If you have lymphedema, you’ve probably wondered what the best diet is for the condition. So have I. If you read my story, you’ll see that I have been able to partially reverse my lymphedema with the help of chinese herbs, tui na massage and a plant-based diet.
Of course, with natural remedies, its difficult to pinpoint exactly how much each contributed to the success. Or maybe these things work synergisticly. But I also know that I started having symptoms of lymphedema in my late 20s and early 30s but it didn’t progress until in my 40s. I credit that to my mostly plant-based diet.
How would a plant-based diet help lymphedema? Well, plant-based diets are anti-inflammatory and help your body stay healthy. Anyone with lymphedema is dealing with an impaired lymphatic system. Whether you were born with it or whether your condition is a result of surgery, we all share one thing: a weakened or blocked lymphatic system.
Given that, my goal has always been to make the most of what I do have when it comes to lymphatic system functioning. So why not give your body the nutrition it needs to repair itself, so it can run as efficiently as it is capable of. I believe a whole food plant-based diet can do just that.
What is a whole food plant-based diet?
A whole-food plant-based diet (WFPB for short) is not a diet but a way of eating. It is where you eat mostly whole foods and stick with plant based. So it is vegan meaning no animal products.
What can it do for lymphedema?
Most people eat the “standard American diet”. This not only does that not help your body maintain health, it actually contributes to or causes a myriad of diseases. It creates inflammation and puts a burden on your body, forcing it to work harder to rid itself of things that don’t promote health.
On the other hand a WFPB, or even a 90% WFPB diet, can dramatically enhance your health.
Now I know there are many people out there who discredit a vegan or plant based diet. Frankly, I’m not sure why, but as someone who is concerned about my own health, I’m always open to listening to any and all evidence. After all, if the price is my health, I want to know sooner rather than later.
I’ve never seen anything credible about problems with the vegan diet. From what I’ve seen, most of it is from either non-MD types including dentists, health writers or even medical students. Or, it may come from MDs with specialties outside of nutrition who talk about an area they have little real expertise on. On the other hand, the evidence for this type of diet is impressive.
The China Study, for example, is one of the largest comprehensive studies of human nutrition ever conducted. It was done by a partnership between Cornell University, Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine, with data collected over a span of 20 years. Colin Campbell, PhD, and his son, Thomas M. Campbell II, MD, discuss and analyze the results from the study. It is important work. I’d highly recommend reading the book, but here’s also a nice cheat sheet summarizing a bit about it.
Even easier, check out the movie Forks Over Knives on Netflix.
NutritionFacts.org is also a great resource, with short 3 minute videos on all types of topics. Since it’s based on actual research by another MD from Cornell University, I find it to be a credible resource.
How hard is this diet?
Once you transition to it, I believe it will be the easiest “diet” you ever try. Why? Well you can pretty much eat what you want, in most cases, and your weight will just normalize if you stay active.
While you might want to change gradually so your taste buds adjust, you’ll start to feel great. You’ll see yourself look and feel younger. And most people lose excess weight automatically, without having to cut down. You’ll also feel more energized so you will want to be more active. Read stories of people’s health transformations at www.forksoverknives.com.
Most importantly, you’re giving your body a chance here. Instead of taxing your lymphatic system, your diet will help support it in running as efficiently as possible.
Painless weight loss
There is significant evidence out there that obesity can impact lymphedema. With a truly whole-foods plant based diet, you don’t need to count calories. You’ll be eating food that is higher volume and naturally mostly lower in fat. Most people find their weight will normalize. Check out this short video if you’re interested in more on this.
What about Keto or Paleo for Lymphedema?
It appears some people are having luck with these diets for lymphedema. However any weight loss likely benefits the condition. The problem is that these diets are controversial for a reason: there’s not much evidence to support these are actually good for you.
Our health is too precious. I don’t want to experiment and damage my body so I will choose the healthy route, vegetables over bacon, butter or chicken. While you may have a short term benefit if Keto or Paleo suppresses your appetite, all that flesh and fat will likely catch up with your body.
There’s a lot of people out there that try keto or paleo and end up having issues like high cholesterol, heart problems, lead poisoning, you name it. With WFPB, you are switching to a diet that is health promoting, not just weight loss promoting.
If you’re dealing with lymphedema you’ve already got a compromised system. I personally would not do anything else to burden my body.
Isn’t it hard to eat plant-based?
No, it’s actually the opposite. Switching to a WFPB diet helped free me from having to worry about calories. If you eat this way and just move a lot, you will usually naturally move toward your best weight. So being able to eat what I wanted far outweighed needing to just make sure I had the right foods on hand. And once my husband and I started cooking this way, it was easy and fun.
However, I would highly recommend you learn how to cook plant-based. Google plant-based cooking for online recipes, courses and other information.
Does it require 100% compliance?
No. In the China Study book, Dr. Colin Campbell states that you can avoid most disease by keeping animal products to less than 10% of your diet. So you can get the benefits without going 100%.
I also recommend that you start slow instead of going cold turkey. Notice how you feel. Everyone seems to notice that after meals, you’ll feel good instead of slow and stuffed. Start with one meal a day, then add more. Keep a cheat day if you need it. This is not about forcing yourself to do it. You’ll soon see how much better you feel on a plant-based diet and the remainder of the transition will be mostly effort-free.
The key is to learn how to cook with plant based foods. You can make almost anything and make it even taste better. Fortunately millions of people are paving the way and making it easier. Also you can seek out vegan restaurants in your area for options to go out. But even regular restaurants are increasingly adding vegan options, so it’s easy now.
What do you eat on a WFPB diet?
For lymphedema, I focus on green veggies and other vegetables, since science continues to discover all the amazing compounds in these foods that can heal or reverse diseases.
Fortunately you can eat a lot of great food. Ethnic cuisines like Thai, Indian and Vietnamese can easily be veganized. You can even make a veganized mac and cheese that tastes great and is healthy, too, instead of a caloric nightmare.
Also get in the habit of trying to integrate as much veggie into these cooked foods. Surprisingly kale is a great one that if chopped up small, cooks right into most meals. And other greens like bok choy blend into almost anything, while spinach adds a great sweetness to most cooked foods.
Just google your favorite food with the word “vegan” in front of it and a bunch of recipes will pop up for you to try:
Vegan mac and cheese
If you’re a documentary lover, check out Cowspiracy. It does a great job showing how eating less animal products can save a lot more than your health. It helps the planet too, along with minimizing needless suffering of animals.
In fact, going plant based is one of the best ways to help combat climate change.
Have you tried a whole food plant-based diet, or other diet to help your lymphedema? Would love to hear about it and share experiences.