12 Foods That May Help Improve Your Circulation
Good circulation is vital to your heart health
Circulation is essential for a healthy, functioning body. If you have poor blood flow, it causes symptoms like numbness, pain, and muscle cramps, among others. And science shows there are several different causes for poor circulation including peripheral artery disease, diabetes, obesity, and more. Although medication is often recommended to treat circulatory issues, adding these foods to your diet could help improve your blood flow too. Of course, it’s best to first discuss this with your doctor before making any dietary changes, especially if you’re currently taking heart disease medication.
Have you been wondering how to improve your blood flow? You might consider eating chocolate, says Steven Gundry, MD, a cardiologist who is the director and founder of the International Heart & Lung Institute as well as the Center for Restorative Medicine in Palm Springs and Santa Barbara, California. “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 blood flow, thanks to the chemical curcumin that gives it its color. 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. The American Heart Association recommends consuming two servings per week. 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 and founder of B Nutritious in New York City. “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, RD, senior scientist for clinical research in global science and medical affairs at Abbott Nutrition in Abbott Park, Illinois.
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, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner of ChampagneNutrition, based in Seattle. 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 flavor 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 vegetables another look. “Radishes are rich in minerals, including potassium, that help normalize blood pressure and increase blood circulation,” says dietitian Jackie Arnett Elnahar, RD, co-founder and CEO of TelaDietitian, based in Syosset, New York. Each half cup of sliced radishes contains 135 mg of blood pressure-lowering potassium. If poor circulation is making you cold, here’s how to warm up cold hands and feet.
If mild green bell peppers are as spicy as you get, you may want to train your taste buds to like a little more heat. “Chili 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 chili 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 chili pepper to your stir-fry or chili, 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, based in New York. Bonus: Kale is rich in folate, which may help lower high blood pressure. (Watch out for these silent signs of heart trouble.)
Time to wake up and smell the coffee—and improve circulation at the same time. The American Heart Association says moderate coffee drinking (one to two cups a day) isn’t harmful. In fact, a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in 2013 showed that those who drank a regular cup of joe had a 30 percent increase in blood flow over a 75-minute period compared to those who stuck to decaf. (This is what happens to your body when you drink coffee every day.)
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.
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 specializing in family and integrative medicine in Santa Cruz, California, and author of BodyWise: Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing.
Eating more garlic may make your breath smell, but it could be worth it if you’re serious about improving your blood flow. Studies, such as this 2016 study in the Journal of Nutrition, show that aged garlic extract may help prevent clogged arteries by reducing blood pressure and total cholesterol—risk factors of heart disease. Note: The researchers do caution that further research including larger studies is needed to see if these effects are still applicable. “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. (Next, beware of these signs of an unhealthy heart.)
- Biomolecules: "Dietary Nitrate from Beetroot Juice for Hypertension: A Systematic Review"
- Dynamic Medicine: "The influence of obesity on calf blood flow and vascular reactivity in older adults"
- BioMedical Engineering Online: "Blood flow characteristics of diabetic patients with complications detected by optical measurement"
- Mayo Clinic Proceedings: "Peripheral Artery Disease: Current Insight Into the Disease and Its Diagnosis and Management"
- Steven Gundry, MD, cardiologist and director and founder, International Heart & Lung Institute and Center for Restorative Medicine, Palm Springs and Santa Barbara, California.
- International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research: "Turmeric: The Golden Spice of Life."
- American Heart Association: "Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids"
- National Institutes of Health: "Omega-3 Fatty Acids"
- Brooke Alpert, RD, CDN, dietitian and founder, B Nutritious, New York City
- Steven Hertzler, PhD, RD, senior scientist for clinical research in global science and medical affairs, Abbott Nutrition, Abbott Park, Illinois
- Ginger Hultin, RDN, spokesperson, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and owner, ChampagneNutrition, Seattle, Washington
- Jackie Arnett Elnahar, RD, co-founder and CEO, TeleDietitian, Syosset, New York
- The BMJ: "Consumption of spicy foods and total and cause specific mortality: population based cohort study"
- American Heart Association: "Caffeine and Heart Disease"
- American Heart Association: "Coffee may help perk up your blood vessels"
- Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD, family and integrative medicine physician, Santa Cruz, California
- The Journal of Nutrition: "Garlic and Heart Disease"