If you’re like me, you find yourself researching which foods, herbs, vitamins, and minerals are healthiest, how they affect your body and you try to be conscious about what you eat and drink. Many of us have genetics to contend with; my family history includes everything from, cancer, thyroid issues, diabetes, cholesterol levels, obesity, blood pressure issues, arrhythmia, heart disease and of course, varicose veins. Since many of these problems came to fruition due to poor personal habits, environmental factors, and food choices, I try to stay aware of my health, eating habits, and physical activity when and where I can.
Today, let’s take a quick look at things that can improve your circulatory system, foods that can improve blood flow and circulation, as well as a few that we should try to stay away from.
What is blood circulation and why is it important?
First thing first! What is proper circulation and why should we worry about it? Normal blood circulation brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells in the body through the arteries, and the waste products are picked up by the veins and transported back to the liver, heart & lungs. If an area of the circulatory system is impaired, you could experience symptoms such as:
- Numbness and tingling in the hands and feet
- Swelling in the feet, ankles, or legs
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Muscle cramping
- Aching, heaviness, restlessness in the legs
- Leg ulcers
- Varicose veins
Lifestyle changes such as exercise, drinking more water, and eating healthy foods can help promote healthy circulation. In this post, we’ll take a deeper dive into 10 foods with properties that may help improve your circulation and blood flow.
Top foods to help increase blood circulation and blood flow
Garlic is not only associated with a better immune system, but it is also associated with decreasing blood pressure! Specifically, the sulfur compounds in garlic cause vasodilation, increasing blood flow in the tissue. It has been shown that people consuming garlic powder tablets containing 1,200 mg of allicin twice daily for three months experienced a 50% improvement in blood flow. Also, who can argue that garlic makes virtually any dish even better! Dig in!
Capsaicin is what makes a cayenne pepper hot and helps lower blood pressure, while expanding your blood vessels due to the nitric oxide it contains. Additionally, it helps prevent plaque buildup in the arteries.
Turmeric has been utilized in Chinese medicine since ancient times. It helps to dilate blood vessels and improve circulation. The curcumin found in turmeric helps increase nitric oxide production, reduce oxidative stress, and decrease inflammation.
Ginger is another staple to have in your pantry as it not only brings great flavor to dishes, but also works to improve your circulation. Used in Indian and Chinese medicine for thousands of years, to reduce high blood pressure. It is recommended to consume 2-4 grams per day.
Nuts and Walnuts
Packed with nutrients such as vitamin E and L-arginine nuts, such as the walnut work to promote your body’s production of nitric oxide. Containing high levels of amino acids as well as magnesium, potassium and calcium, nuts can help lower your blood pressure as well as reduce inflammation which is particularly helpful with diabetes.
I don’t know about you, but I can never get enough citrus! Thankfully, it has made it onto our list as well! Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruit are packed with antioxidants, including flavonoids. Consuming flavonoid-rich citrus fruits may decrease inflammation in your body, which can reduce stiffness while improving blood flow and nitric oxide production. It has also been shown in recent years that flavonoids can even help with varicose veins, reduce the risk of stroke, and improve cognitive functions. Now where is my glass of lemonade!?
Fatty Fish containing high levels of omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, trout, sardines, and herring helps release nitric oxide into your body dilating your blood vessels and increasing the blood flow. Omega-3 fats also help prevent blood clot formation, plaque buildup in the arteries, lower blood pressure, increase the healthy HDL cholesterol, and improve blood flow in skeletal muscle during and after exercise.
Another of my favorites, berries are not only great tasting, but can have health benefits as well. The antioxidants contained in berries such as blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries and currants not only contain anti-inflammatory properties, but also assist in lowering blood pressure and improving circulation. Studies have also shown berries can help reduce heart rate and improve arterial dilation.
Beets contain nitrates, which the body converts into nitric oxide. This process helps expand blood vessels. Beet juice may help widen arteries, lower blood pressure, and improve athletic endurance. Beet juice supplements improve oxygen flow in muscle tissue, stimulates blood flow, increases increase nitric oxide levels and decreases blood vessel inflammation — all of which can boost performance not only in athletes but in everyone.
Onions are an excellent source of flavonoid antioxidants, which benefit heart health and improves circulation by dilating your arteries and veins. Anti-inflammatory properties in in onions, combined with the flavonoid antioxidants can also been linked to a reduction in inflammation in both arteries and veins. Much like garlic, onions make just about every savory dish taste better!
Healthy recipes that incorporate these ingredients
Here’s an amazing recipe which combines Citrus, onion (shallots), and salmon from Cooking Light, as well as a beet and walnut salad recipe from the Food Network. This delicious meal encompasses 5 of the 10 foods which help promote circulation and it’s delicious! If you’re feeling adventurous, why not try this berry easy dessert recipe from Rachel Ray which includes berries and Ginger, sprinkle on some Tumeric and Boom! You’ve added three more superfoods from the list above! There are many natural ways to improve circulation such as choosing foods that contain antioxidants, nitrates and vitamins that stimulate blood flow. Try incorporating some of these foods into your daily diet and see the positive impact in can make on your circulation.
While all of these amazing foods have benefits that can help improve your circulation, there are also some foods which can negatively impact your circulation. Below is a short list of foods, or food groups that you should avoid if you have health concerns, including circulatory concerns.
Foods to avoid that may cause poor circulation
Fatty, processed or red meats
Fatty, processed, or red meats: Saturated fats can cause cholesterol to build up in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease.
Added sugars: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excess amounts of added sugar in the diet can increase the risk of diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage artery walls and high cholesterol can cause hardening of the arteries. High blood sugar can lead to diabetes, which can damage blood vessels and nerves that allow the heart and blood vessels to function properly.
Trans fats: Trans fats occur in certain animal products, including milk, butter, cheese, and meat. Many processed foods contain trans fats if hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make the oil solidify at room temperature. Trans fats increase LDL cholesterol in the blood, which can increase the risk of plaque forming in the arteries and heart disease.
Salt: According to the World Health Organization (WHO), excess salt in the diet can increase the risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and stroke. The WHO recommends a daily intake of fewer than 5 grams of salt for adults.
Good circulation is essential for the body! If you find that, despite best efforts, your circulation continues to be a concern, it’s best to schedule an appointment with a vein specialist as well as your primary care physician to see what part of your circulatory system is contributing to your concerns. Until then, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, and turn that lemon into lemon-aid!
Medically Reviewed By:
Dr. Yan Katsnelson is a philanthropist, business owner, and highly skilled cardiac surgeon. He is the Founder and CEO of USA Vein Clinics, which is part of USA Clinics Group, the parent company of USA Fibroid Centers, USA Vascular Centers, and USA Oncology Centers, with more than 100 facilities nationwide. Dr. Yan has established himself as a strong advocate for accessibility and affordability of the most advanced medical care close to home. His mission is to create a positive experience for each patient with compassionate, personalized, and expert care.