A diuretic is a substance that causes increased urine production. Diuretics are used to treat several diseases, in particular edema, heart failure, and kidney stones. More commonly, people use diuretics to help with bloating, as a method of “detox,” or to lose weight.
Another reason to use diuretics is to compensate for the effects of junk food. Salt and sugar are “hygroscopic,” that is, they are attracted to water, so some believe that excess sugar and salt in the body can cause water retention. Foods that act as a diuretic can help counter this effect.
Before using a diuretic food, beverage, or product, it is best to check with a health care provider, because diuretics (even natural diuretics like foods) can cause dangerous side effects if not used properly. These effects include dehydration and electrolyte imbalances in the blood.
Different diuretics act in different ways. Some suppress the hormone vasopressin, which inhibits urination. Some increase blood flow to the kidneys, which increases urination because urine is produced by filtering blood through the kidneys. Others affect osmotic pressure, which is to say, they affect the balance of water, sugar, and salts in the blood, causing more liquid to leave the kidneys. The kidneys are also responsible for managing the electrolyte balance of the blood, and some diuretics act by affecting this electrolyte balance. The kidneys respond by increasing urination to correct the balance.
Diuretic Foods and Beverages
Water itself is a diuretic, so foods with high water content can act as diuretics. Examples include watermelon and cucumber, both of which are members of the gourd family. Other foods that are reported to have diuretic activity include cranberries, asparagus, artichoke, parsley, watercress, and celery (including celery seed and celery root). Less commonly encountered diuretic foods include dandelion and juniper berries.
Any beverage will have some diuretic effect because water itself is a diuretic. It suppresses the hormone vasopressin. In fact, drinking plain water is an effective way to increase urination, although drinking too much plain water can lead to an electrolyte imbalance.
Caffeine-containing beverages and foods, including coffee and tea, have a significant diuretic effect. Coffee has the most caffeine of naturally caffeinated beverages, followed by black tea; green tea has much less caffeine. Chocolate also contains caffeine; the higher the cocoa content, the more caffeine is present. Other foods containing caffeine are yerba maté, guarana, and kola nuts (rarely found in the West except in certain organic cola drinks). Caffeinated sodas are not the ideal choice for a diuretic because of their high sugar content, which can cause blood sugar spikes and subsequent dips.
Alcohol is a very strong diuretic. It suppresses vasopressin much more strongly than water does, causing urination to increase. However, consuming alcohol for its diuretic effects is not recommended because of the other potentially dangerous effects.
Other liquid diuretics are apple cider vinegar, nettle tea, and dandelion leaf tea. Green tea is reported to be a good diuretic even beyond the effects of its caffeine content (which is significantly lower than the caffeine content of black tea and coffee).