Varicose veins aren’t just visually displeasing, they can actually be a real pain (literally), and may lead to more serious health problems. While there are many treatment options available, prevention is always the best approach.
Read on to learn about the best diet and the top 12 foods to keep your veins healthy and happy!
What are Veins?
Veins are part of your circulatory system and they work to keep blood flowing throughout your body. They carry blood from the body back to the heart, whereas arteries carry blood from the heart to the body.
What are Varicose Veins?
Varicose veins occur when the valves in the veins weaken or become damaged, leading to increased blood pressure, blood pooling, and the appearance of enlarged, twisted veins. They can happen anywhere in the body but are most commonly seen on the legs.
Varicose veins have a blue appearance because they’re holding pooled oxygenated blood, making them more noticeable than regular veins. Varicose veins should not be dismissed as solely a cosmetic issue, however, as they can cause discomfort, impact quality of life, and lead to more serious medical complications if left untreated.
By addressing the underlying causes of varicose veins, you may be able to prevent varicose veins altogether. Or, if you have varicose veins already, adopting a healthy lifestyle including regular exercise and consuming the right healthy foods may help prevent more varicose veins from developing and reduce the risk of health complications in the future.
How Do Varicose Veins Develop?
The veins in our body carry blood to the heart, and they have one-way valves that prevent blood from flowing backward. When these valves weaken, blood can pool in the veins, causing them to swell and become twisted or bulging, which leads to the development of varicose veins.
Additionally, over time the walls of the veins can become less elastic and thus less able to contract and expand properly. This inhibits proper blood flow and contributes to the pooling of blood and expansion of the veins.
Common Causes of Varicose Veins
Inflammation. Inflammation is one of the key factors that contribute to the development and progression of varicose veins. When the veins in your legs become inflamed, it can cause the walls of the veins to weaken and become less elastic. This can lead to blood pooling in the veins, which can cause them to bulge and become varicose.
Poor blood sugar control. Mismanagement of blood sugar, as in insulin resistance or diabetes, can cause the formation of Advanced Glycation End Products (aptly called AGEs). AGEs contribute to inflammation and damage blood vessel walls, making them more susceptible to injury.
High blood pressure. High blood pressure increases pressure on the walls of veins. This can cause vein walls to lose elasticity and may also weaken the valves in the veins.
Sedentary lifestyle. Physical activity, particularly exercises that involve the muscles of the legs, helps to promote blood flow in the veins. When you are inactive for long periods of time, blood flow can become sluggish, leading to pooling of blood and increased pressure on the vein walls, ultimately leading to the development of varicose veins.
Obesity. Excess fat can put pressure on veins and restrict blood flow. When blood flow is impaired, it can cause the veins in your legs to become weak and dilated, which may result in the formation of varicose veins. Maintaining a healthy weight may relieve extra pressure on veins.
Genetics. Family history of vascular disease, including heart attack, deep vein thrombosis, or stroke, may put you at increased risk.
Other factors. Hormonal changes, age, genetics, and pregnancy may also play a role.
However, in many cases, the exact cause of varicose veins is unknown.
Which Diet is Best for Varicose Veins?
While there’s no specific diet or eating plan that can guarantee perfect vein health, there are some dietary guidelines that support healthy veins. Eating plans like the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet help prevent varicose veins by promoting healthy blood flow and blood pressure.
Eating Guidelines to Prevent Varicose Veins
Eat a plant-based, healthy diet. A balanced diet that includes a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats provides the essential nutrients your body needs to support healthy circulation and strong vein walls.
Reduce your sodium intake. Salty foods can cause water retention and increase the risk of high blood pressure, which puts added stress on your veins. Try to avoid processed foods, canned foods, and snack foods with high sodium content.
Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water helps keep your blood flowing smoothly, which can reduce pressure on your veins.
Limit alcohol and caffeine. Both alcohol and caffeine dehydrate the body and increase blood pressure, which puts added stress on your veins.
Eat foods with plenty of fiber. Fiber-rich foods can help reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and improve circulation. Dietary fiber may also help lower cholesterol levels, which improves cardiovascular health and blood flow.
Incorporate healthy fats. Healthy fats like those found in fatty fish, nuts, and avocados help reduce inflammation and improve circulation.
Avoid sugary foods. Limit intake of baked goods, candy, and foods made from refined or simple carbohydrates like white bread and pasta made from refined grains.
Top 12 Foods for Vein Health
Let’s give those veins a little love by filling up on the best foods to help keep them healthy. Get ready to tantalize your taste buds while giving your veins the nourishment they need to stay in tip-top shape.
Let’s dig in!
Leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and alfalfa sprouts are rich in vitamin K, which plays an important role in blood clotting and can help strengthen vein walls. Additionally, these greens are high in antioxidants, which can help protect against damage to vein walls caused by free radicals and reduce inflammation.
Berries are high in flavonoids, a phytochemical compound which has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that can improve blood flow and keep the veins healthy and elastic. One study found that consuming blueberries improved vascular function in people with metabolic syndrome, a condition that increases the risk of developing varicose veins (1). Blackberries have also been shown to help prevent varicose veins (2).
Dark chocolate contains flavanols, which can help improve blood flow and reduce inflammation. In one study, consuming dark chocolate (but not milk chocolate) for two weeks improved blood flow in the leg (3). It’s important to choose a high-quality, dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa solids.
Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits are high in vitamin C, which is necessary for the production of collagen, an essential component of veins. Collagen provides strength and elasticity to vein walls. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that helps protect veins from damage caused by free radicals.
Raw Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are loaded with healthy fats, fiber, and vitamin E, which can help reduce inflammation and improve blood flow. In one study, consuming almonds improved endothelial function in people with type 2 diabetes.
Avocados are a rich source of healthy fats, fiber, and potassium, which can help reduce inflammation and improve circulation (2). Avocado oil does not provide the fiber or potassium of a whole avocado, but is a great source of healthy fats and is an excellent choice for a cooking oil.
Whole grains like oatmeal and brown rice are high in fiber, which can help lower blood pressure and improve circulation. They also contain B vitamins, which help to lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can damage blood vessels when found at high levels in the body.
Beets are rich in nitrates, which increase levels of nitric oxide and help improve blood flow. Additionally, beets contain antioxidants and other compounds that can help strengthen vein walls and promote healthy circulation.
Garlic contains compounds that can help improve blood circulation and reduce inflammation. These compounds can also help prevent blood clots and reduce the risk of varicose veins. A study published in Nutrients found that garlic extract can improve blood flow and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (5).
Rosemary contains rosmarinic acid, a phytochemical with potent anti-inflammatory properties, and flavonoids such as diosmin and hesperidin, which improve blood circulation and strengthen blood vessels (6).
Ginger contains gingerol, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound. Gingerol helps reduce inflammation in the veins and improve blood flow. Ginger is also a natural blood thinner, which may help prevent blood clots that contribute to varicose veins (6).
Health Hacks: Quick & Easy Ways to Show Your Veins Some Love
Give your veins a little TLC by making a few lifestyle changes and chowing down on some superfoods!
With these lifestyle and dietary hacks, you could be well on your way to supporting healthy veins and potentially reducing the risk of varicose veins.
Pam is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master’s of Public Health and a Certificate in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Passionate about the science of health and nutrition, she loves to share her knowledge to help others live healthy, vibrant lives. When not working, Pam can be found hiking, traveling, and enjoying great-tasting, nutritious food.