Got Swollen Feet? These 5 Foods and Drinks Could Be the Culprit

Swollen feet

If you’ve ever enjoyed a delicious meal only to notice your feet swelling after eating, it’s natural to wonder what could be causing it. Are there foods that cause swelling in the feet and ankles? While there are many different causes for swelling in the feet and ankles, there certainly are foods that can cause this.

Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet is a medical condition known as edema and occurs when fluid builds up in the tissues. If you’re experiencing this type of swelling regularly, it’s important to know about the role diet could be playing.

Related: Registered Dietitians Agree This Is the Best Food You Can Eat if You're Trying to Reduce Inflammation in Your Body

What Is Edema and What Causes It?

“Edema is fluid and swelling that occurs in the body’s tissues, cavities or organs. It most commonly affects the legs but can be present in other parts of the body as well,” explains Dr. Sulagna Misra, MD, BCMAS, an integrative medicine doctor and the founder of Misra Wellness.

Dr. Nancy Bono, DO, the Chair of Family Medicine at New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine, says that there are many different causes of edema. One, she explains, is standing or sitting too long: “Gravity can pull water into the legs and feet, which is typically noticeable. For example, shoes may be tight or there could be tightness of the skin."

Dr. Bono says that other causes of edema include pregnancy, certain medications (such as antihypertensives, anti-inflammatory drugs and hormones), allergic reactions and other health problems (such as congestive heart failure, liver disease, kidney disease and sunburn).

Both doctors say that anyone can experience edema but pregnant people and older adults are most at risk. They also say that diet can also play a role, making edema worse.

Related: How To Reduce Inflammation In the Body, According to Doctors

The Connection Between Diet and Edema—and 5 Foods That Can Cause Swelling

Dr. Misra says that diets that are extremely low in protein can cause edema. This is because when the amount of protein in blood is low, water can leave the blood vessels and connect in the tissues, which then causes swelling. “When protein is restricted—as in certain types of malnutrition, liver or kidney diseases—there is a reduction in the osmotic, AKA ‘water-concentration’ pressure or plasma ‘oncotic’ pressure. This causes fluid to not be kept where it should essentially and collected in other areas. We often see this in areas where food is scarce or protein is scarce,” Dr. Misra explains.

Both doctors also share that a diet high in processed foods, particularly sodium, can also cause edema. This is because eating too much salt increases the amount of fluid in the body, outside of the cells. This imbalance causes the body to retain sodium and fluid, which then causes swelling.

If you are experiencing swelling in your legs, ankles, feet or other parts of the body, below are five foods and drinks to avoid.

Related: This Is the #1 Sneaky Sign of Chronic Inflammation Most People Miss

1. Bread and pasta

Dr. Bono says that, for some people, foods made with white flour (such as bread and pasta) can cause swelling. This, both doctors say, is particularly the case if someone has an intolerance to gluten. When someone with a gluten intolerance eats foods with gluten, it causes inflammation in the body, which can then lead to swelling. If you suspect gluten is the cause of your swelling, it can be helpful to eliminate it from your diet for several weeks to see if your symptoms get better.

2. Soda

Both doctors share that foods and drinks high in sugar, like soda, can cause swelling. This is because consuming too much sugar causes inflammation in the body. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advocate keeping sugar to less than 10% of total daily calories consumed. That means if you consume an average of 2,000 calories a day, less than 200 calories should be from sugar.

3. Juice

Juice can be a healthy drink when consumed in moderation, but Dr. Bono points out that some juices are loaded with added sugar. Just like with soda, the added sugar in juice can cause inflammation, which can then lead to swelling. Consider this your reminder to do your label reading when shopping for juice!

4. Deli meat

Both doctors say that foods high in sodium can cause swelling—and deli meat is one commonly consumed food to watch out for. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends keeping sodium under 2,300 milligrams each day. When you consider that a typical sandwich has sodium in the deli meat, cheese and bread, it can turn into one high-sodium meal. To cut back on the sodium in your sandwiches, consider swapping deli meat for low-sodium cold cuts or tofu, tempeh or eggs.

5. Deep-fried foods

If you’re experiencing swelling regularly, Dr. Misra recommends nixing anything fried from your diet. The high sodium and saturated fats in fried food can cause inflammation and, as you know by now, inflammation can cause swelling.

If you changed your diet and you’re still experiencing swelling, Dr. Bono says to see your healthcare provider. She adds that other times to see your doctor include if you are having difficulty with movement or walking, experiencing shortness of breath or noticing decreased urinary output.

“Mild cases of edema usually resolve on their own, especially with certain lifestyle adjustments. More severe cases may require other measures, such as medications that help the body expel excess fluid in the urine,” Dr. Bono says.

Diet is powerful, so minimizing consumption of the aforementioned foods and drinks may be all you need to do to reduce any swelling you are experiencing. But if it doesn't help, see your doctor. Together, you can get to the bottom of your symptoms.

Next up, this is the worst food for chronic inflammation, according to registered dietitians.