How Foods Affect Your Circulation
As any nutritionist or doctor will tell you, what you put into your body has a huge impact on your overall health. This is true for anyone, but it’s especially important for people who suffer from circulatory diseases like peripheral artery disease or coronary artery disease. People diagnosed with circulatory issues like these have veins that are clogged with arterial plaque made up of cholesterol.
You probably know that there's cholesterol in many of the foods we eat, but there's a huge difference between "good" cholesterol and "bad" cholesterol.
Even if you aren't currently diagnosed with any circulatory issues, this is valuable knowledge to have as a form of prevention. Being smart about your diet can keep you healthier longer and improve your overall quality of life.
What is bad cholesterol?
When you hear people talking about high cholesterol levels, they are almost always talking about LDLs, or low density lipoproteins. LDLs are not inherently bad (your liver naturally creates LDLs on its own), but your body can only process so much at once. And the amount of LDLs in your body can be dramatically affected by your diet.
When there are more LDLs in your bloodstream than your body can process, they float around in your bloodstream until they embed themselves in the walls of your arteries. Once there, they will combine with the oxygen in your blood to form arterial plaque. This is the substance that ultimately clogs arteries, causes circulatory diseases and leads to PAD, heart attack, stroke, and more.
Since the body can only handle a set amount of LDLs, it's important not to overwhelm it. Limiting the amount of LDLs your body has to process will help prevent arterial plaque from forming and lead to healthier veins.
Foods that increase bad cholesterol
There are two ways to increase the amount of bad cholesterol in your bloodstream. The first is by getting it directly from the food you're eating. Cholesterol is only found in meat products, since it takes a liver to produce it. The second way is by eating foods that are high in trans fats and saturated fats. When you eat these, they instruct your liver to start producing more bad cholesterol. This is actually the main way in which people develop high cholesterol levels.
Here are some foods to avoid if you are trying to reduce the amount of bad cholesterol in your body.
- Fatty meats like bacon, beef and sausage
- Fried foods like fried chicken and french fries
- Pre-packed sweets like donuts, pastries and cookies
- Potato chips
- Buttered popcorn
- Dairy products made with whole milk
- Hydrogenated vegetable oils
What is good cholesterol?
When people use the term "good cholesterol," they are referring to high density lipoproteins, or HDLs. HDLs perform a very important task in your body — they take the LDLs (bad cholesterol) out of the linings of your arteries and take it to be processed. The more HDLs in your diet, the better your body can process cholesterol in general, making it less likely it will build up.
Just like the LDLs, your body naturally makes good cholesterol. If you are worried about your cholesterol levels or the health of your arteries, you need to make sure you are doing what you can to give your body what it needs to make more good cholesterol and less bad cholesterol.
What foods increase good cholesterol?
Just like the LDLs, there are certain foods you can eat that will tell your body to start making more good cholesterol. Specifically, these are foods that are high in unsaturated fats. You can always look at a food's nutrition information if you'd like to know its fat content, but there are some food types that will generally always be high in unsaturated fats. Some of the most popular are:
- Nuts like pistachios, walnuts, cashews and almonds.
- Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
- Green, black and Kalamata olives
- Sesame seeds and chia seeds
- Dark chocolate (but watch your sugar level!)
If you like to cook, another easy thing you can do is change out the fats you use when preparing a meal. Whenever possible, switch out butter or margarine for oils that are high in unsaturated fats like coconut oil and olive oil.
The Bottom Line
Reducing or eliminating trans and saturated fats from your diet while increasing your intake of unsaturated fats will have a dramatic effect on the health of your arteries. And when your arteries are healthier, your heart is put under less strain and your risk of heart attack and stroke go down significantly. There are all kinds of great health benefits to consider.
There is a surgery to remove plaque from arteries called an endarterectomy, in which the arterial plaque is physically removed from your artery walls. However, there is a risk of patients having a stroke from the procedure alone. It's a fairly major surgery and puts a toll on the body. It's much better to avoid getting a plaque buildup in the first place, and one of the best ways to do that is by staying in control of what you eat.
Want to take control of your health?
If you'd like to know where your health stands with regard to conditions like diabetes and PAD, Life Line Screening offers both the tests you'll need. Scheduling an appointment is easy, with convenient locations all across the United States. Click below to find the Life Line Screening location closest to you.
This article has been reviewed by the Life Line Screening clinical team. You can learn more about this team of experts HERE.