Before we move onto the fascinating sequel to the circulatory system, “The Blood”, I just want to finish up with some specific foods and their nutrients which will provide your blood vessels with the essential ingredients to repair themselves, remain flexible and plaque free.
If you are already following my recommended diet of high levels of natural foods, ‘cooked from scratch’, including whole grains, fruit, vegetables and lean protein you will be providing your body with most of the essential elements necessary for a healthy circulatory system. More importantly if only 20% of your diet comprises the processed, high sugar types of food you are on the right track.
However, as we do get a bit older it is quite important to pay particular attention to those nutrients and foods that preserve our body since we get less efficient in extracting what the body needs from our normal diet. Taking extra supplementation is not always successful as our bodies are not designed to process that either. So upping the amounts of specific foods is the right way to go.
The components that are the most essential for blood-vessel health include Vitamin C for collagen production and nutrients that keep the blood-vessels clear of plaque, debris and keep the blood flowing as it should through the body.
Most diseases that are related to the integrity of the blood-vessel walls are partly due to a lack of effective collagen. Collagen is not just responsible for keeping the elastic sheath around blood-vessels healthy but also our tendons, cartilage, gums and our immune system.
Collagen is one of thousands of proteins in the human body. Most proteins are only in small amounts but collagen is present in the skin, bones, teeth, blood-vessels, eyes, and heart as well as in our connective tissues such as tendons.
Collagen, as you can imagine, is in constant use and needs a very high maintenance programme to replace and repair itself. To keep up with this rate of repair we need to take in a great deal of Vitamin C on a continuous basis because not only is the Vitamin C essential in the manufacture of collagen but also gets destroyed in the process.
An interesting fact emerged when long term prisoners of war were examined on their release. A vast majority were discovered to be suffering from severe Vitamin C deficiency but also unexpectedly very high levels of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis) which was unlikely to have come from eating a high fat diet. It is therefore very likely that the two are connected, giving a further reason for including Vitamin C in generous amounts in your diet.
Vitamin C is also needed to protect us from cardiovascular disease, cancers, joint disease and cataracts. It is a fantastic antioxidant that is specific to the health of our blood-vessels because of its prevention of oxidation of LDL (lousy cholesterol) leading to plaque and narrowed and hardened arteries.
Vitamin C is found in most fruit and vegetables and one of the best reasons for including more than the recommended ration of five portions per day.
I would suggest three to four portions of vegetables per day and three to four portions of fruit. Vitamin C is very sensitive to air, water and temperature and about a quarter of the Vitamin C in fruit or vegetables is lost in steaming or boiling them for just a few minutes. If you over cook vegetables, or cook them for longer than 15 minutes, you will lose over half the Vitamin C content. Canned fruit and vegetables that are then reheated end up with only a third of their original nutrient value which is why eating as many fruits and vegetables as possible – in their raw state – is the only really effective way to get the amount of this vital vitamin that you need.
The side effect of improving your collagen production is that your face will benefit as you get older by being smoother and more elastic. Less Botox expense!
What other nutrients should we include to help maintain our blood-vessel health?
A balanced diet will help your body protect itself but there are certain nutrients that have a particular responsibility for keeping our blood flowing as it should through healthy arteries and veins.
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are necessary fats that humans cannot synthesise and must be obtained through diet. There are two families of EFAs Omega-3 and Omega-6. Another variety, Omega-9, is also necessary but is classified as “non- essential” as the body can make it if the other two fatty acids are present.
EFAs are essential because they support our cardiovascular, reproductive, immune and nervous systems. We need these fats to manufacture and repair cells, maintain hormone levels and expel waste from the body. Although they are important for other functions in the body, such as fertility, they play a major role in the process that regulates blood pressure and blood clotting, making them an important addition to our diet if we are at risk from circulatory conditions.
Omega-3 (Linolenic Acid) is the principal Omega-3 fatty acid and is used in the formation of cell walls, improving circulation and oxygen absorption. A deficiency can lead to decreased immune system function, elevated levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat.
Omega-6 (Linoleic Acid) is the primary Omega-6 fatty acid. Omega-6 can improve rheumatoid arthritis, PMS, and skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis.
There is growing evidence that the non-essential Oleic acid, Omega‑9, may help to lower cholesterol by decreasing the unhealthy cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein), while at the same time raising the level of healthy cholesterol, HDL (high density lipoprotein).
Oleic acid is also emerging as a regulator of blood-sugar levels and as a possible protection against breast and prostate cancer. So, including half an avocado in your diet every day may well protect you from the harmful long-term effects of a number of diseases.
B-Vitamins play a role in maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system in general but Vitamin B3 (niacin) B6, B12 and folic acid are of particular interest.
Vitamin B3 plays a critical role in the chemical processing of fats in the body and although B3 is required for production of cholesterol by the liver, the vitamin has repeatedly been used to successfully lower total blood cholesterol. It has yet to be proved whether including B3 rich foods in your diet will also reduce cholesterol levels, but it would appear that the vitamin has a component that may help balance the amount that is produced and present in the blood at any given time. As I mentioned in my post yesterday on safe sun absorption, Vitamin B3 could be effective in the prevention and treatment of certain skin cancers.
Homocysteine is an amino acid in the blood. Too much of it is related to a higher risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis (fatty deposits in the arteries) leading to damage of the inner linings of the arteries and promoting blood clots.
There is increasing evidence that lowered levels of Folic acid, B6 and B12 are linked to higher levels of homocysteine and therefore the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Including them in your diet is easy if you are not vegetarian and may require supplementation if you don’t include animal products in your diet. This is why giving up whole grains completely which is one of the new trends in diet advice can impact your levels of B vitamins.
Fibre, particularly in the form of beta-glucan helps keep your arteries clear of debris and plaque. Including oats, brown rice, as well as your daily rations of fruit and vegetables, will provide you with adequate amounts of this type of carbohydrate.
Best food sources for these nutrients and for fibre
This is not the complete list of foods that contain the appropriate nutrients but they are some of the best sources available.
- Avocado for essential fatty acids Omega 3 and Omega 9.
- Banana has fibre too, which helps clear the system of debris and keeps the arteries clean. Also contains B6 for lowering homocysteine levels.
- Beef (lean) for its protein and B6 and B12.
- Broccoli for high levels of Vitamin C and folate.
- Brown rice helps keep your cholesterol down and your arteries healthy with its fibre.
- Calf’s liver for B3, B6 and B12 and folate.
- Cauliflower and red bell peppers for high levels of Vitamin C
- Chicken and Turkey for B3 and B6 and Omega 6.
- Cow’s milk and yoghurt for B12
- Fruits in general for their Vitamin C and fibre.
- Green tea with its antioxidant, which inhibits the enzymes that produce free radicals in the lining of the arteries. This not only prevents plaque from forming but also improves the ratio of LDL (lousy cholesterol) to HDL (healthy cholesterol)
- Halibut for B3, B6 and B12
- Kiwi fruit, papaya and strawberries for high levels of Vitamin C
- Lamb for B3 and B12
- Lentils and beans for low fat protein and folate.
- Oats with their fibre called beta-glucan which helps lower cholesterol and prevents plaque from forming in your arteries.
- Olive oil and olives for Omega 6 and Omega 9.
- Onions and garlic which contain sulphur compounds that along with B6 and chromium help lower homocysteine levels in the blood
- Oranges with their Vitamin C and fibre.
- Pumpkinseeds and other seeds for Omega 3 and Omega 6.
- Salmon with its Omega 3, B3 and B6 and B12
- Scallops and shrimp for B12
- Shitake mushrooms for B3 and B12 and Eritadenine, which lowers cholesterol levels.
- Spinach and asparagus and very green vegetables for the folate to help reduce homocysteine levels, Vitamin C and Omega 3
- Tuna for Omega 3, B3 and B6
- All vegetables are rich in anti-oxidants, which remove free radicals from the system and also promote the growth of healthy cells and tissue.
- Venison with low fat protein and B3, B6 and B12.
- Walnuts and other nuts Omega 3, 6 and 9 and B6
- Whole grains for fibre and B3.
Including the above foods several times a week will help you protect not only your circulatory system but also your heart and the health of all your major organs that rely solely on the nutrient and oxygen packed blood that is brought to them by the system.
If you have any questions that might be useful for other readers of the post then please include in the comments section.. If you would like to ask something more personal then please contact me sally(dot)cronin(at)moyhill.com.
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©sallycronin Just Food For Health 2009