Good blood circulation is vital to your health
Blood circulation is essential for a healthy, functioning body. If it’s poor, it causes symptoms like numbness, pain and muscle cramps, among others. And research shows there are several different causes for poor circulation including peripheral artery disease, diabetes, obesity and more. Although medication is often used to treat circulatory issues, noshing on these foods that improve circulation could help, too.
Have you been wondering how to improve circulation? You might consider eating chocolate, says Steven Gundry, MD, a cardiologist who is the director and founder of the International Heart & Lung Institute. “In moderation, dark chocolate is a fantastic addition to your diet,” he says. “Dark chocolate is shown to help your body produce nitric oxide, which plays an important role in protecting your heart and veins.” Cocoa contains antioxidants that may help manage blood pressure and cholesterol and improve blood flow. Dr Grundy advises choosing dark chocolate that’s at least 72 percent cocoa.
Turmeric, also known as “the golden spice of India,” is a gem for keeping arteries unclogged and improving circulation, thanks to the chemical curcumin that gives it its colour. According to Dr Gundry, however, turmeric is a tricky spice: “It’s actually poorly absorbed on its own unless it is mixed with Bioperine, a compound found in black pepper.” His solution: Eat curry once a week, which contains both black pepper and turmeric.
Salmon, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for overall health, with two servings per week recommended. Research shows an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency results in poor circulation, according to the National Institutes of Health. Salmon, which is high in omega-3s, contains natural blood-thinning and anticoagulant properties, says Brooke Alpert, RD. “This allows for an improvement in circulation for your entire body,” she says. Alpert advises choosing wild-caught salmon whenever possible.
You may have read that beets are great for athletes because they increase levels of nitric oxide, which helps increase blood flow and gets oxygen to the muscles more quickly. Drinking beet juice is an excellent way to improve circulation, even if you’re not an athlete. “Some studies have shown that consuming one to two cups of beet juice per day reduced blood pressure in people with high blood pressure and improved walking performance in patients with peripheral artery disease who experience pain in the legs during walking,” says Steven Hertzler, PhD, RD, senior scientist for clinical research in global science and medical affairs at Abbott Nutrition.
Capsaicin is the active ingredient that gives cayenne pepper its heat. “There is some evidence that this compound can affect blood pressure and improve blood flow,” says Ginger Hultin, RDN. Other types of peppers that contain capsaicin include green and red chilies, jalapeño peppers and tabasco peppers. She suggests stirring cayenne into eggs, sauces and salad dressings and using it to flavour seafood and chicken. “You can even use it to spice up treats like brownies, muffins, cookies and cakes,” she says. One caution: “Capsaicin is known to mildly thin the blood, so it shouldn’t be used with other blood-thinning medications or supplements.”
It’s easy to pass by radishes when you’re shopping for veggies: Some people think they taste a bit bitter, and they’re often thought of as only a topping. But if you’ve been wondering how to improve circulation, give these bright red beauties another look. “Radishes are rich in minerals, including potassium, that help normalise blood pressure and increase blood circulation,” says dietitian Jackie Arnett. Each half cup of sliced radishes contains 135 mg of blood pressure-lowering potassium.
If mild green capsicum is as spicy as you get, you may want to train your taste buds to like a little more heat. “Chilli peppers give a kick to the blood, increasing the circulation around the body,” says Arnett Elnahar. In a 2015 study published in the BMJ, researchers looked at the diets of nearly half a million men and women over a seven-year span. They found that people who ate spicy foods like chilli peppers several days a week had a 14 percent lower risk of death during the study – including from heart disease and cancer. Take baby steps by adding a little diced chilli pepper to your stir-fry or chilli, or squirt a drop or two of Sriracha sauce on your eggs.
If you haven’t heard enough about kale, here’s another reason to add this food to your diet: It could help improve circulation. “Kale is exceptional at replenishing red blood cells and increases the blood’s ability to transport more oxygen around the body,” says Arnett Elnahar, RD. Bonus: Kale is rich in folate, which may help lower high blood pressure.
Time to wake up and smell the coffee – and improve circulation at the same time. A study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in 2013 showed that those who drank a regular cup of coffee had a 30 percent increase in blood flow over a 75-minute period compared to those who stuck to decaf.
Açaí berries are another food that lives up to its hype. According to Elnahar, these little wonders have powerful plant sterols (a naturally occurring substance in grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and legumes) that relax blood vessels and improve circulation. They’re also rich in vitamin A and potassium.
Wakame seaweed is branching out from sushi restaurants and quickly becoming a favourite snack food. “According to a 1998 study of the hypotensive effects of wakame, Japanese researchers found four weeks of eating several grams of dried wakame reduced blood pressure in humans,” says David Nico, PhD, of drhealthnut.com. Other research, such as a study published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, has found benefits in terms of lowering blood pressure, too. Nico suggests choosing high-quality varieties that aren’t contaminated with heavy metals or other impurities.
Brussels sprouts and other foods high in vitamin C – including broccoli, tomatoes, oranges and berries – all help with circulation. “Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant on the lining cells of our arteries to assist in dilation and therefore blood flow,” says Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD, a physician specialising in family and integrative medicine, and author of BodyWise: Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing.
You may have to buy more mouthwash if you eat more garlic, but it could be worth it if you’re serious about improving circulation. Studies, such as this one in the Journal of Nutrition, show that consuming garlic cloves can help prevent clogged arteries. “Two to three cloves daily is ideal,” says Dr Carlton Abrams. You’ll get the most benefits from garlic cloves if you smash or press them prior to cooking.
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