Top 3 Foods for Enhancing Circulation and Blood Flow
In many traditional and folk medicine practices, blood is often referred to as the life force of the body.
These ancient perspectives stood the test of time as modern research revealed that blood flow is one of the body’s primary methods of internal communication.
Blood delivers oxygen and essential nutrients to every cell, facilitates the removal of waste products, helps maintain optimal temperature and pH, transports hormones, and ensures a strong, functioning immune system (1).
At the center of this intricate system is where you’ll find the strongest muscle in the body—the heart. Designed for endurance, your heart works ceaselessly to pump the blood’s vital messages throughout your body so that each and every organ is always working at its highest potential.
Recognizing the significance of these processes is the first step to understanding why optimal blood flow is critical for so many aspects of health.
If your goal is to support blood flow, it’s absolutely crucial to consider the types of food that wind up on your plate. Certain foods— sometimes referred to as “functional foods”— can offer support for the cardiovascular system in ways that stretch far beyond the nutrients they provide (2).
This article will explore 3 nutrient-dense foods that encourage blood flow and improve circulation, plus simple tips for incorporating them into your diet.
3 Foods That Work
Beets are a hot topic in the food and nutrition world, and it’s no wonder why.
Not only are they loaded with essential nutrients, but they’re also a particularly rich source of dietary nitrates.
Nitrates found in foods like beets support production of a compound called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a messenger molecule that tells the muscles in your blood vessels to relax, allowing them to open wider. When your blood vessels are relaxed, blood can flow easily and more efficiently (3).
What’s more, multiple studies have found that the positive impact beets have on nitric oxide production and blood flow may also contribute to reduced blood pressure and improved athletic performance (3, 4).
If you’re not used to eating beets, you’ll be happy to know they’re incredibly versatile and easy to prepare. They can be eaten raw or cooked, but many people prefer them cooked.
After washing, peeling, and slicing your beets, toss them in some olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until fork-tender and serve as a stand-alone side dish or roast alongside other root vegetables for a colorful veggie medley. They also pair beautifully with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and goat cheese.
For a boost of flavor and color you can add raw, roasted, steamed, or pickled beets to salads and grain bowls, or blend them into your morning or pre-workout smoothie.
Spinach | Other Leafy Greens
You’ve probably heard that eating your greens is good for you, but you may not know that improved blood flow and circulation are among the reasons why.
Like beets, spinach and other leafy green vegetables— such as kale and chard— are also rich sources of dietary nitrates and support the body’s natural production of nitric oxide (5).
Spinach also contains antioxidants, including vitamin E, which play a role in reducing oxidative stress within the body. Improved stress management helps keep blood pressure low and blood vessels healthy to promote optimal circulation (6, 7).
Spinach has a mild flavor and a softer texture than many other leafy greens so it’s easy to sneak it into just about any of your favorite dishes.
Add fresh spinach to sandwiches or use it as a base for salads. Consider adding fresh or frozen spinach to existing recipes for smoothies, soups, stews, casseroles, and sauces. Use it to boost your veggie intake at breakfast by incorporating it into an omelet or scramble, or turn it into pesto by blending it with olive oil, basil, and walnuts.
You’d be hard pressed to find a more satisfying treat than a cool slice of watermelon on a hot summer day.
Perhaps best known for being one of the sweetest and juiciest fruits, watermelon can do a lot more than quench your thirst. In fact, it happens to support blood flow and healthy cardiovascular function in more ways than one.
Like spinach and beets, watermelon also stimulates nitric oxide production— but through a completely different route.
The body can produce nitric oxide through multiple pathways. One is with nitrates, the other is with an amino acid known as L-arginine.
Instead of nitrates, watermelon contains an amino acid called L-citrulline. L-citrulline is easily converted to L-arginine, which can then be easily used by the body to make nitric oxide (8).
Watermelon is one of the richest food sources of L-citrulline and multiple studies have found it to be effective for improving blood flow, reducing blood pressure, and preventing the accumulation of plaque on arterial walls (8, 9, 10).
Another way watermelon can improve circulation is with its high water content.
As the name implies, watermelon is 99% water and when it comes to blood flow, proper hydration is non-negotiable. Water makes up the majority of your blood volume and dehydration can quickly lead to increased plasma viscosity. Increased viscosity means thicker blood that doesn’t flow as well (11).
Eating water-rich foods like watermelon can help ensure you’re staying hydrated to maximize circulation.
Watermelon is delicious on its own, but it also makes a great addition to salads and smoothies. You can also use it as a base for a chilled gazpacho or salsa.
If you’ve got the grill fired up, consider adding watermelon to your menu. Lightly coat slices with olive oil and salt and pepper before adding it to a hot grill— 60-90 seconds per side should do the trick. For an extra kick, sprinkle chili salt and lime on it before serving.
If you’re trying to improve your circulation, a good place to start is by looking at your diet.
Research supports the inclusion of foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds— like nitrates and L-citrulline— to support your body’s natural production of nitric oxide to keep blood vessels relaxed, flexible, and healthy.
Although beets, spinach, and watermelon are great examples of foods that meet these targets, they’re not the only ones that can have circulatory benefits.
For the best results, focus on including a wide variety of whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
A balanced diet is, without a doubt, the best way to provide your body with all of the tools it needs to perform at its highest level every day.