Though medications can treat peripheral artery disease (PAD), your diet plays an important role in slowing its progression.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) occurs when a waxy substance called plaque builds up on the walls of your arteries. This results in inflammation and reduced blood flow to other parts of your body, like your arms and legs.

Over time, this reduction in blood flow can cause serious damage to the tissues. If left untreated, it can lead to amputation of one of the limbs.

PAD typically occurs in adults over age 65 years, especially in those who smoke or have high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. African Americans also have a higher risk of PAD than people of other races or ethnicities.

Treatment for PAD is aimed at improving blood flow and reducing blood clots in the blood vessels.

Here, we review the best foods to eat, diets you can follow, and what to avoid eating when you have PAD.

The key to reducing complications of peripheral artery disease is managing risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Diet plays a huge part in this, so eating the following foods may help slow the progression of PAD.

High fiber foods

Fiber is naturally found in plants. Meat and dairy don’t naturally contribute fiber to your diet. Regularly eating high fiber foods is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.

In one 2019 study involving 26,010 participants with 20 years of follow-up, a diet with a high intake of fiber was associated with a reduced risk of PAD.

Examples of foods high in fiber include:

  • legumes, like peas, chickpeas, and lentils
  • vegetables, like corn, broccoli, and kale
  • fruits, like pears, avocados, and apples
  • nuts and seeds, like almonds and chia seeds

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and antioxidants, which can help improve circulation and reduce inflammation in the body.

One large 2017 study that included over 3 million people with an average age of 64 years found an inverse association between fruit and vegetable consumption and PAD.

The data, collected from a self-reported questionnaire, showed that people who consumed more than three servings of fruits and vegetables each day had an 18% lower risk of PAD than people reporting less consumption.

Lean proteins

When choosing protein, the American Heart Association recommends opting for lean (low in fat) protein and avoiding meats high in saturated fats, which can raise cholesterol levels.

Examples of lean proteins include:

  • fish
  • legumes
  • white poultry
  • tofu
  • lean beef
  • nuts
  • egg whites
  • low fat cottage cheese
  • Greek yogurt

Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fats

High fat foods are often given a bad reputation when it comes to heart health, but this doesn’t mean you should avoid all fats.

Unlike saturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help improve your blood cholesterol levels and decrease your risk for heart disease.

Omega-3 fats, a type of polyunsaturated fat, also have been shown to improve your body’s release of nitric oxide (NO). NO stimulates the relaxation of blood vessels, which improves blood flow and reduces blood pressure.

Foods high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats include:

  • avocado
  • nuts, like walnuts and almonds
  • seeds, such as flaxseed and chia
  • fatty fish, like salmon and herring
  • fish oils
  • soybeans and tofu
  • vegetable oils, like olive, canola, sesame, and peanut

A good way to keep up with healthy eating is to follow a specific diet plan for heart health. These diets offer guidelines to help you incorporate heart-healthy principles into your daily routine.

The best diets for PAD emphasize eating fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

These diets include:

Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet includes foods traditionally consumed in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, like France, Spain, and Italy.

Research suggests people living in these regions have a lower risk of many chronic conditions, like diabetes and heart disease.

This diet encourages people to consume more:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • whole grains
  • legumes
  • nuts and seeds
  • heart-healthy fats, especially olive oil

The Mediterranean diet is generally low in animal products and meat but includes fish and seafood.

DASH diet

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet was developed to combat high blood pressure. It focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, and lean meats while limiting your intake of sodium, fat, and alcohol.

In general, the diet recommends consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day.

Read more about the DASH diet.

Low carb diet

A low carb diet generally restricts carbohydrates, which are found in foods like pasta, bread, cakes, pastries, and other desserts.

A review of 12 studies found that low carbohydrate diets benefit several cardiovascular risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides.

There are several types of low carb diets, but they all generally limit the number of carbs you eat in a day and emphasize higher consumption of lean proteins and healthy fats.

Anti-inflammatory diet

An anti-inflammatory diet includes foods with the potential to reduce inflammation in the body. Examples include:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • coffee and tea
  • whole grains
  • low fat dairy
  • fatty fish
  • olive oil
  • nuts
  • dark chocolate
  • legumes
  • red wine

This diet also avoids foods thought to increase inflammation, such as processed meat, potato chips, and sugary soft drinks.

One 2022 study that included more than 82,000 Swedish adults ages 45–83 found that eating an anti-inflammatory diet may lower PAD risk, especially in smokers.

Foods to avoid with PAD are those that contribute to the development of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other risk factors.

With PAD, try as much as possible to avoid or limit:

  • saturated fats, found in butter, palm and coconut oils, cheese, and red meat
  • trans fats, which are sometimes found in processed foods (they were recently banned in the United States)
  • sodium, which is typically found in convenience foods, salty snacks, and processed meats
  • added sugar, found in sugary soft drinks, energy drinks, fruit juices, and desserts
  • alcoholic drinks

Smoking also damages your blood vessels and raises your blood pressure. Along with a healthy diet, quitting smoking is very important for lowering your risk of PAD.

While improving your diet cannot reverse existing peripheral artery disease (PAD), it can slow its progression. Foods high in fiber, fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and omega-3 fats are beneficial in treating PAD.

If you have PAD and are unsure how to incorporate these foods into your diet, consider reaching out to a nutritionist or registered dietitian.