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Lymphedema and Healthy Nutrition

Recommended Eating Pattern

Nutrition is an essential part of lymphedema and lipedema treatment and care. This guide is based on Chapter 3 of Lymphedema and Lipdedema Nutrition Guide: foods, vitamins, minerals, and supplements by Chuck Ehrlich, Emily Iker, MD, Karen Herbst, MD, Linda-Anne Kahn, CMT, CLT-LANA, Dorothy D. Sears, PhD, Mandy Kenyon, MS, RD, CSSD, and Elizabeth McMahon, PhD.

Our recommended eating pattern emphasizes whole foods, including rainbow colored vegetables and fruit, protein, and healthy fats. Sweets, grain products, and chemically modified fats should be minimized.

Salt intake should be limited. Avoiding dairy (other than kefir and yogurt) appears to help with lipedema. This eating pattern can be modified for those who are vegetarian, vegan, gluten intolerant, have food allergies, diabetes, or other dietary concerns.

Whole foods with minimal processing are best because many prepared foods have added sugar, salt, soy and unhealthy fats. Juicing is only recommended for those who cannot eat solid food because juicing breaks down fiber in foods, removing an important nutritional and digestive health benefit, and juices raise blood glucose more rapidly than whole fruit.

Foods are grouped by recommended frequency:

  • Eat Primarily: foods for every day. Serving sizes should be reasonable but we are not too concerned about quantities of these foods.
  • Eat in Limited Quantities: foods best enjoyed in smaller amounts and only a few times a week.
  • Eat Rarely or Never: save these for special occasions, if you still want them.

The lists below can help you make better food choices. For those who want more detail, see the book for information on major nutrients, other nutritional factors, and a Shopping List.

If this very different from what you eat now, start with ‘Eat Primarily’ foods for 6-8 weeks; then add foods from the two other categories and see how they work for you. See Chapter 7 and 8 of the book for help changing your eating pattern.

Eat Primarily

  • Vegetables (except potatoes and corn) with bright colors and flavors including dark green vegetables, colorful vegetables, onions, garlic, mushrooms, herbs, and squash
  • Fish: tuna, wild salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, and other seafood high in omega-3 unsaturated fats
  • Eggs (including yolks): preferably organic and pastured or free-range
  • Dairy: organic unsweetened kefir and yogurt with active cultures; butter or ghee (clarified butter); goat milk cheese (goat cheese), sheep milk cheeses
  • Fruits: citrus fruit (grapefruit, orange, etc.), banana, berries (fresh or frozen): blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, cherries, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds (raw and unsalted): almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews, macadamias, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, nut milk
  • Oils: extra-virgin olive, avocado, walnut, coconut, cocoa butter, flaxseed, macadamia, sesame
  • Non-sugary condiments (subject to salt limits): mustards, horseradish, tapenades, salsa, mayonnaise, vinegars (white, red wine, apple cider, balsamic), Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, chili or pepper sauces, lemon, lime, or orange juice
  • Fermented foods: kefir and yogurt with active cultures, sauerkraut, dill or sour pickles (subject to salt limits), kimchi, tempeh, miso, etc.
  • Other: ground flaxseed, avocados, olives, coconut, coconut milk, spices

Eat in Limited Quantities

  • Fruits: melon, kiwi, grapes, apricots, plum, etc. Be careful of high sugar/fructose fruits including apple, peach, pear, papaya, mango, and watermelon
  • Beans including adzuki beans, black beans, butter beans (gigantes), cannellini beans, chickpeas (garbanzo or ceci beans), fava beans, great northern beans, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, peas, navy beans, pinto beans, etc. but not soybeans. Beans are sold fresh, dried, canned, and frozen. For a low-salt diet look for ‘no salt added’ or organic canned beans.
  • Whole kernel corn (not cornmeal or cornstarch which should be avoided)
  • Grains without wheat or gluten: quinoa, millet, sorghum, teff, amaranth, buckwheat, rice (brown and white), oats, wild rice
  • Dairy (not recommended for lipedema): preferably organic cow’s milk cheeses, milk, cottage cheese
  • Poultry: preferably organic chicken (without skin), turkey, duck
  • Potatoes: white, red, purple, sweet potatoes, etc.
  • Chocolate: dark chocolate (70% or more cacao), unsweetened cocoa or cacao
  • Soy products, fermented organic: tempeh, miso, natto
  • Brazil nuts: 1 ounce or about 6 nuts per day OR a selenium supplement. Brazil nuts are high in selenium which may help reduce swelling but excess selenium can cause health issues.
  • Wine: preferably red, no more than 3 glasses/week

Eat Rarely or Never

  • Wheat, barley or rye products: breads, pasta, noodles, pizza, crackers, cookies, cakes, pies, cupcakes, breakfast cereals, pancakes, waffles, pita, couscous, bulgar, triticale, kamut
  • Red meats: preferably organic grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, buffalo, wild game
  • Unhealthy oils: hydrogenated oils (palm, palm kernel), polyunsaturated oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, grape-seed, cottonseed, soybean), chemically modified oils
  • Gluten-free food substitutes (breads, pasta, pizza, baked goods) made with cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch, tapioca starch, etc.
  • Soy that is not fermented: soy beans (edamame), tofu, soymilk, etc. Organic soy is preferable.
  • Dried fruits: figs, dates, prunes, raisins, cranberries (craisins)
  • Fried foods and food products such as chips, crisps, fries, etc.
  • Sugary snacks: candies, ice cream, sherbet, fruit roll-ups, energy bars
  • Sugary sweeteners: agave syrup or nectar, honey, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, sugar, artificial sweeteners
  • Sugary condiments: jellies, jams, preserves, ketchup (made with sucrose or high fructose corn syrup), chutney
  • Fruit drinks, soft drinks, energy drinks, beer, liquor

Click here to download a single sheet PDF version.
Adapted from the Lymphedema and Lipedema Nutrition Guide.

Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9764806-8-6  E-Book ISBN: 978-0-9764806-9-3

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Category: Living With Lymphedema Updated: 2015-09-01


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