With the winter cold upon us we might be thinking of a nice warm cup of coffee, soup, tea or another warm beverage to take the chill off. These warm drinks are comforting, but if you’re one of the millions of Americans that suffer from poor circulation even a warm beverage may not make your cold feet or hands get any warmer. Poor circulation can be caused by many different health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, smoking, Raynaud’s disease, and Peripheral Artery disease. These conditions reduce blood flow and can cause pain and muscle cramps, numbness, and that awful feeling of icy-ness in the hands and feet. (Note- It’s important to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms of poor circulation.)
Having good circulation is important to your health. The circulatory system in the body consists of three systems that work together; the cardiovascular system (heart), the pulmonary system (lungs) and the Systemic system which is comprised of your arteries, veins and coronary and portal vessels. This is your transport system- responsible to pump blood which delivers oxygen, nutrients, and hormones to and from the cells all over your body. We all know that when our lifestyle compromises this system in any way, disease states arise. Exercise, healthy foods, high intake of fruits and vegetables (at least 5 a day), good hydration (half your body weight in fluid ounces of water every day) and good stress management skills all contribute to a healthy transport system. There are certain foods that can also enhance circulation and it is important to include these in your diet. These foods not only increase circulation, but many also increase metabolism and have a wonderful warming effect on our bodies.
In addition to a visit to your doctor if you feel you may have poor circulation, here are a few ‘warming’ foods that will help increase circulation.
Beets: Love them or hate them, beets are a winner when it comes to circulation. Beets are high in nitrates which our bodies then convert to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide opens up your blood vessels; it is a natural vasodilator that can help lower blood pressure and lower the number of platelets sticking together in clumps in your blood. Just in case you’ve become a good food detective and have been diligently avoiding nitrates in packaged foods and meats, the nitrates in beets are not the same kind of harmful sodium nitrate that is found in processed meats and cold cuts. Many athletes drink beet juice prior to athletic endeavors just to increase blood flow and enhance athletic performance.
Fatty Fish: Wild-caught salmon, cod and mackerel are also excellent choices for improving circulation. Again, the hero in this circulatory food is nitric oxide. Here’s how it is connected: These fish are rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to increase the bioavailability of nitric oxide in the blood vessels. Nitric oxide dilates the blood vessels and increases blood flow. Omega 3 fatty acids support good heart and circulatory health because they also lower triglycerides and reduce the buildup of plaque in the artery walls.
Dark Chocolate: We all love the indulgence of a piece of chocolate. For help with circulation, cozy up to a piece of deep dark 85% cacao to help open up those blood vessels and deliver the rich warm nutrient and oxygen laden blood to your body. Dark Chocolate is rich in polyphenols and polyphenols help to form more….you guessed it; nitric oxide; which dilates the blood vessels and helps increase blood flow. A small study demonstrated that eating about 1.5 ounces of 85% dark chocolate improved blood flow by 11% in patients with Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD).
Turmeric: Turmeric is a trendy topic and for an excellent reason. Turmeric is an ancient spice that has a compound found within it called curcumin which quells inflammation, reduces oxidative stress from free radicals and increases and improves nitric oxide and endothelial function; the endothelial lining lines your arteries and heart and releases substances that relax and contract your blood vessels. It is also responsible for releasing enzymes that control blood clotting and immunity.
Cinnamon: Another delightful ancient spice Cinnamon is heralded as a natural remedy for many different ailments. The warming effects of cinnamon are due to its ability to increase blood flow. The active components in cinnamon are cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic acid which are heart-protective because of (once again) their ability to produce nitric oxide as well as being anti-inflammatory. Animal studies show improved blood vessel dilation and an improvement in blood flow to the coronary artery; the artery that supplies blood to the heart.
Ginger: Another favorite of ancient traditions, ginger also helps with nitric oxide production. It has been used as a cardio-protective spice for thousands of years, most probably due to its anti-inflammatory effects as well as its proven effects on lowering cholesterol and its positive effects on lowering blood pressure.
Onions and Garlic: Onions and garlic are also wonderful for circulation. Both improve nitric oxide levels, so they help your blood vessels open and relax to increase blood flow and both are anti-inflammatory. Onions are rich sources of flavonoids which are antioxidants and especially cardio-protective. Garlic has a compound called allicin which has been shown to increase the flow of blood to your tissues and to lower blood pressure because of the relaxing effect it has on your blood vessels.
Walnuts: Walnuts are also a winner when it comes to your circulation. The compounds in walnuts (vitamin E, alpha-lipoic acid, and l-arginine) all stimulate production of nitric oxide to help improve blood flow. Walnuts are anti-inflammatory and improve endothelial function to help your blood running smooth and your vessels relaxed,
Leafy Greens: Eat your greens for improved circulation! Skip the iceberg lettuce and go for the deep, rich leafy greens such as spinach, collard greens, arugula, kale, and cabbages. They are nitrate-rich and improve circulation by the dilation of blood vessels from improved nitric oxide production.
Spicy peppers: Love the heat of your favorite peppers? So does your blood flow. Spicy peppers like cayenne and chili peppers have a compound called capsaicin which works quickly to promote blood flow by lowering blood pressure and stimulating the release of nitric oxide. Capsaicin is known to increase the strength of blood vessels, reduce plaque buildup, as well as help, increase the production of fibrinolytics which help dissolve blood clots.
Pomegranates and Citrus Fruits: That beautiful ruby red juice and seeds of the pomegranate are loaded with antioxidants that help to stimulate nitric oxide production. Citrus fruits with their abundance of vitamin C which helps to increase the way your body can absorb nitric oxide. Both pomegranates and citrus fruits are rich in antioxidants that reduce the oxidative stress from free radicals that damage the blood vessels and increase LDL (“bad” damaged cholesterol)
Berries: Berries- blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries…. All are rich in antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory and are rich in polyphenols. Eating berries helps with blood pressure, prevents blood clotting and reduces inflammation and stimulates nitric oxide production. Berries help to open blood vessels, keep the lining of the blood vessels healthy and strong and flexible and reduce the inflammation that damages vessels and impedes blood flow.
Green Tea: Green tea is rich in flavonoids and has been shown to stimulate nitric oxide production, improve blood flow and lower cholesterol levels.
See your doctor if you suspect your circulation isn’t as good as it should be; especially if you are experiencing cramping and muscle pains in your legs and extremities. Eating a diet rich in these foods which help with circulation can help keep you warm on winter’s coldest days.
Nourish your cardiovascular system- it is YOUR personal transportation system and needs to be maintained and running to keep you at your healthiest.
By: Cindy Luisi WHE, WHC, CCP, CDL Wellness Coach
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