Your veins are responsible for regulating the normal flow of blood towards the heart in order for it to be oxygenated in the lungs and circulated back around the body. In order for veins to do their job well, they must be elastic and contain strong valves in order to stop blood from flowing in the opposite direction.
Varicose veins occur when veins lose their elasticity and become stretched or swollen. As a result, valves within the veins can leak and cause blood to pool.
These swollen or stretched varicose veins usually appear in the lower legs, as there has to be a strong pulse to pump blood all the way from the calves up to the heart. This is because we spend more than half of our lives sitting or standing, and the blood in our legs has to battle against gravity to return to the heart. However, varicose veins can also be found in other places around the body.
It’s important to make the right dietary choices when it comes to your circulation and the health of your veins and arteries. In terms of varicose veins, there are certain foods which can improve the health and efficiency of your veins, while others are not so advisable. So, which foods should you be avoiding if you suffer from varicose veins?
1. White bread
First up on the list is white bread. This is best avoided if you have issues with poor circulation, especially varicose veins, as the process of refining whole grains into white flour strips the flour of much of its nutritional value.
This means that bioflavonoids can be lost, which are important for building the walls of the veins and keeping them strong and elasticated. When the vein walls become weakened, this is when conditions such as varicose veins can arise.
What’s more, fibre is also stripped from the whole grains when they are processed and turned into white flour. Without adequate levels of fibre in the diet, we are more prone to becoming constipated. This can interfere with circulation and put pressure on the veins in your lower body, thus exacerbating existing varicose veins.
Swap for: Whole-wheat bread. Unlike its white alternative, whole-wheat bread hasn’t been processed and stripped of nutrients, so it’s less likely to cause constipation and more likely to contain vein-friendly components such as bioflavonoids.
2. Processed meats
Next up on the hit list: processed meats like bacon, cooked ham and sausages. These foods are notorious for their high salt content. The NHS recommends that adults should consume no more than 6g of salt per day. To put that into context, on average, 2 rashers of bacon contain around 1.8g of salt; while a single slice of supermarket cooked ham contains almost 1g of salt.
Many people are unaware of just how much salt can be found in the foods they consume on a regular basis. What’s more, while processed meats and added table salt are more obvious culprits, there are also other sources of salt which could be sneaking into your diet in the form of cooking sauces and condiments. Too much salt can have a negative effect on your circulation and vein health, especially if you have varicose veins.
Eating too much salt can cause your body to conserve excess water as it struggles to maintain the delicate balance of minerals and fluids. This fluid retention can cause the rest of your body to become dehydrated which can, in turn, raise blood pressure as blood becomes thicker and more difficult to pump around the body. As a result, this can put more pressure on your varicose veins.
Swap for: Low-salt alternatives. Rather than adding salt during cooking or at the table, use herbs and spices to add flavour – Herbamare Low Sodium is a great alternative! You can also spend some extra time checking food labels when shopping to find cooking sauces which have a lower salt content or, better yet, make your own! When it comes to lunch time, swap salty cooked ham for healthier options such as roast chicken or fish like tuna or salmon (in spring water rather than brine or sunflower oil).
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3. Fried foods
Fried foods can also have a negative influence on your circulation and eating too many fried and fatty foods can exacerbate varicose veins. Crisps, chips, donuts and the like are all high in fat but low in fibre, and are often eaten in the place of healthier snacks such as fruit or vegetables.
This lack of fibre paired with high fat content can slow down the gut and cause constipation which can put a lot of pressure on the veins in your lower body, which is where most varicose veins occur, as I’ve explained already. What’s more, if you are straining too much on the loo, this can increase the risk of varicose veins appearing on the rectum, in the form of haemorrhoids or piles.
Swap for: Baked or fresh snacks. Baking your own vegetable crisps can make a tasty alternative without the excess fat. Plus, fruit and veg can make for a healthy, filling snack: try dipping fresh carrot sticks into hummus or spreading healthy nut butter on some crunchy apple slices.
The last item on the list technically isn’t a food, but is something that should definitely be considered when looking at how your diet could be affecting varicose veins. Drinking alcohol in excess will put a lot of pressure on your liver. If your liver becomes too toxic from drinking too much alcohol, this can cause congestion which, in turn, can cause or exacerbate varicose veins.
What’s more, alcohol acts as a diuretic which means that it causes your body to excrete liquid through the urine, thus putting you at risk of becoming dehydrated. As I’ve mentioned already, dehydration can cause the circulatory system to become sluggish and your body will have to work harder to pump blood around the body. This can put excess pressure on your veins and make issues such as varicose veins difficult to deal with.