Improving blood flow is essential for whole-body health, helping to transport oxygen and nutrients where they’re needed. You probably know what not eat – excess sugar, trans fats and alcohol – but there are a few foods you might not know that can give you a good boost.
Our modern way of life, characterised by convenience and quick consumption, has led to significant changes in our daily habits. Unfortunately, many of these changes have taken a toll on our health, particularly when it comes to blood flow. A poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle have become increasingly prevalent, and they're wreaking havoc on our circulatory system. Let’s find out how and why, before we dive into those wholesome foods that will nurture your health.
Obesity and Blood Vessel Health: One of the most direct consequences of a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle is weight gain and obesity. Excess body fat can lead to the development of adipose tissue (fat cells) that release inflammatory substances, which can damage blood vessels. This damage contributes to atherosclerosis, a condition where arteries narrow and become less flexible. As a result, blood flow becomes restricted, increasing the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
High Blood Sugar Levels: Consuming excessive sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to elevated blood sugar levels. Over time, consistently high blood sugar can damage the delicate endothelial lining of blood vessels, impairing their ability to dilate and constrict as needed to regulate blood flow. This damage is a significant factor in the development of diabetes and its complications, including peripheral artery disease and impaired circulation.
Increased Blood Clotting Risk: A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a more sluggish circulation, promoting blood clot formation. Prolonged sitting or inactivity can cause blood to pool in the lower extremities, increasing the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). These clots can break loose and travel to the lungs, causing a life-threatening condition known as pulmonary embolism.
Weakened Heart Muscle: Lack of physical activity weakens the heart muscle, making it less efficient at pumping blood throughout the body. This can lead to conditions like congestive heart failure, where blood flow to vital organs becomes compromised, resulting in fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in the extremities.
Impact on Blood Pressure: Poor dietary choices, especially those high in sodium, can lead to high blood pressure. Elevated blood pressure strains the heart and blood vessels, making them less efficient. This can result in decreased blood flow to organs like the kidneys, increasing the risk of kidney disease and further hypertension-related complications.
Now let’s take a look at those circulation-boosting foods – remember, to reap the benefits, it’s vital to eat a balanced diet free from inflammation-causing ultra-processed foods.
Omega 3 + Fatty Fish
Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and trout are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce the risk of blood clot formation. Omega-3 promotes vasodilation, which is the widening of blood vessels, and it improves blood flow by increasing the diameter of the blood vessels, reducing resistance to blood flow, and lowering blood pressure. This effect helps ensure that blood can flow more freely throughout the circulatory system. Sounds complex, but to put it simply, it’s good for you! There are also a range of other sources of omega 3 if you ascribe to the ambitions of Finding Nemo’s Bruce:
- Flaxseeds: Flaxseeds are one of the richest plant-based sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid. Ground flaxseeds can be added to cereals, smoothies, or baked goods to boost your omega-3 intake.
- Chia Seeds: Chia seeds are another excellent source of ALA. They can be soaked in water or milk to create a gel-like texture and added to yogurt, oatmeal, or beverages.
- Walnuts: Walnuts are a tree nut that contains a good amount of ALA omega-3s. They make for a convenient and nutritious snack or can be added to salads and oatmeal.
- Hemp Seeds: Hemp seeds are rich in ALA and can be sprinkled on salads, yogurt, or blended into smoothies.
- Algal Oil: Algal oil is derived from algae and is a vegan source of EPA and DHA, the same omega-3s found in fatty fish. It is available as a dietary supplement.
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are natural compounds that can help relax blood vessels and improve blood flow. Flavonoids found in dark chocolate, particularly epicatechin, have been shown to promote vasodilation, which is the widening of blood vessels. Vasodilation helps improve blood flow by increasing the diameter of blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely. This effect can lead to reduced blood pressure and enhanced circulation. Look for dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 85% or higher for the most benefits. (If you can handle it, 100% is an antioxidant powerhouse free from additives!)
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and Swiss chard are excellent sources of nitrates, which can help relax blood vessels and lower blood pressure. While there is concern about the potential cancer-causing effects of nitrates in cured meats, separate research suggests that nitrates present in vegetables could, in fact, contribute to lowering the risk of disease. So, fear not! In this form, nitrates aren’t the enemy. These greens are also packed with vitamins and minerals that support overall cardiovascular health.
Beetroot is another source of dietary nitrates that can help improve blood flow. Beetroot juice, in particular, has been shown to enhance exercise performance and increase blood flow to the muscles. Nitric oxide also enhances the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen to tissues throughout the body. This is particularly important during physical activity when the body's oxygen demands increase. Beets and nitric oxide can support the health of the endothelium, the inner lining of blood vessels – a healthy endothelium is critical for regulating blood vessel function and maintaining blood flow.
Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and lemons are rich in vitamin C, which is essential for the health of blood vessels. Vitamin C supports the production of collagen, a protein that helps maintain the integrity of blood vessel walls. In addition to vitamin C, citrus fruits contain other antioxidants like flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory and vasodilatory (blood vessel-widening) properties. These antioxidants help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which can lead to improved circulation. Some studies suggest that citrus flavonoids may help reduce the risk of blood clot formation. Blood clots can block blood vessels and impede blood flow, potentially leading to serious cardiovascular events. Citrus compounds may help inhibit platelet aggregation and reduce the risk of clot formation.
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