Improve Blood Flow with the Foods You Eat
Many of us are aware of the great importance of healthy blood circulation to our whole well-being. Poor circulation can result in milder problems, such as cold extremities and water retention; moderate problems, like varicose veins, lack of energy, or numbness or pain in the legs; or serious and life-threatening complications, like heart problems, atherosclerosis (plaque buildup) and stroke.
Insufficient blood flow can also lead to problems like memory loss, frequent headaches and light-headedness.
A couple of decades ago, Americans were told that if they took aspirin daily, they could help keep their blood running smoothly and prevent possible cardiovascular events.
But what if aspirin irritates your stomach? Or what if you’re not into putting artificial chemicals in your system? You want a natural way to maintain healthy circulation, keep your blood vessels free of plaques. Well, there are a lot of foods that will help you do just that. The wonder of Mother Nature is that she will keep you healthy, without any dangerous or unpleasant side effects.
Foods that are known to boost circulation, and tone and cleanse blood vessels, are foods that are high in antioxidants, healthy Omega fats, vitamins, minerals like iron, and dietary fiber. If you eat a diet that’s low on these, you are more likely to put on weight and suffer from bad circulation, constipation and chronic inflammation in your blood vessels and other tissues.
Eat These Foods, for Healthy Blood Circulation
Lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and the like are some of a healthy person’s best friends. Packed with vitamin C and other powerful plant nutrients, citrus fruits are among the best foods to keep your entire body free from unwanted germs and disease-causing free radicals.
Citrus fruits also help with digestion and help prevent stomach upset from foods. To keep sugar and calories down, pour a few ounces of orange or grapefruit juice in a glass, and fill with water. A refreshing, all-natural, low-calorie drink. Squeeze the juice of a lemon in a glass, add a little sugar, and fill with water. Lemonade is not only delicious but is a great way to keep your gastrointestinal tract clean, which will help keep your blood clean. Or squeeze fresh lemon juice on meats, salads or meat / vegetable soups, as a natural, tangy dressing and flavor enhancer.
Meats have the most easily metabolized iron of any foods; try lean cuts of red meats, and organ meats. Organ meats have the highest iron and nutritional content of all meats.
Another nutrient-packed entry that will promote good digestion, help your body remove wastes and send important vitamins and minerals to your blood are green, leafy vegetables. They are high in chlorophyll, the pigment that gives them their dark green color, is involved in photosynthesis, and cleanses the blood and liver.
Try spinach, kale, collard or mustard greens and all types of lettuce. Collard and mustard greens take a long time to cook, but since they are so nutritious and have a lovely, mild taste, they are definitely worth cooking. Darker green vegetables are also high in iron, which stimulates blood flow. Other iron-rich produce to try: beans, lentils, raisins, prunes.
Celery and Cucumbers:
Celery is high in vitamin K, important for healthy blood flow and blood clotting when there is an injury. Cucumbers are high in vitamin C and potassium, and they help fight inflammation.
Both of these wonderful vegetables are very high in fiber, so, they will help you eliminate waste, keep you regular. Buy cucumbers organic when available, to avoid pesticides. Eat celery stalks with hummus, mustard or all-natural mayonnaise (watch out for disodium EDTA in mayo). Chop or slice cucumbers and add to salads; no need to remove the peel.
Red, yellow and green peppers are very high in vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber. Slice and toss in soups, salads or stir fry’s; or stuff with cooked lean ground beef and rice, or cheese, and bake in the oven. Stuffed bell peppers are a favorite dish in Latin American countries.
Other Great Vegetables to Promote Circulation:
Carrots, avocados, tomatoes, onions, asparagus, squash, sweet potatoes and beets.
These are all brimming with nutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and in the case of avocados, heart-healthy Omega fats.
This superfood is under-appreciated as a breakfast. Oats are excellent for keeping blood cholesterol at healthy levels and helping to fight inflammation. They are rich in antioxidants and fiber, and they are inexpensive. Buy the regular kind, as opposed to quick oats, to get the most nutrients. Pour milk and dress them up with some honey, chopped fruits or nuts, and now, you really have a nutrient-packed, filling breakfast. (We don’t recommend eating the individual packets that come with fruits already in them, because these packets have artificial chemicals.)
Other anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense grains to try, for lunch or at dinner: wild or brown rice and quinoa.
Who knew something so tasty could be so good for one’s health? Now, by cocoa, we specifically mean cocoa powder (the pure, all-natural, nothing-else-added kind). Chocolate candy bars won’t do. Sure, you can have one of those now and then, but they certainly shouldn’t be a daily habit, due to all the sugar, hydrogenated oils and TBHQ (a preservative made from petroleum — yikes!) that most have.
As for pure cocoa powder — you can dump a heaping teaspoon of it in a cup of hot water or hot milk and enjoy the delicious taste. The great part is, you control how much — or how little — sugar you put in it, if you use any at all. And this is a beverage you would do well to drink daily.
Cocoa has been known for centuries to be great for promoting blood flow. Recent research shows that cocoa also lowers blood pressure and insulin resistance, improves vascular tone and lowers platelet aggregation. Platelets are the blood cells that clump together to stop bleeding when there is an injury; but excessive clumping of these cells can result in clots, which can migrate to the heart and cause heart attack, or to the brain and cause a stroke.
A cup of hot cocoa will also give you energy, as it has caffeine; but it won’t make you jittery like coffee because it only has a fraction of the caffeine in coffee. Circulation, a journal from the American Heart Association, reports that the Incas considered cocoa the drink of gods; because of this, the scientific name for the cocoa tree became Theobroma cacao, from the Greek words theo = god, and broma = drink.
Modern science has found cacao to be rich in antioxidants, including phenolic compounds. These are natural plant substances that have strong antiseptic and antibacterial properties, and which stimulate the immune system.
Studies have linked regular consumption of cocoa with improved heart function, relief of angina pectoris (chest pain or pressure), better nervous system response, improved digestion, and improved kidney and bowel function. In addition, because it’s high in iron, cocoa has been used to treat anemia; it has also been used in the treatment of gout, kidney stones and even low libido. (Source: Circulation.)
So, chuck the chemical- and sugar-laden sodas, and keep a can of all-natural cocoa powder handy!
Nuts and Seeds:
Another food you should keep handy for good circulation and health are nuts and seeds. These contain high levels of Omega fats, protein, fiber and antioxidants, including vitamin E. They have anti-inflammatory properties and help keep blood cholesterol at healthy levels.
Garlic is a legendary spice, known for thousands of years as helpful in curing an almost endless list of maladies. Many studies have shown garlic’s benefits to the cardiovascular system. Garlic helps to naturally lower cholesterol, normalizes blood pressure, improves circulation and prevents platelet aggregation.
Garlic is at its strongest raw; but it’s perfectly fine to eat it cooked or even in its powdered form (watch out for anti-caking additives in powdered garlic). It goes great with meats, in soups or minced in salads … or even eaten raw by itself, if you dare!
Cayenne Pepper Powder:
Cayenne peppers aren’t for everyone because they are HOT! But if you like spicy foods, then you’re in luck, because cayenne pepper powder is one of the best — and quickest — ways to get your blood flowing. Studies have found that cayenne pepper also helps to keep blood cells healthy, removes toxins from the blood, removes plaque from the arteries and it can even prevent heart attacks. Cayenne pepper also improves digestion and absorption of nutrients from foods.
Add vitamin A- and vitamin C-rich cayenne pepper powder to meats, rice dishes and soups for a wonderful, spicy taste.
Ginger Root and Turmeric:
Fresh ginger root or dried ginger powder is great for promoting digestion and relieving stomach upset. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is famous for its inflammation-fighting properties. Both of these spices, which are in the same family, also promote good circulation and cardiovascular health.
Use ginger in main dishes or desserts; turmeric is also versatile and can be sprinkled on many foods or seeped in hot water and taken as a tea.
Other spices to try, to promote good circulation: black pepper, cinnamon, and in the herb category, peppermint tea.
Three Final Pointers for Good Blood Flow:
This article would not be complete if we didn’t remind you of how very bad smoking is for cardiovascular health, including circulation. Chemicals in cigarette (and marijuana) smoke bind to hemoglobin molecules in the blood; hemoglobin is the protein that transports oxygen to all the tissues. In addition, cigarette-smoking hardens arteries and constricts blood vessels, both of which reduce blood flow to and from all the tissues. If you smoke consistently, thus reducing blood flow to your whole body consistently, cardiovascular and other health problems are much more likely to develop over time.
It must also be noted that engaging in regular physical activity is very important to maintaining overall health, including cardiovascular health. Exercise strengthens the heart muscle, tones the blood vessels, helps to keep vessels free of plaque, lowers blood pressure and helps one to have a healthy blood flow.
It’s good to do different activities, to keep things interesting, or to exercise with friends, who will help keep you motivated to exercise.
It is also recommended that a person engage in aerobic as well as strength-building activities.
Exercise does not need to be strenuous, to be beneficial. Even a daily 30-minute walk will do a lot to improve your circulation. If daily walks are not an option, you can get out an exercise mat or a throw rug and do some simple stretching and aerobic exercises in your own home. To tone muscles, you can buy some light weights (say, 5 lbs. for a woman and 10 lbs. for a man), and use these to tone up the arms and upper body.
The idea is to get blood circulating and to strengthen the heart and other muscle groups. If you haven’t exercised in a long time, talk to your doctor to make sure the routine you have in mind would be safe for you.
Drink Plenty of Water!
Whether or not you are exercising, always make it a point to stay hydrated. Getting plenty of fluids (healthy fluids!) in your system every day will help the circulation, flush out waste and promote good bowel function.
By Eirian Hallinan