Your lymphatic system moves nutrients throughout your body in a clear fluid called lymph. After it nourishes your body, lymph is filtered and drained back into your bloodstream.
If your lymphatic system is damaged, your body may struggle to transport lymph. Fluids can build up in your body, causing swelling in your legs, arms, or other areas.
This medical condition is called lymphedema, and it’s usually a result of damage to your lymph nodes from cancer treatments. While lymphedema can’t be cured, you can manage it with a proper diet and medical care.
Here are five healthy diet tips to improve your lymphedema symptoms:
1. Drink Clear Fluids
For most swelling conditions, doctors suggest limiting your fluid intake. However, for patients with lymphedema, it’s actually better to stay fully hydrated.
Medical professions aren’t entirely sure why this is the case, but patients who drink adequate amounts of water have less swelling than those who don’t. One possible explanation starts with the composition of lymph.
The fluid running through your lymphatic system isn’t simply water – it’s also rich in proteins. If these proteins become dehydrated, they can attract more fluid and ultimately make your swelling worse.
In addition to drinking the right amount of water, people with lymphedema should avoid diuretics like alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate the body. Hydration will help regulate your lymphatic system, reducing abnormal swelling.
2. Eat Plenty of Protein
Decreasing the protein you consume won’t lead to less swelling from lymphedema. The proteins you eat in food are different from the proteins in your lymph system. Even when experiencing swelling and other symptoms of lymphedema, you need to eat adequate amounts of protein to nourish your body.
Protein is essential for many healthy physical functions. It gives you energy, protects your body from infections, and keeps your muscles and tissues strong. Protein also makes you feel full, which can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Good sources of protein include:
- Lean meat
- Dairy products
Eating healthy amounts of protein will not make lymphedema worse, and it will equip your body to handle the symptoms of lymphedema with more resiliency.
3. Reduce Salt Intake
A certain amount of salt is essential for normal physical functioning, but the typical American diet includes too much. The recommended amount of sodium for adults is about 1 teaspoon per day.
Salt increases water retention in your body, which is why you might feel bloated after eating out. Cutting salt out of your diet can help manage lymphedema by reducing the amount of water your body naturally retains.
Reducing your salt intake is simple. Here are a few steps you can take:
- Prepare food at home
- Read labels on sauces and seasonings
- Rinse foods canned in sodium
- Eat out less often
- Choose low-sodium options at restaurants
Some especially high-salt foods include pizza, tomato sauces, breakfast cereals, soup, and canned foods. Once you start to reduce your salt intake, you’ll be able to tell when foods are overly salted.
4. Choose Fruits and Vegetables
It’s also vital for patients with lymphedema to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. These foods contain high levels of healthy vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients.
Eating a plant-rich diet ensures you get all the nutrients your body needs, and it can also reduce inflammation in your body. This outcome is excellent for people who experience lymphedema since inflammation can make your symptoms worse.
Minerals like zinc and many vitamins work as antioxidants in your body, fighting damage and disease and working against inflammation. Foods high in antioxidants include berries, dark greens like kale and broccoli, green tea, and many other fruits and vegetables.
One common side effect of lymphedema is painful and dangerous skin infections. It’s essential to watch your skin and talk to a medical professional if your skin won’t heal or begins to hurt.
However, eating a healthy, nutritious diet can also help your body fight infections and heal more effectively.
5. Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Your goal to reduce inflammation will be even more successful if you also cut inflammatory foods from your diet. The most significant cause of inflammation in a Western diet is refined sugar.
Refined sugar is a highly processed food and affects your body in a number of negative ways. Inflammation caused by sugar can irritate your skin, affect your hormones, and weaken your immune system.
Because refined sugars are so inflammatory, reducing your sugar intake is one of the most important steps you can take toward managing lymphedema.
Some simple steps you can take to reduce sugar in your diet include switching out sugary drinks for water, choosing fruit over other desserts, and cultivating a healthy diet. The more nutritious food you eat, the less you will crave sugar.
Eat Well, Feel Better
While changing your diet won’t cure lymphedema, it can help you manage your symptoms and have a higher quality of life. What’s more, a healthy diet will help the rest of your physical systems function at a higher level.
Take these five steps today to help manage your lymphedema symptoms. But remember that food should never take the place of emergency medical care. If your lymphedema is severe or getting worse quickly, you should always consult a medical professional.