When we talk about the vascular (or circulatory) system we are referring to our arteries, veins, and lymphatic vessels. All of these vessels are important because they are in charge of delivering oxygen and nutrients to most of the body as well as recycling excess fluid to prevent its accumulation and associated dysfunction. When our blood vessels do not work properly, the entire body is at risk, especially those organs whose function is highly dependant on vascular health such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain. Luckily, diet can play a huge role in preventing vascular diseases and reducing overall risk for other chronic conditions.
Maintain Energy Balance
Excess energy and weight puts individuals at greater risk for cardiovascular disease. Being overweight or obese increases the likelihood of hypertension, high blood lipid levels, and type 2 diabetes (1), all of which may contribute to vascular dysfunction. This is why it’s important to avoid excess calorie consumption and to stay active. Constantly being in an energy deficit (burning more calories than are consumed) is not always necessary. Instead, aim to sustain an energy balance (burning as many calories are consumed) to avoid excess weight and increased cardiovascular risk.
Up Your Fruit and Vegetable Intake
Fruits and vegetables are a great way to control weight gain and promote a healthy vascular system. These are lower in calories than most animal and refined products and offer a larger array of nutrients and antioxidants. These kinds of foods are described as being “nutrient-dense,” and are an essential staple of a healthy diet. Nutrients such as soluble fiber and antioxidants help protect our arteries from developing plaques and are found in most fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol that may deposit in artery walls. Antioxidants protect our vessels from oxidative damage.
Fiber also serves as a prebiotic, promoting the growth of healthy bacteria in our gut. Bacterial communities in our gut help educate our immune system and may even play a role in controlling systemic inflammation, another risk factor for vascular disease.
Eat Whole Grains
Refined carbohydrates like chips and white bread tend to contain unhealthy levels of saturated fats, salts, and offer very little fiber. A better option is to eat whole-grain products such as whole-grain bread, brown rice, oats, millet, quinoa, and corn. These alternatives offer higher levels of soluble and insoluble fiber as well as iron and B vitamins. Whole grains along with starchy vegetables are a great option for meeting the carbohydrate component of a balanced diet.
Stick to Healthy Fats!
Fat is not the enemy, but saturated fats are associated with an increased risk for vascular disease. Fats are also high in calories, so a high-fat diet may not be ideal for maintaining energy balance or energy deficit. That being said, mono- and poly-unsaturated fats are considered “healthy fats,” and are associated with improving vascular function and even help protect your blood vessels. Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, are known to help control inflammation and help both brain and heart function. Good sources of healthy fat include nuts, seeds, legumes, and fatty fish.
There is so much we can do on our own to improve our vascular health and lower our risk for serious illness including a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats and processed sugar. Consulting with a registered dietitian is the quickest, most accurate way to nail down exactly what foods your body needs to thrive and prevent disease. Optimize your health and connect with a nutritionist today.
- Poirier, P., Giles, T. D., Bray, G. A., Hong, Y., Stern, J. S., Pi-Sunyer, F. X., . . . Obesity Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism. (2006, February 14). Obesity and cardiovascular disease: Pathophysiology, evaluation, and effect of weight loss: An update of the 1997 American Heart Association Scientific Statement on Obesity and Heart Disease from the Obesity Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16380542/
- Casas, R., Castro-Barquero, S., Estruch, R., & Sacanella, E. (2018, December 11). Nutrition and Cardiovascular Health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6320919/