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Salt and Lymphedema


Reduce your salt intake.

  • According to Alicia Moag-Stahlberg, "You cannot exist without sodium, but the amount we need is minor."(1)
  • Sodium is the main component of the body's extracellular fluids and it helps to carry nutrients into the cells.
  • Sodium also helps to regulate other body functions including blood pressure and fluid volume.
  • Sodium works on the lining of blood vessels to keep the pressure balance normal.
  • Consuming too much salt contributes to hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Excess salt intake causes too much water to be drawn into the blood vessels. This increases the pressure on the artery walls and causes hypertension (high blood pressure).


Although there are no special sodium guidelines for individuals with lymphedema, many individuals with this condition report increased swelling after a very salty meal.

For all individuals with lymphedema an important goal is to eat a healthy diet that will improve their general health and not contribute to developing health problems such as high blood pressure, heart problems, and/or being overweight.


Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, which is published jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends the following guidelines and actions:

  • The body's daily requirement for sodium is very low. For an adult that amount should be only 220 milligrams a day yet the average American consumes 3,400 milligrams or more of salt per day.
  • Research has shown that many groups, indicate that most Americans, consume at least twice the recommended amount of salt every day.
  • When selecting processed foods to reduce your salt intake, use the Nutrition Facts label on the container as a tool to choose foods that are lower in sodium. 
  • The average individual should consume less than 2,300 milligrams (approximately one teaspoon of salt per day) Amounts in excess of this can lead to heart disease and stroke.
  • Middle-aged and older individuals, or those who have high blood pressure, should limit their daily sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day.
  • Making this dietary change can help you to reduce your blood pressure to a healthier level.
  • It also reduces your risk of a heart disease or stroke.


When selecting foods it is healthier to replace processed (canned or frozen) foods. These are usually higher in salt, than are  fresh and raw potassium-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

  • More processed (canned and frozen) foods are now available without having salt adding during the processing. Look for this information on the label.
  • Beware that some fresh raw chicken is chilled in salt water that is absorbed into the meat. Air chilled chicken is not exposed to this added salt water source.
  • Learn to read the nutrition labels on prepared foods and, where available, on restaurant menus. It is important to remember that this information is based on a single serving — not on the contents of an entire container of a prepared food.
  • Learn to prepare unprocessed foods with alternatives flavorings such as fresh herbs or fresh lemon juice.
  • Be aware of what you drink. Sodas, both diet and regular varieties, contain sodium. Drinks made of vegetable juices are also high in sodium.
  • Get more potassium in your diet. Food sources of potassium include potatoes, cantaloupe, bananas, beans, and yogurt.
  • The easiest way to comment on the salt content of foods is through the American Heart Association's website: www.heart.org.sodium. Then click on "Send your comment letter today"


As you make these changes notice how your lymphedema responds. You can do this by keeping a measurement chart at home. You may also be pleasantly surprised by a change (in the right direction) on your weight and blood pressure.


  1. Alicia Moag-Stahlberg is a research nutritionist at Northwestern  University Medical School in Chicago, IL. She is also a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
  2. The American Heart Association.
  3. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Published jointly by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). www.dietaryguidelines.gov.
  4. Sodium-Saturated Diet is a Threat for All. Jane E. Brody, The New York Times, Decembere 27, 2011. 

© LymphNotes updated 2014. This information does not replace the advice of a qualified health care professional.

Category: Nutrition and Lymphedema Updated: 2017-02-03


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