Though largely preventable, cardiovascular disease has become an epidemic in the United States, responsible for more than one-third of all deaths in 2006, notes the University of Southern California Science Review. Healthy lifestyle practices, such as moderate exercise, abstaining from smoking and a healthy diet, including eating a variety of vegetables, can improve your blood flow and help prevent circulatory disease.
Tomatoes and High-Carotenoid Vegetables
Compounds in tomatoes might promote healthy blood flow by preventing arterial plaque formation, according to a tissue culture study published in the December 2012 "Journal of Hypertension." Tomato carotenoid antioxidants lycopene and lutein lowered blood pressure by increasing levels of nitric oxide, which relaxes the muscles in the linings of arteries. They also reduced inflammation and inhibited white blood cells from sticking to blood vessel linings. Oleoresin, a compound containing tomato essential oils, in combination with lycopene and lutein, enhanced the white blood cell-inhibiting effect. Other vegetable sources of lutein include kale, collard greens, leeks and peas.
Naturally occurring nitrates in spinach may help prevent high blood pressure, according to a study published in the January 2012 issue of "Free Radical Biology and Medicine." Healthy participants who consumed spinach showed increased blood vessel dilation and lower systolic blood pressure -- the upper number of the blood pressure ratio, signifying pressure in arteries during heart contraction. Other vegetables with high nitrate levels include beets, celery and lettuce.
Garlic, Onions and Leeks
Garlic, onions and leeks help lower blood pressure by promoting release of nitric oxide, according to a tissue culture study published in the December 2011 issue of "General Physiology and Biophysics." Garlic showed the most blood vessel-relaxing benefits, followed by onion, then leeks. A review of previously published research that appeared in the June 2008 "BMC Cardiovascular Disorders" found that garlic lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 4.6 millimeters of mercury, mmHg, and diastolic blood pressure -- the lower number of the blood pressure ratio, signifying pressure in arteries during heart relaxation -- by an average of 7.3 mmHg compared to a placebo.
Soy compounds known as isoflavones may decrease your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, according to a study published in the July 2011 issue of the journal "California Agriculture." Isoflavones act as antioxidants -- substances that prevent cell damage due to accumulated toxins and waste products. In your bloodstream, isoflavones prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol, a process that initiates inflammation and arterial plaque formation. Isoflavones also provide estrogen-like activity that causes blood vessels to dilate. Other vegetables and plant foods high in isoflavones include alfalfa, thyme, flaxseed and chickpeas.
- Journal of Hypertension: Tomato Extract and the Carotenoids Lycopene and Lutein Improve Endothelial Function and Attenuate Inflammatory NF-κB Signaling in Endothelial Cells
- Free Radical Biology and Medicine: Flavonoid-Rich Apples and Nitrate-Rich Spinach Augment Nitric Oxide Status and Improve Endothelial Function in Healthy Men and Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Michigan State University Extension: Nitrates in Drinking Water
- General Physiology and Biophysics: The Aqueous Garlic, Onion and Leek Extracts Release Nitric Oxide from S-nitrosoglutathione and Prolong Relaxation of Aortic Rings
- BMC Cardiovascular Disorders: Effect of Garlic on Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
- California Agriculture: Soy May Help Protect Against Cardiovascular Disease
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Phytoestrogens
- Journal of Liquid Chromatography & Related Technologies: Comparative Study on Separation and Purification of Isoflavones from the Seeds and Sprouts of Chickpea by High-Speed Countercurrent Chromatography
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Lutein
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images