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Lymphedema and Healthy Nutrition

  • The pattern of eating more greens and beans, while eating less fat, will reduce your risk of developing lymphedema.
  • If you have already developed lymphedema, this eating plan will minimize the swelling, discomfort, and the risk of developing severe infections that are often associated with it.

This eating pattern also improves other medical conditions such as

  • coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and chronic venous insufficiency, obesity, lipedema, diabetes, and arthritis.
  • It is also consistent with recommendations for preventing cancer and/or from suffering a cancer recurrance. 

A healthy diet includes
colorful fruits and vegetables.

  • Colorful vegetables and beans that can be eaten raw,
    steamed, or in soup,
    are both tasty and nutritious.
  • Salads and non-starchy vegetables may also be enjoyed in unlimited quantities.
  • Several servings of brightly colored fruit and berries each day.
  • Whole grains, or beans, at every meal.
  • About an ounce per day of raw nuts and seeds.
  • Whole grains are more nutritious than refined grain products because they retain the germ and bran found at the heart of the grain.
  • Recommended cereal grains include: amaranth, barley,
    brown rice,buckwheat, bulgur, corn (including popcorn), millet, oatsquinoa, ryesorghum, teff, triticale, wheat, and wild rice.
  • Many varieties of beans are available including adzuki beans, black beans, butter beans (gigantes), cannellini beans, chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo or ceci beans), fava beans, great northern beans, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, peas, navy beans, pinto beans, soy beans (which are also known as edamame).
  • For those on no salt added diets, beans that are sold fresh, dried, frozen, and canned with "no salt added" should be purchased


Avoid Eating fatty foods.

  • Trans fats are made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil in a process known as hydrogenation. This increases the shelf life, and flavor, of foods containing these fats.  
  • Trans fat is also found in vegetable shortening, plus some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods, and other food made with, or fried in, partially hydrogenated oils.
  • Saturated fats include fatty meats, cream, cheese, butter, suet, tallow, butter, potato chips, sausage, fried foods, and lard.
  • Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that is created by the liver and is found in the bloodstream and in all of the body cells. It is important for your body to have some cholesterol as Since it is used for producing cell membranes, and some hormones, it is important that your body have some cholesterol; however, too much cholesterol is a major risk for heart disease.


  • Monounsaturated fat, which is a liquid at room temperature will solidify when chilled.
    Foods made with these monounsaturated fats include olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oils, as well as avocados and most nuts.
  • Polyunsaturated fats stays liquid regardless of temperature. It is found in safflower, corn, sunflower seeds, and soybean oils.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that are found mostly in cold water fish including salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines. Flaxseeds and walnuts also contain omega-3s. Small amounts are also found in soybean and canola oils.


  • There is increasing evidence that by controlling the “BAD FATS” in your diet, will help to control your weight and your lymphedema.
  • Reduce your intake of nonessential fats.
  • Limit even the "Good Fats."  Although these are known as being "good,” the intake of these fats should be limited to no more than 25 to 30% of a healthy diet.
  • Getting started on this eating pattern can be difficult when you don’t understand which fats are considered to be good and which are considered to be bad. Here is information to make the transition easier.


  • Avoid high calorie fatty foods such as convenience foods, fried  fat, and oily foods.
  • Avoid foods that are high in fat or cholesterol.
    These include butter, whole milk, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products, eggs, beef, pork, poultry, and shell fish.
  • Minimize eating refined foods such as white bread and pastries, white rice, and sugars. 
  • Avoid, or reduce, eating foods preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or by chemical preservatives.
  • Limit drinks with added sugar or fruit juices.
  • If you drink alcohol, limit daily consumption to no more then two drinks for men and one drink for women.
  • It is recommended to avoid beverages containing caffeine late in the day.These drinks include coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks.
  • Reduce pain and inflammation by eating less inflammation promoting fat, and, instead eating  more inflammation fighting nutrients. [McIlwain 2006]
  • Decrease the load on the lymphatic system caused by long-chain fats that are absorbed via the lymphatic vessels surrounding the small intestine.
  • Improve circulation as the hardened lining of the arteries and lymphatic vessels becomes smoother and more flexible. Arteries damaged by heart disease can be restored by a low-fat plant based diet.[Esselstine 2007]
  • Weight loss that can be maintained long term is beneficial.{super [Furhman 2011]} Losing weight improves the symptoms of lymphedema and reduces the likelihood of complications.
  • Weight loss lowers the risk of developing cancer and it improves the odds for surviving cancer.[AICR 2010]
  • Better blood sugar control improves insulin sensitivity. Diabetics may need less insulin or other medication and people with pre-diabetes (metabolic syndrome) may be able control their blood sugar without medication.
  • Better sleep, energy, and mood improve the ability to overcome depression.[McIlwain 2006]


Gluten is a naturally occurring protein that is found in wheat, rye, and barley that are ingredients used in bread, baked goods, pizza, pasta, and similar foods.

As the amount of gluten in your diet has increaded over the years so has the frequency of celiac disease, wheat allergy, and gluten sensitivity. These conditions can be difficult to diagnose, one of the most important indicator is how the patient responds to a gluten free diet. [Cite Sapone A, et al. Spectrum of gluten-disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC Med. 2012 Feb 7;10 (1): 13/ http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/223113950]


Many foods are naturally gluten free and healthy, and delicious, that you can easily enjoy eating. These foods include:

  • Beans, seeds. nuts in their natural and unprocessed form.
  • Fresh eggs. meats, fish and poultry that are not breaded, better-coated or marinated.
  • Fruits, vegetables, and most dairy products.
  • If a gluten free diet is working for you stick with it especially if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease.
  • If you have risk factors, such as a family history of celiac disease or autoimmune diseases.

If you think you may have any celiac diseases, before changing to a gluten free diet ask your healthcare provider about testing.


Any of the following books will get you started on this topic and most of these books include several reciples to further help you. 

  • The book "EAT TO LIVE" has the most details on common medical conditions by explaining how the standard American diet contributes to health problems, research on benefits of a plant based diet, success stories of formerly obese patients who have successfully maintained a healthy weight on this diet, along with menu plans and recipes.
    Dr. Furhman’s website (www.drfuhrman.com) provides information on diet related health topics and offers memberships that include an online support group. Eat to Live Joel Furhman (Little, Brown and Company 2011)
  • The NUTRITARIAN HANDBOOK, which was written by Joel Furhman, provides a quick guide to a plant based diet including a brief summary of the research, meal plans, and recipes. amazon 0982554109 "NUTRITARIAN HANDBOOK (Nutritional Excellence, 2010.
  • The book "PREVENT AND RESERVE HEART DISEASE" also focuses on heart conditions. FORKS OVER KNIVES documentary DVD and companion book (edited by Gene Stone, The Experiment 2011) features interviews with scientists and patients as well as background information, recipes, and tips for changing to a plant based diet.
  • PREVENT AND REVERSE HEART DISEASE. E Esselstyn, Jr. (Avery 2007) is recommended for anyone with a heart condition or a family history of cardiac problems amazon 1583333002. Dr. Esselstyn treats advanced coronary artery disease with diet and clearly explains the relationship between dietary fat and circulatory problems. Dr. Esselstyn’s website has information on his research and articles about his diet (www.heartattackproof.com).
  • THE ENGINE 2 DIET Buy Now by Rip Esselstyn (Wellness Central 2009) Buy Now . Rip Esselstyn developed a cookbook and training program based on his father’s research; test results from other athletes, firefighters, and volunteers show significant health improvement.
  • If you would like additional help, your health care provider may be able to refer you to a dietitian or a weight management program.


  • [AICR 2010] Marmot, M. et al. Expert Report on Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. WCRF/AICR 2007. Available from www.dietandcancerreport.org.
  • World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Report Summary on Food Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Breast Cancer. WCRF/AICR 2010. Available from www.dietandcancerreport.org. [Esselstyn 2007] Esselstyn, Caldwell Jr.
  • Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. Avery 2007.
  • Eat to Live by Joel Furhman. Published by  Little, Brown and Company 2011.
  • Diet for a Pain-Free Life by McIlwain, Harris H. and Bruce, Debra F. Marlowe & Company, 2006.

@ Permission to reprint this article was provided to Lymph Notes by the author Charles Ehrlich. March 2014.

Got a question or comment? Post in the 'Living With Lymphedema' forum.
Category: Living With Lymphedema Updated: 2014-10-20


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