Lymphoedema and healthy eating
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is important for our general well-being as well as weight management. It can help in the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes1,2.
A healthy, balanced diet is equally important for people who suffer from lymphoedema as being over-weight can make the swelling worse. For example, a larger abdomen puts pressure on inguinal (of the groin) lymph nodes and restricts fluid drainage from the legs; arm lymphoedema also increases with the additional fat around the armpit. If weight is not addressed, general movement becomes more difficult and uncomfortable and as a result, less exercise or activity is done. This in turn leads to more swelling – and it then becomes a vicious circle!
But eating more healthily is easier said than done! It can be so very confusing knowing what, or rather what NOT, to eat and drink. One of the easiest ways to learn more is to go to the NHS UK website https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/. One of the recommendations is to follow the Eatwell Guide3 https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-eatwell-guide/. You may find it difficult at first to follow the guide each day but if you try and adhere to the basic principles, even just once or twice a week, the process will become easier. Before you know it, you will be much more aware about the food you eat on a weekly basis and how this may or may not fit within a healthy, balanced diet.
Exploring the Eatwell Guide steers you through what to eat and drink, and how much to eat and drink to maintain a healthy weight. It looks at the building blocks of our diet, such as:
- Carbohydrates (or starchy foods) which make up over a third of the food we eat. Try to choose wholegrain or high fibre versions if possible, such as brown rice or pasta, or potatoes with skins left on
- Fruit and vegetables should also make up over a third of what we eat each day. They are a great source of vitamins, minerals and fibre and we need at least 5 portions of a different variety each day. However, try to avoid too many glasses of fruit juice or smoothies – only one per day counts, no matter how many you have!
- Protein preferably in the form of beans or pulses rather than red meat is recommended. Fish is important too with 2 portions of fish per week being recommended. One of which should be oily fish such as salmon or mackerel
- Dairy products (e.g. milk, cheese and yoghurt) are important to help keep our bones strong but choose lower fat/sugar options whenever possible (e.g. lower fat plain yoghurt and low-fat milk)
- Fats help us absorb vitamins A, D and E so they are an essential part of our diet and the main types of fat found in food are ‘saturated’ and ‘unsaturated’. But any fat not used by the body is stored as body fat so, the recommendation is to cut down on saturated fats and replace them with unsaturated fats. For example, choose vegetable oils, oily fish, almonds, brazil nuts and avocados instead of cakes, butter, lard, cream, sausages, biscuits and pies
In addition, we need to try to cut down on our salt intake to no more than 6g per day (for an adult). Too much salt can raise your blood pressure, which in turn can increase the risk of heart disease. Around three quarters of the salt we eat is found in food we buy such as breakfast cereals, soups, crisps, breads and ready meals. So, it is always good to check the food label before buying (1.5g of salt per 100g means it is high in salt).
Sugar is another culprit that increases the risk of obesity and tooth decay. It is present in many packaged/convenience food and drink. Try to reduce consuming sugary, fizzy drinks, cakes, biscuits and pastries.
The fluid we drink is as important as the food we eat and drinking at least 6-8 glasses a day is recommended. This should be in the form of water or lower fat milk, NOT alcohol which contains empty calories. Also, avoiding sugary soft and fizzy drinks that are high in added sugar and calories is beneficial.
Of course, you can also eat too much of a good thing and maintaining a healthy weight means burning off any extra calories you take in on a daily basis. So, being active and exercising will compliment this healthy eating guide!
By following these very simple rules daily, you really will start to make a difference to your general health and weight management AND of course your lymphoedema!
Source 1: NHS UK Prevention High Blood Pressure (hypertension). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-blood-pressure-hypertension/prevention/
Source 2: NHS UK Eight Tips for Healthy Eating https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/eight-tips-for-healthy-eating/
Source 3: NHS UK Eatwell Guide - Public Health England in association with the Welsh government, Food Standards Scotland and the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland