We all know that eating a nutritious, balanced diet is vital for maintaining good health, but you may not be aware that food plays a vital role in supporting healthy blood circulation.
The circulatory system consists of the heart and the blood vessels running throughout the entire body, and it provides a constant supply of blood to the body. Good circulation is important because blood:
• Supplies oxygen from the lungs and nutrients from the digestive tract to all body cells.
• Transports hormones from endocrine organs to their target organs.
• Removes metabolic waste products or toxins from the body.
• Helps to heal any wounds or injuries in the body.
• Regulates the temperature and pH level in the body.
General dietary considerations
As with any healthy diet, reduce levels of unhealthy fats, salt and sugar, processed and junk foods. Make sure you avoid foods that can raise levels of 'bad' cholesterol, such as red and processed meat, full-fat dairy, pastry, cakes, biscuits, ice cream, pizza and deep-fried foods. Eat high-fibre foods such as wholegrains, oats, fruit and vegetables, and healthy fats from oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado and olive oil.
The omega-3 fats found in oily fish (also in some nuts and seeds) show several beneficial effects: they lower levels of triglycerides in the blood, help to prevent blood from clotting, help regulate the rhythm of the heart beat, and help to keep the lining of blood vessels healthy and functioning properly (Jain et al 2015, Mori 2014).
Look for: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring, walnuts, flaxseed.
A class of flavonoids in chocolate known as flavanols may help to protect LDL cholesterol from oxidation, which makes it less likely to clog up artery walls. Flavanols also make blood less sticky, helping to prevent blood clots. They also help to reduce high blood pressure, along with improving endothelial function, which is important for keeping arteries healthy and working well (Menezes et al 2017).
Look for: at least 70 percent cocoa solids.
Watermelons are rich in lycopene which can help prevent a build up of plaque (the substance that can interfere with blood flow in the arteries) (Napolitano et al 2007).
Also try: cooked tomatoes or tomato paste for high levels of lycopene.
A rich source of phytosterols - famous for their ability to reduce cholesterol levels and therefore reduce the risk of heart disease (Demonty et al 2009).
How to eat: sprinkled on porridge or yoghurt for breakfast, or salads and soups for lunch.
Evidence shows garlic is good for lowering high cholesterol, reducing stickiness of blood, protection against atherosclerosis and build-up of plaque on inside of artery walls (Varshney & Budoff 2016).
How to eat: sliced, crushed or chopped.
These are high in magnesium, which is a blood vessel dilator and may help prevent the calcification of the arteries. Several studies have demonstrated that increasing dietary magnesium intake is associated with a reduced risk of stroke, heart failure and type 2 diabetes (Fang et al 2016).
Look for: spinach, kale, cabbage, chard, broccoli.
High in antioxidant vitamin C, which helps to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol - one of the main factors in arterial plaque formation (Hillstrom et al 2003).
Look for: oranges, grapefuit, lemons, limes, tangerines.
Has lots of blood-pressure-lowering potassium (Poorolajal et al 2017).
How to eat: dipped in houmous, chopped in salads, added to soups, stews and curries.
You can find out more about key aspects of diet, health and wellbeing at: https://www.nuffieldhealth.com/
Demonty I Ras RT van der Kniap HCM Duchateau G Meijer L Zock PL Geleijnse JM Trautwein EA (2009) Continuous Dose-Response Relationship of the Ldl-Cholesterol-Lowering Effect of Phytosterol Intake Journal of Nutrition 139 2 271-284
Fang X Wang K Han D He X Wei J Zhao L Imam MU Ping Z Li Y Xu Y Min J Wang F (2016) Dietary magnesium intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality: a dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies BMC Medical 14 1 210
Hillstrom RJ Yacapin-Ammons AK Lynch SM (2003) Vitamin C inhibits lipid oxidation in human HDL Journal of Nutrition 133:3047-51
Jain AP Aggarwal KK Zhang PY (2015) Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences 19 3 441-5
Menezes R Rodriguez-Mateos A Kaltsatou A González-Sarrías A Greyling A Giannaki C Andres-Lacueva C Milenkovic D Gibney ER Dumont J Schär M Garcia-Aloy M Palma-Duran SA Ruskovska T Maksimova V Combet E Pinto P (2017) Impact of Flavonols on Cardiometabolic Biomarkers: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Human Trials to Explore the Role of Inter-Individual Variability Nutrients 9 2
Mori TA (2014) Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: epidemiology and effects on cardiometabolic risk factors Food & Function 5 9 2004-19
Napolitano M De Pascale C Wheeler-Jones C Botham KM Bravo E (2007) Effects of lycopene on the induction of foam cell formation by modified LDL American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism 293 6 E1820-7
Varshney R Budoff MJ (2016) Garlic and Heart Disease Journal of Nutrition 146 2 416S-421S
Poorolajal J Zeraati F Soltanian AR Sheikh V Hooshmand E Maleki A (2017) Oral potassium supplementation for management of essential hypertension: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials PLoS One 12 4 e0174967