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Which foods contain natural diuretics?

We generally dislike the idea of thinking about foods as "natural diuretics." Any food that we eat has some impact on our water balance, and part of the reason we need food is to take advantage of their water content. In general, the reason we eat is to provide our body with additional water, not to remove water from it.

There are many ways in which our body actively gets rid of water. Urination is of course a primary way, but so is perspiration and even water vapor loss through our breath when we breathe out. When large amounts of water leave our body through urination, it is often because our body is trying to get rid of excessive amounts of some chemical that's water-soluble and is most easily eliminated through urination. For example, large, unneeded amounts of water-soluble vitamins will often cause us to lose water when our kidneys work to get rid of these vitamins. Consumption of alcohol is another good example of a food and beverage component that causes water loss. When alcohol enters our bloodstream, it can block synthesis of a hormone called vasopressin in our pituitary gland. Since vasopressin is a hormone that helps prevent water loss through our kidneys (it's called an anti-diuretic hormone), when alcohol interferes with vasopressin synthesis it also makes us urinate more and lose water in that way. Caffeine is another food substance (found not only in coffee but also in chocolate and black teas) that has traditionally been regarded as a chemical that causes diuresis (loss of water through the kidneys). However, most of the more recent research calls this traditional view into question.

It would be problematic for your health if you tried to increase your body's water loss through consumption of alcohol, excessive vitamin supplements, or caffeine. In fact, we cannot think of any step you would want to take with your diet as a way to increase water loss. Your body is designed to control its own water balance, and the best way to support that process is for you to eat a diet based on whole, natural, minimally processed foods, and drink plenty of clean, fresh, filtered water. If you have clinical health issues that are causing you to retain unwanted amounts of water, your healthcare provider is the person to see. He or she can help you determine the underlying imbalances in your body that are causing you to retain too much water, and take clinical steps if they turn out to be desirable.

We realize that some websites describe particular foods - like celery, or watermelon, or asparagus, or parsley as having mild diuretic effects. As mentioned earlier, however, we would discourage this view of whole, natural foods.

References:

Armstrong LE. Caffeine, Body Fluid-Electrolyte Balance, and Exercise Performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2002;12(2):189-206.

Armstrong LE, Pumerantz AC, Roti MW, et al. Fluid, Electrolyte, and Renal Indices of Hydration During 11 Days of Controlled Caffeine Consumption. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005;15(3): 252-65.

Grandjean AC, Reimers KJ, Bannick KE, et al. The Effect of Caffeinated, Non-Caffeinated, Caloric and Non-Caloric Beverages on Hydration. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000;19(5):591-600.

Parlesak A, Pohl C, Bode JC, et al. Water Metabolism in Rats Subjected to Chronic Alcohol Administration. Nephron Physiol. 2004;97(1):p9-15.