Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, affecting nearly 700,000 people each year. But there is hope: taking control of your vascular health is possible, and the steps toward better circulation may be simpler than you think.
We all know the saying, “You are what you eat,” and the foods you choose greatly impact your overall health, including your vascular health. Eating a diet high in cholesterol and saturated fats puts a heavy strain on your blood vessels, leading to bad circulation and reduced blood flow, high blood pressure and more.
However, certain foods promote a healthy vascular system and can even repair damaged blood vessels. Statistically, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, such as a whole-food, plant-based diet or the Mediterranean diet, has proven benefits for cardiovascular health.
If you want to jumpstart your vascular health, start implementing these 10 foods into your diet.
Avocados are rich in healthy fats and can aid in managing high cholesterol. They’re also a good source of potassium, which can help relieve tension in your blood vessel walls. Include avocados in smoothies or salads, or spread on toast instead of butter.
Additionally, avocado oil is a better choice than most cooking oils when used in moderation, as it’s an anti-inflammatory oil.
Beets are rich in nitrate, which your body turns into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide helps relax your blood vessels and improve blood flow. Studies have shown that beet juice can also lower your systolic blood pressure.
Incorporating beets into your diet may seem difficult if you’re unfamiliar with them, but they’re a versatile root vegetable. You can eat beets either raw or cooked. Peel and thinly slice them to add to salad, boil or oven-roast them with some of your other favorite vegetables or include them in fresh juice or smoothie recipes. You can also try them pickled, in soups or even on sandwiches.
Berries are also an excellent source of antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid that give many berries their deep red, blue and purple hues. These antioxidants can lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease by reducing cholesterol and inflammation.
Make berries a regular part of your diet to make the most of these health benefits. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries make a delicious snack or breakfast addition. Eat them on their own, use them in smoothies or add them to your pancake or waffle batter. They also taste great mixed with yogurt and granola. Plus, they’re naturally sweet, making them a great way to curb a sugar craving.
Cayenne pepper contains a chemical called capsaicin. This compound gives chili peppers their spice, but it also has anti-inflammatory qualities that promote heart health. If you’re not sensitive to spice, incorporating a small amount of cayenne into your diet can help relax the muscles in your blood vessels and improve blood pressure.
Grapefruit, lemons and oranges are packed with healthy antioxidants, including vitamin C and flavonoids. Studies have shown that consuming a diet rich in vitamin C and flavonoids can increase your blood antioxidant levels by up to 30%, helping your body naturally fight inflammation and reducing your risk of heart disease. Regularly including citrus fruits in your diet can lower blood pressure and decrease your risk of stroke.
In addition to drinking orange juice, another simple way to incorporate more citrus into your diet is by starting each day with a glass of lemon water (add the juice of half a fresh lemon into 16 ounces of water). Not only will this help reduce your body’s inflammation and help with blood flow, but it also promotes hydration and can aid digestion. Overall, it’s a wonderful way to start your day. You can also try infusing various citrus fruits into your water throughout the day.
A garlic-rich diet helps improve blood flow more efficiently, reducing blood pressure. Plus, it’s easy to incorporate fresh garlic into a variety of meals, including soups and stews, roasted vegetables, sauces and more. Even garlic powder has been shown to improve cardiovascular health.
Leafy greens are another great source of nitrate. Try incorporating a variety of greens into your diet, such as lettuces, kale, arugula, Swiss chard and spinach, as they improve blood vessel function and can reduce inflammation. If you’re not accustomed to including leafy greens in your diet, give them a try raw in salads, on sandwiches, cooked as a dinner-time side dish or in soups. If you’re not fond of the flavor, you can toss a large handful into smoothies since the added fruits will likely overpower much of the green taste.
Whole grains are an important part of a balanced diet. Regularly incorporating oats into your diet is a great way to improve your vascular health, as they can help prevent clogged arteries and lower your cholesterol. Besides your morning bowl of oatmeal, you can incorporate oats into your diet in many ways, including burgers and sweet treats. You can also try adding oats to smoothies or blending them into a fine powder to use as flour.
Try swapping extra virgin olive oil for your other cooking oils to give your vascular health a boost. While an abundance of oil generally isn’t the healthiest choice, if you’re going to include oil in foods like roasted veggies or salad dressings, olive oil is an option that’s better for your body. Unlike most oils, olive oil and avocado oil are rich in antioxidants, are anti-inflammatory and can reduce your risk for heart disease — though moderation is still important.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a powerful anti-inflammatory unsaturated fat that protects against inflammation and atherosclerosis. You can typically find omega-3s in fatty fish like salmon. If you tend to eat a lot of red meat, try swapping a couple of meals per week with salmon recipes to give your body an omega-3 boost.
If you’re looking for a plant-based source, try flax seeds, as they’re rich in omega-3s as well. However, it’s important to note that whole flax seeds aren’t broken down fully during the digestion process. Give your body a head start on digestion and reap the full benefits by opting for ground flax seeds. Store them in the refrigerator to prolong their nutrients. Sprinkle ground flax seeds onto your meals, in smoothies, or even use them as an egg replacer in recipes like these tender flax-oat waffles.
Eat Whole to Feel Whole
In addition to a healthy diet, taking additional steps to improve your vascular health can include quitting smoking, reducing stress, regular physical activity and reaching or maintaining a healthy weight. If you’d like more information on implementing heart-healthy strategies into your life, schedule an appointment with one of our skilled vascular specialists.