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The Worst Foods for the Lymphatic System

Mary Smith
By Mary Smith. Updated: July 7, 2024
The Worst Foods for the Lymphatic System

Lymphedema is a condition in the lymphatic system causes swelling in various parts of this system, especially in the arms and legs. This health problem is due to an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the body. Too often, the people who suffer from this disease lack the necessary information regarding physical exercise and diet to cope with it in the best possible way.

In addition to receiving enough exercise, a good diet helps to improve the quality of life of a patient suffering from lymphedema. Being an edema rich in protein, there is a general belief that eliminating protein from the diet to improve the disease. This is not necessarily the case. oneHOWTO explains the worst foods for the lymphatic system, meaning the food to avoid if you have lymphedema.

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  1. Red meat
  2. Salt
  3. Processed foods
  4. Cheeses
  5. Precooked foods
  6. Olives and salted nuts
  7. Refined flours
  8. Why diet is important for lymphedema

Red meat

As previously stated, a lymphedema is a very protein-rich water edema. For this reason, many people believe that the elimination of protein from the diet is the best measure to help treat the condition and reduce welling. Unfortunately, this is not an accurate belief.

It is currently recommended that people with lymphedema should limit the consumption of proteins of animal origin, especially those from red meat. However, protein from plant origin should be increased. A lack of protein causes the body to take the proteins it needs from the muscles and tissues. This weakens the body and causes the connective tissues to swell, worsening lymphedema in the process.

It is important to consume the necessary daily proteins that are easy to digest. Limit red meat, opt for lean meats such as turkey or chicken, and prioritize vegetable proteins such as tofu. Protein from lean fish can also be a good option.

Learn more about swelling in the lymphatic system with our article on why a lymph node is swollen.


Excessive salt intake contributes to fluid retention. For this reason, lymphedema patients require a low sodium diet. Vinegar, lemon, chili peppers and spices can help you add more flavor to meals, being healthier foods for the disease. It is also advisable to eliminate from the diet those foods that contain a lot of salt in their composition. Even if they are otherwise healthy, the high-salt content can worsen or negate their benefits.

As we share the worst foods for the lymphatic system, you may be interested in knowing what foods to avoid if you have kidney failure.

Processed foods

Processed foods are those that have been processed in such a way that they optimize their appetizing properties and make them easy to consume. Often this is aided by the use of additives and preservatives. They are often high in salt, but can contain E numbers and other additives which are bad for our health in general, but especially for those with lymphedema. This is because the flavor enhancers often result in more swelling.


Yoghurts, milk, unsalted cheeses (especially skimmed ones) and soft cheeses can be consumed without any inconvenience in the case of suffering from lymphedema. On the other hand, the consumption of cured and semi-cured cheeses is not recommended because their sodium content is excessively high. These include Cheddar, Edam and other hard cheeses, especially those which have been aged for long periods.

Precooked foods

It is important to avoid the consumption of concentrated broths, preprepared sauces and other prepared foods because they contain a lot of salt. These are counterproductive when you want to reduce lymphedema related swelling. In addition, they often contain refined sugars, trans fats and additives that enhance flavor and are addictive, but also unhealthy.

Excessive consumption of ultra-processed foods not only harms patients with lymphedema, but is also related to an increased chance of developing cancer. Therefore, it is best to consume natural or unprocessed foods. These are some of the worst foods for the lymphatic system and the body as a whole.

Learn more about the best everyday foods to avoid cancer.

The Worst Foods for the Lymphatic System - Precooked foods

Olives and salted nuts

They are foods rich in sodium, so it is essential to moderate their consumption or make them a food to avoid if you have lymphedema. What is allowed is the consumption of nuts without salt, since they are rich in vegetable proteins, fiber, unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. This makes them foods with great nutritional value and beneficial to reduce lymphatic swelling. Olives are treated in such a way they usually have a high salt content, so they should generally be avoided.

Refined flours

Being inflammatory foods, refined flours harm the lymphatic system. It is recommended to restrict their consumption in lymphedema patients. These foods are quick to digest, the feeling of satiety quickly disappearing and favoring the consumption of larger quantities of food, despite being nutritionally satiated.

For all these reasons, consuming refined flour is associated with weight gain. Being overweight is very detrimental to lymphedema and can greatly worsen symptoms.

The Worst Foods for the Lymphatic System - Refined flours

Why diet is important for lymphedema

Food has a direct effect on your health. The often hectic rhythms of life and the habitual consumption of pre-cooked meals can result in indirect abuse on our bodies. This is often because these foods are rich in additives, saturated fats and salt, as well as chemical preservatives.

This diet generates more toxins in the body and a greater effort to eliminate them. It is important to note that there is currently no specific diet for patients with lymphedema. It has been proven that the disease worsens with being overweight and undertaking a sedentary lifestyle.

Diet and physical exercise is important to improve the symptoms lymphedema. These are two aspects that contribute to better sleep and reduce stress, which is a factor that harms lymphatic edema. What they are not is a replacement for assessment and diagnosis by a qualified physician. They can advise more directly on how to change our diet. More importantly, they can bets diagnose the cause of lymphedema and treat it clinically, if necessary.

Learn more about caring for your lymphatic system with our article on what happens if your lymphocyte count is low.

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The Worst Foods for the Lymphatic System