Last Updated on November 6, 2020
Edema, or fluid accumulation, is a common occurrence during pregnancy.
It can get worse as the pregnancy progresses, and can sometimes be an early warning sign of preeclampsia (source: Journal of Clinical Medicine).
The adrenal glands are to blame for edema; they produce increased levels of circulating cortisol and aldosterone, which are responsible for fluid retention.
Increased aldosterone leads to increased urinary excretion of potassium, which can make swelling worse.
There are medical interventions that can help to reduce edema, but have you ever wondered if there are FOODS that you can eat that will reduce swelling during pregnancy?
Foods to Eat That Could Reduce Swelling in Pregnancy
Here are our top foods to eat during pregnancy that could help to reduce swelling, as well as a couple of foods that might be good to avoid.
Could it be true? Could dark chocolate help to reduce swelling? It just might.
Research shows that consuming 40 grams of dark chocolate over a two week period reduced urinary cortisol levels (source: Journal of Proteome Research).
If we want to reduce swelling by reducing aldosterone and cortisol and promoting adrenal gland health, this could be a great way to start.
Dark chocolate is delicious and is also a source of antioxidants, fiber, and healthy fat.
It would probably be best to eat dark chocolate that is at least 70% cacao to get more cortisol-lowering benefits.
Dark chocolate can be eaten on its own, with a bit of fruit or cheese, or after a meal for a sweet, satisfying snack.
Bear in mind that dark chocolate does contain small amounts of caffeine, so you should keep track of how much you consume, along with other sources of caffeine in your diet.
Black or Green Tea
A simple way to combat swelling could be reaching for a cup of tea.
Research shows that drinking tea reduced cortisol levels, which could mean less swelling, as cortisol is one of the hormones responsible for fluid retention (source: Journal of Psychopharmacology).
Tea is a great source of antioxidants and is also very comforting. Consuming tea can also help you meet your fluid needs, which are about 2400 milliliters per day.
One thing to remember is that black and green tea leaves do contain caffeine, so it would be beneficial to switch to the decaffeinated version during pregnancy.
We have a complete guide to drinking decaf when you’re pregnant right here.
Tea can be drunk at any time of the day, hot or iced, and sweetened with fruit or a little honey if you desire.
This is more of a category than one food.
Fermented foods include kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, pickles, kombucha, and kefir.
Fermented foods contain beneficial bacteria that our gut loves and needs, and help prevent the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
By eating fermented foods, clinical trials have found that cortisol levels are lowered, leading to decreased stress (source: PubMed)
(As a reminder, lower cortisol levels could also mean less swelling, as cortisol is one of the hormones responsible for fluid retention).
Fermented foods are also great for pregnant women, as they can help to provide the best bacteria environment for your developing baby.
The one thing to remember when eating fermented food is that yogurt or cheese made from unpasteurized dairy is not safe, as it may harbor the growth of harmful bacteria.
Incorporating fermented food is easy; a bowl of yogurt in the morning with berries and granola, stir fry with a side of kimchi or pickled vegetables, or a warm bowl of miso soup are all ways to get more fermented foods into your diet.
The American Pregnancy Association encourages consumption of fish oil during pregnancy, as long as it’s high quality and not from fish liver or from high mercury fish. (source: APA)
Fish oil is a prime source for Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA. We have a complete guide to fish oil on this site; including how to tell which brands are the best quality.
It’s important that your baby gets adequate amounts for healthy brain development, but fish oil benefits go beyond that; research shows that fish oil can help to lower cortisol levels.
In addition to lowering cortisol, fish oil also promotes anti-inflammatory activity in the body, which could also contribute to reduced swelling and edema.
One study showed that fish oil taken orally over six weeks significantly reduced salivary cortisol levels (ISSN Journal).
In addition to swelling, a study done on pregnant women showed that fish oil supplementation helped to promote healthy baby weight and prolong pregnancy (reducing risk for premature birth) (source: Journal of Nutrition)
One of the highest-potassium foods is the humble potato.
The thyroid gland produces more aldosterone and cortisol during pregnancy, which does several things; increases blood pressure, retains fluid (which helps to soften the body for pregnancy), and causes increased potassium excretion.
This means that a diet high in potassium may help to counteract the edema that is worsened by electrolyte imbalance (source: Merck).
The recommended daily intake of Potassium is 4700 milligrams for pregnant women, and it increases to 5100 milligrams when breastfeeding, and is one of the nutrients that most people aren’t getting enough of in their daily diet.
Just one medium potato contains 925 milligrams of potassium, or 20-25% of your daily recommended potassium (source: USDA)
Potatoes also contain fiber and carbohydrates, and are a great food source during pregnancy.
They can be eaten for any meal, as a side or a main dish, or incorporated into soups, chowders, or casseroles.
White beans are another potassium-rich food, which can help to restore potassium levels while possibly also reducing swelling during pregnancy.
Common types of white beans include navy beans, baby lima beans and Great Northern beans.
One half cup of cooked, canned white beans contains 600 milligrams of potassium (source: US Dry Beans).
Another great benefit to eating white beans during pregnancy is that they are a great source of Folate.
Folate is important during pregnancy to prevent neural tube defects in your developing baby
Beans can also be eaten during any meal. They make a delicious soup, or can even be eaten mashed; creamy white bean mash is cozy, filling, and packed with nutrients for you and your baby.
Third in our list of high potassium foods is the avocado.
One whole avocado, minus the pit, contains nearly 1000 milligrams of potassium, making it a nutritional powerhouse during (and after) pregnancy.
Avocados are also a great source of unsaturated (heart-healthy fat), fiber, vitamin C, and Folate (source: California Avocado)
Avocados can be smashed on toast, blended into a smoothie, served as guacamole, or added to a sandwich or a wrap.
They can even be used as a heart-healthy alternative for mayonnaise in deviled eggs or other mayonnaise-based salads.
Does it seem counterproductive that drinking water could actually combat swelling? Well, it’s not!
Drinking water can help to flush the body of excess built up fluid. It can also help to rid the body of excess sodium and glucose, which are two micronutrients that can make swelling worse.
Adequate fluid intake during pregnancy is so important; the body naturally produces more blood and fluids to support your growing baby, and dehydration could lead to a less than ideal pregnancy.
The Institute of Medicine recommends at least 2400 milliliters of fluid per day, which may sound like a lot (source: Mayo Clinic).
Remember, fluid also includes any tea, milk, juice, soups, or smoothies.
A great way to track your intake is by drinking one 240 milliliter/8 ounce glass of water per hour, or use a water bottle to ensure that you are drinking enough fluid.
Food to Avoid That May Make Swelling During Pregnancy Worse
Since we’ve discussed food that could help to combat swelling in pregnancy, it makes sense to mention a couple of types of food you should avoid too, because they might make swelling worse.
Salt / Sodium
Salt, or sodium chloride, is one of the most important minerals for our body.
However, eating too much can have side effects like increased blood pressure, heart rate, and increased swelling.
Salt acts as a sort of sponge in the body; as it moves in and out of cells, water follows.
Eating a lot of salt also increases thirst, which will likely increase the amount of fluid you consume.
This can make swelling a lot worse, and is not ideal during pregnancy. Recommendations during pregnancy are around 2400 milligrams of sodium per day, which is only one teaspoon of salt! (Source: Aptaclub)
The easiest way to avoid sodium is to avoid eating processed foods. Salt is a preservative, and is included in any food that is packaged, boxed, frozen, canned, smoked, or pickled.
Skipping fast food and packaged meals is the easiest way to lower your sodium intake.
Switching to frozen or fresh vegetables instead of canned is also an easy switch. Check local markets or farm stands for the best, most seasonal produce.
Alternatively, skip the salt when seasoning meals; try spices, herbs, or a salt-free blend.
Sugar and salt work together in the body to maintain fluid balance.
Eating excess refined sugar can lead to swelling, because it works similarly to sodium.
The glucose will travel through the blood and move into cells, pushing the sodium and fluid out.
When high amounts of glucose travel through your blood, they can actually cause damage to the tiny veins and arteries in hands and feet. The damaged vessels can’t move blood and fluid as well, so this can also lead to swelling.
Not to mention increased sugar consumption can also lead to stroke, fatty liver disease, and diabetes. It is a very good idea to limit sugar consumption during (and after) pregnancy.
So what about syrup or other, less processed sugars? We have a syrup article here, but when it comes to swelling, sugar is sugar.
The only difference is that white sugar has been the most processed, while maple syrup or honey have minimal processing. You can read our pregnancy guide to honey safety here.
They all work the same in the body, and eating too much of any type of sugar can make swelling worse.
Recommendations for sugar intake are less than 10% of total daily calories. So, if you eat 2400 calories in a day, you should aim for no more than 240 calories from sugar (Source: NHANES)
Since each gram of sugar contains four calories of energy, divide 240 by 4 and that is 60 grams of sugar per day.
Does that sound like a lot? Consider that one 20 ounce soda (600 milliliters) contains 65 grams of added sugar, which is what you should have for your entire day! This is part of the reason why soda isn’t great in high amounts during pregnancy – and you can read our soda guide to find out more.
Overall, consuming foods that are rich in potassium or that can help lower cortisol and aldosterone levels may help to reduce swelling during pregnancy.
Water can also help to reduce swelling, by rehydrating cells and maintaining balance in the body.
Eating foods high in sodium or sugar could make these symptoms worse, and could lead to more serious side effects.
We hope that this easy to understand list of what to eat and what to avoid helps you to feel your best during your pregnancy!
Interested in how different foods work in pregnancy? You may also like:
- 25+ foods that are rich in iron, to prevent anemia in pregnancy
- Foods that can fight morning sickness and nausea
- Everything you need to know about getting enough Choline
This article has been reviewed and approved for publication in line with our editorial policy.