We all know that eating a balanced diet is important for our health. But when it comes to specific health concerns, such as poor circulation, research shows that there are several foods that can help to improve blood flow and heart health.
Although circulatory issues (which can be caused by things like obesity, Raynaud’s disease, and diabetes) often require medication, you can also make healthy lifestyle changes by adding foods to your diet that are known to improve blood flow.
With this in mind, here are 12 foods that can improve circulation…
1. Cayenne pepper
Cayenne peppers are a type of moderately hot chilli pepper used for seasoning dishes. They get their spicy flavour from a phytochemical called capsaicin.
Research has found that capsaicin improves blood flow to tissues because it lowers blood pressure and stimulates the release of vasodilators, like nitric oxide. Vasodilators allow blood to flow more easily by relaxing the tiny muscles found along blood vessel walls. The study suggests that eating cayenne pepper can improve circulation, increase blood vessel strength, and reduce plaque buildup in arteries.
Plus, cayenne peppers are often included in various creams for pain relief because they encourage blood flow to affected areas.
If you’d like some inspiration on how to add cayenne pepper to your diet, check out this list of 15 cayenne pepper recipes from Insanely Good Recipes. Cayenne pepper is most commonly used in meat marinades and as seasoning for dishes like tacos, enchiladas, and fajitas.
If you wanted to, you could also try making your own cayenne pepper sauce using this recipe from Chili Pepper Madness.
All onions contain flavonoid antioxidants, which are known to benefit heart health. However, white onions have the highest flavonoid content.
Studies have shown that eating onions can improve circulation by helping veins and arteries to widen. For example, men in this study found that taking 4.3g of onion extract daily significantly improved blood flow and arterial dilation after eating.
Onions also offer anti-inflammatory benefits for arteries and veins, which can improve blood flow and boost heart health.
If that wasn’t enough, this humble root vegetable is also incredibly versatile and can be used to add flavour to a variety of dishes. For inspiration, check out these 16 delicious recipes with onions from The Clever Meal, which includes onion chutney and pasta with caramelized onions.
Most of us are familiar with the sweet, tasty spice of cinnamon, but what we might not realise is that it also offers a number of health benefits – including improved circulation.
Various animal studies have revealed the positive impact that cinnamon can have on blood vessel dilation and blood flow in the coronary arteries (which are responsible for supplying blood to the heart).
Research has also shown that cinnamon can help to reduce blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels; which in turn improves circulation and keeps the heart working smoothly.
For example, in this study of people with type 2 diabetes, consuming 1,200mg of cinnamon a day reduced systolic blood pressure (the force with which your heart pumps blood around your body) by an average of 3.4mmHg after 12 weeks.
As you’ll find from these 10 healthy cinnamon recipes from Everyday Health, cinnamon can be used in many different ways. Why not try making the honey cinnamon roasted sweet potato cubes or the healthy cinnamon hot chocolate?
Pomegranates contain high amounts of polyphenol antioxidants and nitrates, which are highly effective at widening blood vessels and improving blood flow.
As a result, adding pomegranate to your diet – as a juice, supplement, or raw – may help to improve circulation and blood flow. This can increase the rate at which oxygen is transported to muscle tissue, which can be particularly beneficial for active individuals.
This study of active people found that consuming 1,000mg of pomegranate extract 30 minutes before a workout increased blood flow and blood vessel diameter, and boosted exercise performance.
Another study revealed that consuming 500ml of pomegranate juice each day, either during or before strength training, reduced muscle damage, soreness, and inflammation in elite athletes.
Aside from eating pomegranate as a snack or enjoying it as a juice, it also makes a sweet addition to a number of recipes. In this list of pomegranate recipes from Olive Magazine, it’s used in salads, couscous, sauces, and desserts.
Turmeric has been used in traditional Chinese medicine since ancient times and is known to widen blood vessels and improve circulation.
According to research, it’s a compound called curcumin, found in turmeric, that makes it a good food for improving circulation. Curcumin helps to increase nitric oxide production (which dilates blood vessels), and reduce levels of inflammation and oxidative stress (an imbalance between harmful molecules and healthy antioxidants) in the body.
In this study, taking 2,000mg of curcumin every day for 12 weeks resulted in a 37% increase in blood flow in the forearm and a 36% increase in upper arm blood flow.
BBC Good Food has a list of turmeric recipes – which includes everything from curries and rice dishes to hearty soups – if you’re after some inspiration.
Walnuts are packed full of healthy compounds such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and vitamin E, both of which encourage the dilation of blood vessels and improve blood flow.
People with diabetes may particularly benefit from eating walnuts. This is because having diabetes can often cause circulation issues if blood vessels become damaged by uncontrolled blood sugar levels.
For example, this study of people at risk of diabetes found that those who ate 56g of walnuts each day for six months saw significant improvements in their blood vessel function compared with a control group.
Walnuts make a great snack on their own, but can also be added to meals. You’ll find plenty of inspiration in this list of healthy walnut recipes from Well and Good, which includes everything from cinnamon and walnut porridge to sun-dried tomato and walnut tacos.
Ginger is another food that, like turmeric, has been a staple in traditional Chinese and Indian medicines for thousands of years – and for good reason.
In both animal and human studies, ginger has been found to reduce high blood pressure, which is a condition known to restrict blood flow.
In this study of over 4,500 people, those who consumed the most ginger (between 2g and 4g a day) had the lowest risk of developing high blood pressure.
Check out these ginger recipes from BBC Good Food for ideas on how to add it into your diet. The list includes everything from stir-fried beef with ginger to ginger flapjacks.
Garlic is well-known for its benefits when it comes to heart health and circulation.
Studies have long suggested that garlic – particularly the sulfur compounds it contains, like allicin – can lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels, and increase blood flow to tissues in the body.
As a result, diets high in garlic are often linked with better flow-mediated vasodilation (FMD). FMD describes the widening of an artery in response to an increase in blood flow, which is an indicator of blood vessel health.
In this study of people with coronary heart disease, those who consumed garlic powder tablets containing 1,200mg of allicin twice a day for three months experienced 50% improved blood flow compared to the placebo group.
Check out this list of garlic-rich recipes from BBC Good Food, which includes spicy spaghetti with garlic mushrooms and easy chicken kievs for cooking inspiration.
9. Leafy greens
Leafy green vegetables, like collard greens and spinach, are rich in nitrates which the body converts to nitric oxide – a compound that, as we’ve mentioned, effectively dilates blood vessels and allows blood to flow more easily.
In this study, those who consumed high-nitrate spinach (845mg) every day for a week saw significant improvements in blood pressure and blood flow compared to a placebo group.
Research has also revealed that people who follow a traditional Japanese diet high in nitrate-rich vegetables like spinach, often have lower blood pressure than those who eat diets with few vegetables.
There are plenty of delicious ways to add more leafy greens to your diet – such as in salads, soups, and pasta dishes. You can find more ideas in this list of different ways to eat leafy greens from Taste of Home.
A lot of athletes supplement their diets with beetroot juice or powder to help improve their performance. This is because beetroot, like leafy greens, is high in nitrates.
But it’s not only athletes who can benefit, as aside from boosting athletic performance, eating beetroot may also help to improve blood flow in older adults with circulation issues.
This study of older adults found that those who drank 140ml of nitrate-rich beetroot juice per day saw decreases in blood pressure, blood vessel inflammation, and clotting time than those in the placebo group.
Beetroot can be roasted, boiled, added to smoothies, and much more. A Couple Cooks has a list of their favourite beetroot recipes, which includes creamy beetroot hummus, poke bowls, and beetroot green omelettes.
11. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and lemons are loaded with antioxidants, including flavonoids.
Research suggests that eating citrus fruits rich in flavonoids may help to decrease inflammation in the body. This can, in turn, lower blood pressure and reduce stiffness in the arteries while increasing nitric oxide production and improving blood flow.
For example, in this study of people who were overweight or obese, those who drank 200ml of blood orange juice twice a day for two weeks experienced significant improvements in blood vessel function compared to the control group.
Regular consumption of citrus fruits like oranges has also been linked to reduced blood pressure and a lowered risk of stroke.
Citrus fruits make a refreshing snack on their own or as part of a smoothie. Or, if you’d like to try something a bit more adventurous, why not try one of these recipes with citrus fruit from Taste of Home? The list includes everything from chicken tacos to orange-glazed pork with sweet potatoes.
12. Fatty fish
No healthy foods list is complete without a mention of fatty fish. That’s because fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s are particularly beneficial for circulation because they stimulate the release of nitric oxide.
Research has also found that having healthy levels of omega-3 fatty acids can help to prevent the clumping of platelets in the blood – a process that can cause blood clots to form.
More good news is that fish oil supplements have been linked to reductions in high blood pressure and improved blood flow in muscles, both during and after exercise. For example, in this study of healthy adult men, consuming high doses of fish oil (4.2g daily for four weeks) significantly improved blood flow to the legs following exercise.
Our article, Omega-3 – what it is and why we need it, provides more information and ideas on how you can get enough of this essential fatty acid without eating fish.
Poor circulation is a common issue caused by a number of health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and Raynaud’s disease. However, alongside any necessary medication, research has shown that adding certain foods to your diet can be an effective way to boost circulatory health and improve blood flow.
Which of these foods do you currently eat a lot of? Will you be introducing any new foods into your diet? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.