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12 Foods for Improved Lymphatic Drainage

22nd October 2014

Updated on: 08.09.2021

The lymphatic system is involved not only in removing the excess fluids from the body, but also in supporting the elimination of toxins. A sluggish lymph circulation can lead to a series of unpleasant health issues, from cellulite and sinus infections to fatigue, digestive problems, and muscle swelling and cramps.

Although regular exercise remains the preferred treatment for a lazy lymphatic system, diet also plays an important role, as certain foods can cause the lymph to become stagnant and can increase the risk of infections by favoring the accumulation of toxins inside the body. The list of foods to avoid includes all products that are rich in sugar and salt, those prepared with artificial sweeteners, but also refined grains, meat, foods with preservatives, and baked goods and cookies.

Some of these aren’t necessarily unhealthy, but they’re either hard to digest or likely to alter blood sugar levels and to favor the growth of bacteria and unfriendly microorganisms inside the digestive tract. On the other hand, foods that are rich in fibers and those with a mild diuretic effect are considered beneficial for people who struggle with excess fluid retention and poor lymphatic drainage.

So let’s find out which are the healthiest foods for an optimal lymphatic system but before that, it is worth mentioning what triggers lymph nodes to swell in the first place, as well as what reduces lymph node swelling.

What triggers lymph nodes to swell?

The lymphatic system is a complex network that consists of vessels, nodes, and organs, located in various parts of the body. The lymph nodes also referred to as lymph glands, take an active role in the body’s defensive mechanisms. They function as vigilant gatekeepers, fighting off bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that can cause an illness.

Normally, the lymph nodes get swollen when a virus or other pathogenic invader enters the body. Once the intruder is detected, the lymphatic system starts producing white blood cells and other antibodies that will be used to fight off the pathogen. The production of the defensive cells happens in the nearest lymph nodes, thus making them swell.

Other causes for swollen lymph nodes might include:

  • A chronic disease, such as cancer or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ongoing inflammation in the body, due to a pathological condition or an autoimmune disorder
  • Physical injury such as mechanical trauma, overheating, or cold

What reduces lymph node swelling?

As we already mentioned, the swollen lymph nodes are due to the invasion of a virus, bacteria, or other pathological conditions. The first step towards reducing the swelling would be to find out what’s causing it and to take adequate preventive actions. To do so, you might need to undergo a physical exam, blood test, or lymph node biopsy.

If the swelling is caused by a viral infection, it will go away in several days, following a good rest, a nutritious diet, and plenty of water. Antibiotics might be needed in case of a bacterial invasion or other illnesses. For other more serious causes, such as cancer, surgery or radiotherapy might be required.

Here are some common practices for reducing lymph node swelling:

  • Apply a compress on the affected area using a warm and wet cloth
  • Get plenty of rest and adequate amounts of sleep
  • Increase the intake of fruits and vegetables, such as leafy greens and citrus fruits
  • Take several cups of tea a day from ginger, echinacea, or goldenseal

Foods that support the lymphatic system

4 different types of barriers in cups


Brown rice is a good source of vitamin B6, which is thought to be effective in eliminating the excess water from the tissues and in relieving the swelling of the legs. If your feet get swollen and painful by the end of the day and you often wake up with puffy eyes, try replacing white rice and pasta with brown rice.


One of the reasons apricots are good for stimulating lymphatic drainage is that they contain potassium, a mineral that is thought to support the circulation of lymph and to maintain the internal equilibrium when there’s too much sodium in the body. If you tend to eat lots of salty foods, reduce the intake and try to add more fruits and veggies that are rich in potassium, like bananas, dates, raisins, spinach, and Lima beans.


red cranberries

Cranberries work as natural diuretics and have low sugar content, so they’re among the best fruits for people with a lazy lymphatic system. They contain antioxidants and help in the removal of toxins from the body, supporting the functioning of kidneys and bowel movements. Moreover, cranberry juice is known to encourage the breakdown of fats and to help the body eliminate fatty particles.



These are a good source of calcium and vitamin B5, both minerals are known to support the lymph flow and to prevent water retention. Roquefort and blue cheese, feta, and Camembert are all tasty and healthy choices, so don’t be afraid to add these to your menu more often.


leafy green veggies-broccoli

Vegetables in this group are rich in chlorophyll, an ingredient that has strong cleansing properties and is also called “the green blood”. Spinach, kale, turnip greens, broccoli, mustard greens, and dandelion leaves are excellent for stimulating lymph and blood circulation and speeding up the removal of excess water.



Nuts provide essential fatty acids, which are needed for the absorption of fat-soluble minerals and vitamins, as well as for the removal of food debris from the body. Try adding more nuts to your menu for stimulating lymphatic drainage, and don’t be afraid to increase the intake of seeds, as they’re also beneficial. Brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, and even peanuts as long as they’re not salted are great for this purpose.

    1. AVOCADO

Another good source of fatty acids is avocado, which tastes great in breakfast sandwiches, smoothies, raw salads, and even in grain-free, nut-rich pancakes. Replace salted butter with mashed avocado, and try eating more of this fruit instead of salty meat in the morning.

    1. GARLIC

One of the most powerful natural antioxidants, garlic fights against bacteria and prevents infections and inflammations. It’s great for improving circulation and the removal of toxins from the body and has cleansing properties. Adding garlic to your menu more often will result in a stronger immune system and better lymphatic drainage.


Citrus fruits help in improving the flow of lymph and hydrate the body. They’re rich in enzymes and antioxidants that contribute to a stronger immune system and help in cleansing the body fluids from toxins.

Eat more fresh oranges, drink lemon water and add kiwi, nectarines, and pomelo to your menu more often if you suffer from poor lymphatic drainage. The astringent properties of citrus fruits make them effective in removing blockages and improving the functioning of the lymph vessels.

    1. GINGER

Besides stimulating circulation, ginger also supports digestive function and helps in preventing constipation and the accumulation of food debris inside the body.


Spirulina and kombu are two winning choices for people who struggle with fluid buildup, as they help in detoxifying the body, eliminating excess water, and improving the lymph flow.


These two herbs have adaptogenic properties and help in relieving congestion, alleviating inflammation, and clearing the lymph nodes and vessels. They’re useful for strengthening the immune function and the lymphatic system at the same time.

Don’t forget to hydrate yourself properly, as not drinking enough water can cause the body to retain more fluid as well.

What can make lymph nodes worse?

As stated earlier in the article, the causes that lead to swollen lymph nodes may vary. In the majority of cases, the lymph glands swell as a protective response to the attacks of viruses or bacteria, as well as due to some sort of physical injury or chronic stress. Among the most common pathological conditions that are linked to swollen lymph nodes include the flu, various colds, skin or ear infections. In some instances, the swelling might be caused by more serious illnesses, such as HIV, cancer, tuberculosis, or measles.

Other factors that can make lymph nodes worse include:

  • Unhealthy eating and poor hygiene
  • Other conditions, such as glandular fever, dental abscess, cellulitis, or mononucleosis
  • Exposure to allergens
  • Skin irritation caused by a rash or acne
  • A physical injury or increase physical pressure

Foods to avoid with swollen lymph nodes

Knowing which foods aid the normal functioning of the lymphatic system is of paramount importance, to avoid unwanted health implications. However, no matter how good our eating habits are and how well we take care of our bodies, at one point or another we will get swollen lymph nodes.

In most cases, the swollen lymph glands are a normal reaction of the body and should not be a reason for panic. All you need to do is establish the underlying cause and take the appropriate actions. Having proper rest and eating a wholesome diet is among the most helpful.

While some foods have been proven to tackle the swelling others seem to be worsening the condition. This is why it is a good idea to educate yourself on the negative food list when it comes to dealing with swollen glands. Here are some of the foods that should be avoided in these circumstances:

  • Fried foods – chips, fish, and chicken strips
  • Sugary foods – sweets, candy, cakes, cookies, donuts, and ice cream
  • Sugary drinks – juice drinks, soft drinks, and energy drinks
  • Salty foods – canned foods, pasta sauces, soy sauce, pretzels, crisps
  • Processed meat – sausages, ham, hot dogs, beef jerky, and deli meats

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