Your lymphatic system helps protect you from disease and balances the fluid in your body. Though there's no one diet to guarantee healthy lymph function, knowing the best and worst foods for your lymphatic system can help you build an eating plan that supports overall wellbeing.
Your lymphatic system is a part of your immune system made up of vessels, nodes and organs like your spleen and tonsils, per the Cleveland Clinic. It helps collect and filter excess fluid from your blood, all of which can help maintain your fluid levels, clear your body of waste and protect you from disease.
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But scar tissue, infection and conditions like cancer can block your lymph nodes from doing their job. This lack of lymphatic drainage may result in fluid buildup that can cause pain and swelling in the affected area — a condition called lymphedema, per the Mayo Clinic.
While there's no special diet to keep your lymph system draining properly, including nutrient-rich foods that keep the immune-promoting part of your lymph system in good shape may help your body fight off infection and prevent lymph gland blockage, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Here are some foods to eat and others to limit or avoid when it comes to healthy lymph function.
In addition to your lymphatic system diet plan, you should also exercise regularly and avoid exposure to toxic chemicals like those in cleaning products, both of which can also help support overall lymph health, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Foods to Eat
Here are foods that can support your immunity and overall health — and, as a result, lymphatic flow and drainage.
Protein is an essential nutrient for the health of your immune system cells, according to Harvard Health Publishing. And the healthier your immune cells, the better your body can fight off invaders and preserve the wellbeing of your lymphatic system.
Good sources of protein include:
- Chicken breast
- Fish like salmon and tuna
- Soy products like tofu and tempeh
- Legumes like lentils and black beans
- Dairy products like yogurt, milk and cottage cheese
- Nuts and nut products like almonds and peanut butter
Adults should aim to eat the following amount of protein every day, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- People assigned female at birth (AFAB): About 46 grams, which is about 4 oz of salmon and 7 oz of Greek yogurt
- People assigned male at birth (AMAB): About 56 grams, which is about 3 oz of chicken breast, two large eggs and 3 oz of tofu
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C can help prevent infections or make them go away faster, per the Cleveland Clinic. The result? Less strain on your lymph system and lower chances of a blockage, both of which can mess with lymphatic drainage.
Vitamin C-rich foods for lymph health include:
- Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit
- Leafy greens like kale and spinach
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommends adults get the following amounts of vitamin C every day from a variety of whole foods:
- AFAB: About 75 mg, which is about 1 cup of pineapple
- AMAB: About 90 mg, which is about 1 cup of grapefruit
3. Vitamin B6
Another important vitamin for your lymph nodes is vitamin B6. Not getting enough of this essential nutrient in your diet may prevent the production of immune system cells called lymphocytes, which help your lymph system fight off infection that may impair proper drainage, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
Foods rich in vitamin B6 include:
- Fortified tofu
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
Adults should aim to eat about this much vitamin B6 per day, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines:
- AFAB: 1.3 to 1.5 mg, which is a little more than 1 cup of tofu
- AMAB: 1.3 to 1.7 mg, which is about one 6-ounce salmon fillet
Too much vitamin B6 can cause unpleasant symptoms like nausea, headache, fatigue or tingling, though this typically only happens from high doses of a supplement and not from food.
To avoid side effects, stick to food sources of the nutrient or supplements with doses of less than 100 mg per day for adults, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).
Zinc is a mineral that helps create new immune system cells, per the Cleveland Clinic. Low levels of zinc have been associated with dampened immune function and increased risk of infection, according to the ODS, which can get in the way of proper lymphatic drainage.
Incorporate these foods high in zinc into your diet:
- Legumes like lentils, peas, black-eyed peas and chickpeas
Here's how much zinc adults should eat per day, according to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines:
- AFAB: About 8 mg, which is about 2 cups of tofu
- AMAB: About 11 mg, which is about a 4-ounce steak
Drink Water With Your Lymphatic Cleanse Diet
Healthy foods aren't the only way to improve your lymphatic system: Don't forget to hydrate, too! Drinking plenty of water can help lymph fluid move more easily through your body to prevent buildup, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
A quick way to calculate how much water you should drink in a day? Divide your body weight (in pounds) by two, then drink that amount in ounces of fluid.
Foods to Limit or Avoid
There are also certain foods to limit or avoid when it comes to lymphatic drainage and swollen lymph nodes.
1. Processed Foods
A diet high in processed foods can get in the way of a healthy immune system, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Some foods to keep an eye out for include:
- Foods with added sugars, like packaged baked goods, breakfast cereals and granolas and condiments like ketchup, marinara sauce and barbecue sauce
- Processed meats like bacon, sausage and hot dogs
2. Red Meat
Eating a Western diet of red meat, processed foods and not enough fruits and vegetables can upset your gut microbiome, which can lead to inflammation and decreased immune function, per Harvard Health Publishing. Here are some meats to limit:
Though caffeinated drinks like coffee are fine in moderation, drinking too much in a day can leave you dehydrated, per the Cleveland Clinic, which can get in the way of healthy lymphatic drainage.
Stick to the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines-recommended daily amount of 400 milligrams or less (that's about 4 cups of coffee).
Are There Supplements to Help Lymphatic Drainage?
Some herbal health supplements and pills — like wild indigo — are touted for their immune-supporting and infection-fighting effects that may help with lymphatic drainage and swollen lymph nodes, per Kaiser Permanente.
However, there's not much research to back up these traditional remedies, so check with your doctor before trying lymphatic supplements.
- Office of Dietary Supplements: "Zinc"
- Linus Pauling Institute: "Vitamin B6"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Lymphatic System"
- Mayo Clinic: "Lymphedema"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: "2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Nutrition and Immunity"
- Office of Dietary Supplements: "Vitamin B6"
- Cleveland Clinic: "3 Vitamins That Are Best for Boosting Your Immunity"
- Kaiser Permanente: "Wild indigo"
- Cleveland Clinic: "8 Vitamins & Minerals You Need for a Healthy Immune System"
- USDA: "Fish, salmon, Atlantic, wild, cooked, dry heat"
- USDA: "Yogurt, Greek, plain, lowfat"
- USDA: "Chicken, broiler or fryers, breast, skinless, boneless, meat only, cooked, braised"
- USDA: "Egg, whole, cooked, fried"
- USDA: "Tofu, fried"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.