Can Vasodilator Foods Actually Boost Your Circulation? | Well+Good

TThere are many compelling reasons to incorporate vasodilator foods, a term that refers to ingredients known to help expand blood vessels and promote circulation, in your diet. Chances are you already have some of these nutrient-rich foods in your fridge or pantry: Beet and beet juice, onionsgarlic, green leafy vegetables, citric fruitsand berries are all natural vasodilators, as are condiments like cinnamon, Cayenne pepperand turmeric. foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acidssuch as salmon and walnuts, also fall into this category.

Many of these Vasodilator foods are said to improve blood flow by stimulating the body’s production of nitric oxide., a compound that relaxes the small muscles in our blood vessels and causes them to dilate. Foods that contain ACE inhibitors, including tomatoes and ginger, can also help improve circulation by counteracting the effects of enzymes that constrict blood vessels.

Maintaining good circulation, of course, is essential to our health. Blood supplies the oxygen and nutrients that keep all of our organs and muscles working properly. And, as blood flows through our veins and arteries, it also removes carbon dioxide and other waste products from the body.

Poor circulation, on the other hand, is often associated with tingling and muscle cramps. It can also manifest as cold hands and feet, which made us wonder: by making our blood flow better, can vasodilator foods also make us feel warmer on the inside? It’s a tempting proposition during the winter months, but Chicago dietitian Maggie MichalczykMS, RD of Once upon a pumpkinis skeptical that these foods have a significant effect on body temperature, and research on vasodilator foods is limited to begin with.

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“While eating foods that help with vasodilation will help improve blood flow to your muscles, you won’t necessarily feel hotter just from eating them,” says Michalczyk.

The reason, Michalczyk explains, is that there are many other factors that can affect blood circulation and make you feel cold, and the benefits you might experience from vasodilator foods are unlikely to be enough to mitigate those factors. Conditions like type 2 diabetes and Raynaud’s disease and the side effects of some medications, for example, can impede blood flow and lead to cold hands and feet.

Michalczyk says that always feeling cold can also be indicative of a deficiency of B vitamins, especially vitamin B12, which is associated with low energy levels. “If I were slightly deficient in B vitamins, just eating a few of these [vasodilator] food is not really going to fix that,” he says. “If you find yourself constantly cold, it would be smart to get your blood work done, especially if you haven’t seen your doctor in a while. That would be the best way to find out what’s going on with your circulation and find a real doctor-backed solution.”

That said, even if you still need to throw on a thick pair of socks or curl up under your warm blanket after a meal full of vasodilator foods, Michalczyk still recommends consuming these ingredients regularly, because they’re all extremely nutrient-dense foods. “I have to put on a sweater and keep eating this stuff,” she muses. Many vasodilator foods also have anti-inflammatory properties and are rich in antioxidants, so why not love them?

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“The good news about these foods is that they are very easy to incorporate into your daily meals and snacks,” says Michalczyk. “Maybe that’s aiming to eat fish twice a week for dinner. Berries are so easy to incorporate into yogurt, oatmeal, or just a snack. With green leafy vegetables, it’s as simple as putting them in a smoothieincorporating them into a salad, or simply adding a handful to a stir-fry.”

You may not notice any change in your body temperature after eating these foods, but you can rest assured that you’re helping to keep your heart, brain, and immune system healthy. “Even if you don’t necessarily feel warmer with these foods, you’re getting the benefit of blood pressure control, which hopefully helps prevent future illness,” says Michalczyk.

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