eating pattern Starving yourself because you’re feeling heavy from water weight, then overeating when you feel better, is a big mistake. “I see serious fluid problems in women who fast as a means to lose weight,” says Callaway. “When they eat again, they experience a rebound in fluid retention.”
Eat warm foods Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) recommends avoiding dairy and greasy, sweet, raw and cold foods if you’re prone to bloating. “Focus on cooked, warm foods,” says Zoe Cohen, L.Ac., an acupuncturist in Oakland, Calif., who treats many women with PMS- and pregnancy-related water retention. “According to TCM, cold foods are harder to digest, which creates dampness in the body; water retention is a form of dampness.” Adzuki (aka aduki or azuki) and mung beans as well as barley are especially helpful foods for bloating, she adds.