Several foods have been shown to help improve blood flow and support heart health, including garlic, onions, beets, berries, citrus fruits, and leafy greens, among others.
Poor circulation is a common problem caused by a number of conditions.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD), diabetes, obesity, smoking, and Raynaud’s disease are some of the many causes of poor circulation.
Reduced blood flow can cause unpleasant symptoms, such as pain, muscle cramps, numbness, digestive issues, and coldness in the hands or feet.
In addition to those with poor circulation, athletes and active individuals may want to increase blood flow in order to improve exercise performance and recovery.
Although circulatory issues are often treated with medications, eating certain foods can also improve blood flow.
Here are the 13 best foods to optimize blood flow.
Cayenne pepper gets its spicy flavor from a phytochemical called capsaicin.
Capsaicin promotes blood flow to tissues by lowering blood pressure and stimulating the release of nitric oxide and other vasodilators — or compounds that help expand your blood vessels.
In fact, spicy peppers are frequently included in pain-relieving creams because ingesting them helps increases circulation, improves blood vessel strength, and reduces plaque buildup in your arteries.
Pomegranates are juicy, sweet fruits that are particularly high in polyphenol antioxidants and nitrates, which are potent vasodilators.
Consuming pomegranate — as a juice, raw fruit, or supplement — may improve blood flow and oxygenation of muscle tissue, which could especially aid active individuals.
For example, a 2016 study found that daily consumption of 17 ounces (oz.), or 500 milliliters (mL), of pomegranate juice during or before weight training reduced soreness, muscle damage, and inflammation in elite weightlifters.
How to cut: Pomegranate
Onions are an excellent source of flavonoid antioxidants, which benefit heart health by helping your arteries and veins widen when blood flow increases.
Onions also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can boost blood flow and heart health by reducing inflammation in veins and arteries.
Cinnamon is a warming spice that has many health benefits — including increased blood flow.
In a 2021 study, researchers found that between two groups of subjects with a similar health profile, the group that consumed cinnamon had a statistically significant reduction in blood pressure after 90 days compared to the placebo group. That said, this decrease was moderate.
Another 2021 meta-analysis of eight studies found that cinnamon has a more favorable effect on diastolic blood pressure than on systolic blood pressure.
Garlic is well known for its beneficial impact on circulation and heart health.
Studies suggest that garlic — specifically, its sulfur compounds, which include allicin — can increase tissue blood flow and lower blood pressure by relaxing your blood vessels.
In fact, in a study of 42 people with coronary artery disease, those who consumed garlic powder tablets containing 1,200 mg of allicin twice daily for 3 months experienced a 50% improvement in blood flow through the upper arm artery compared to a placebo group.
Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
These fats are especially beneficial for circulation because they promote the release of nitric oxide, which dilates your blood vessels and increases blood flow.
Omega-3 fats also help inhibit the clumping of platelets in your blood, a process that can lead to blood clot formation.
What’s more, a 2022 study found that taking at least 2-3 grams a day (g/d) of omega-3 fatty acids helps reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Higher doses may help people with a higher chance of getting heart problems even more.
Many athletes supplement with beet juice or beet powder to help improve performance.
This is because beets are high in nitrates, which your body converts into nitric oxide. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow to muscle tissue.
This means beets may help improve blood flow. In a 2017 study of 12 older adults, those who drank 5 oz. (140 mL) of nitrate-rich beet juice per day experienced significant decreases in blood pressure, clotting time, and blood vessel inflammation than those who consumed a placebo.
Increased blood flow is one of turmeric’s many health benefits.
In fact, both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine have utilized turmeric since ancient times to open blood vessels and improve blood circulation, particularly due to a compound found in turmeric called curcumin.
In a 2017 study of 39 people, taking 2,000 mg of curcumin daily for 12 weeks led to a 37% increase in forearm blood flow and a 36% increase in upper arm blood flow.
Leafy greens like spinach and collard greens are high in nitrates, which your body converts into nitric oxide, a potent vasodilator.
Research has observed that people following a traditional Japanese diet high in nitrate-rich vegetables like Chinese cabbage and spinach have lower blood pressure than those who consume a diet low in vegetables.
Citrus fruits like oranges, lemons, and grapefruit are packed with antioxidants, including flavonoids.
Consuming flavonoid-rich citrus fruits may help reduce blood pressure and stiffness in your arteries while improving blood flow and nitric oxide production.
Additional research from 2022 also found that eating citrus fruits like oranges is associated with reduced blood pressure.
Tomatoes may help reduce the activity of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which causes blood vessels to constrict to control blood pressure.
Test tube research suggests that tomato extract works similarly to ACE-inhibiting drugs, by opening up your blood vessels and improving blood flow.
Berries are especially healthy, as they have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities, which may have a positive impact on blood flow.
Research shows that eating berries can lower blood pressure, heart rate, platelet aggregation, and blood levels of inflammatory markers like interleukin-6 (IL-6) while also improving artery dilation.
Ginger is a staple in traditional medicine in India and China for thousands of years. In both human and animal studies, ginger has been shown to reduce high blood pressure, which negatively impacts blood flow (54).
In a 2017 study of 4,628 people, those who consumed the most ginger — 2–4 g per day — had the lowest risk of developing high blood pressure.
While incorporating any of these foods into your diet may improve circulation, other lifestyle changes may have a larger impact.
Here are some other lifestyle modifications that can optimize blood flow:
- Quit smoking: Smoking is a risk factor for many chronic diseases — such as cancer — and can negatively impact circulation.
- Increase physical activity: Exercise stimulates blood flow and helps improve vasodilation. Plus, regular exercise decreases your risk of heart disease.
- Reach or maintain a moderate weight: Being overweight or having obesity negatively impacts blood flow and can lead to dangerous complications, such as plaque buildup in your arteries.
- Follow a healthy diet: Instead of simply stocking up on particular foods, try switching to a diet rich in healthy, whole foods — such as vegetables, healthy fats, and fiber-rich foods — which can improve circulation and support heart health.
- Reduce stress: Research proves that stress levels can significantly impact blood pressure. Manage your stress through yoga, meditation, gardening, or spending time in nature.
What is good to drink for blood flow?
Drinking fluids in general is important for good blood flow. Dehydration can decrease your blood volume, which means that blood may not be able to reach all your vital organs.
Learn more about dehydration and blood flow.
Do bananas help blood flow?
Bananas contain potassium, which is important for healthy blood pressure. This benefit is most prominent if you eat bananas raw, rather than consuming them as part of baked goods for example.
There are many natural ways to improve circulation, including choosing foods that stimulate blood flow.
The antioxidants, nitrates, vitamins, and other substances contained in the foods above can have a positive impact on your circulation.
What’s more, leading a healthy lifestyle by abstaining from smoking, staying active, maintaining a moderate weight, and eating a well-rounded diet can boost blood flow and overall health.