Fatty deposits and other waste particles from food can clog your arteries. But which foods can help you avoid this? And why does it matter?
Well, your arteries send oxygen all around your body via your blood. When they clog up, your blood doesn’t flow as it should.
This clogging may contribute to atherosclerosis (plaque on the artery walls) and heart disease. Neither of those is a good thing, and oxygen is awesome. It’s not a hard choice.
In a 2021 report, the American Heart Association noted that in the long term, even slightly increased levels of fatty deposits in your blood can lead to heart disease.
You may wonder what medical interventions are necessary to clean artery walls. But the good news is that you can help prevent the issue by making healthier choices about the food you put in your shopping basket (and belly).
The fruit and veg aisle is full of unassuming foods that can keep your heart healthy and help prevent plaque buildup in your arteries.
Which foods may help clear your arteries?
Eat these to help prevent clogging in your arteries:
- tomatoes and tomato products
- citrus fruits
- cruciferous vegetables
- nuts and seeds
- leafy greens
- cocoa and dark chocolate
- olive oil
Dietary choices alone can’t fully clear your arteries, but they can help you prevent progression to heart disease. And they might reduce clogging in the first place.
Read on for a double rainbow of ingredients you can add to your shopping list as artery artillery. Noms away!
These foods can help keep your arteries wide open and super healthy.
From the sweet strawberry to the sour cranberry, these small fruits can pack a potent punch in the fight to clear arteries.
They contain polyphenols, including flavonoids. These are plant compounds that have antioxidant effects, meaning they help protect cells throughout your bod.
Flavonoids help reduce the risk factors for atherosclerosis, including:
- high levels of LDL (aka bad cholesterol)
- high blood pressure
- irregular blood sugar levels
The many nutrients in berries can help your body reduce inflammation, slow the buildup of cholesterol, and protect against cellular damage. All these benefits help prevent clogged arteries.
So thank you, thank you berry much.
The humble bean. Packed full of soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, it may help improve the expansion of your arteries and reduce cholesterol and inflammation.
This versatile staple of recipes worldwide has been subject to research that suggests eating beans may help reduce LDL cholesterol, lower blood pressure levels, and improve artery function.
Beans can also be good for your gut bacteria (a friendly army in your belly). Research suggests that happy gut bacteria might also support better heart and artery health.
Mung, soy, kidney, navy, pinto, garbanzo — you’ve bean told.
Eating fish has net benefits (and yes, good puns work on a sliding scale) (OK, double groan).
Fish is high in omega-3 fats, which may keep your heart healthy and lower your risk of atherosclerosis. Research has shown that people who eat more fish tend to be at a lower risk of developing atherosclerosis than those who eat less fish.
Many studies point to omega-3 fatty acids as a key component in helping to reduce the body’s inflammation response to fatty deposits.
Fish may not be your dish. Or you might have concerns about sustainability and fishing practices. Don’t get in a flap! You can also find omega-3 supplements derived from plant sources like algae, which will still provide benefits.
Tomato products (including tomatoes)
You say tomato, we say inverse relationship to atherosclerotic plaque burden. Meaning?
Tomato and tomato products provide lycopene, a compound that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
A 2020 study found high levels of lycopene in the bloodstreams of people with type 2 diabetes, which suggests tomatoes might help prevent atherosclerosis.
A diet for healthy arteries can easily accommodate this flexible foodstuff (but ketchup doesn’t count).
No need to cry. Research suggests the mighty onion can help:
- reduce inflammation
- improve fat levels in the bloodstream
- reduce blood pressure
- reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes
How do arteries clog up? Atherosclerosis in brief
How do you move from clogged arteries to something much, much worse?
- Fibrous and fatty materials build up on the inside of your arteries throughout your life, starting when you’re young.
- These deposits aren’t useful to your body, so it treats them like a threat, similar to an allergen or harmful bacteria. This causes an inflammatory response on the artery wall.
- The artery repairs the inflamed area with a kind of scar.
- The damage hardens over time, forming plaque.
- Like tiling a wall, this gradually makes the inside circumference of the artery narrower.
- This restricts blood flow because there’s less space for blood to move through the artery.
- Plaque can rupture and break off. This creates more serious blockages called embolisms.
You want to catch this process as early as you can. That’s why your diet can be so important in reducing heart problems further down the line.
Citrus fruits (oranges, satsumas, limes, lemons, grapefruit, and kumquats) provide freakin’ fantastic flavonoids.
These compounds can be effective in fighting cardiovascular disease and clogged arteries (although researchers are still putting together exactly how they do this).
Mandarin orange peel oil has shown potential to prevent atherosclerosis by reducing fat buildup and cell damage. How this translates to eating the pulp and juice of a mandarin isn’t clear. (And who just stands there chomping on orange peels?)
Spice up your life — and rack up some health points while you’re at it.
Research suggests several spices could prevent clogged arteries, including:
- black pepper
- chili peppers
You’re rarely going to eat enough of these spices to make a huge difference in your nutrient intake. But they may help protect your arteries and can make your food taste gosh-darned amazing. So sprinkle away.
Research suggests flaxseed has significant lipid-lowering effects. Lower lipids (fats in your blood) mean less plaque buildup in your arteries and more smiles for your heart (figuratively speaking — that would be hella weird in real life).
Flaxseed provides alpha-lipoic acid, antioxidants called lignans, and a bunch of fiber, so adding it to your diet may help reduce your risk of atherosclerosis.
Flaxseed is also anti-inflammatory, may help lower cholesterol, and may even help regulate heart rhythms. So sprinkle it on oatmeal, sling it into a smoothie, or mix it into some yogurt.
Broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, kale, brussels sprouts, watercress, and cabbage are among the vegetables that make up the Cruciferous Crew.
Members of this varied group of veggies are nutrient-rich and pack loads of health benefits, including:
- lots of fiber
- antiviral and antibacterial effects
- anti-inflammatory compounds
They reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and may help prevent atherosclerosis. Don’t mess with Cruciferous Crew.
Just beet it! Research suggests red beets can support cardiovascular health.
Juiced, fermented, baked, or in supplement form, beets are more than just a pretty-colored root.
Lifestyle factors to avoid
Your diet isn’t the only thing that can increase your likelihood of clogged arteries. Several habits and environmental factors can increase the risk of atherosclerosis, including:
- excessive alcohol use
- too little exercise
- poor sleep quality
- environmental stressors
- psychosocial stress
Oats and oats alone contain polyphenols called avenanthramides (try saying that with a mouthful of porridge… or just call ’em AVNs).
AVNs have an important anti-inflammatory effect that disrupts plaque formation. AVNs also have vasodilation effects, meaning they help blood vessels expand, giving the blood more room to flow.
You know those elastic-waist sweatpants you’ve loved for years? Oats can give your blood vessels that same cozy feeling.
Nuts and seeds
Research suggests that oxidative stress can make clogged arteries worse. Eating foods with a whole bunch of dietary antioxidants may reduce oxidative stress — and nuts fall squarely in this category. These antioxidants can put a pin in plaque development.
It’s worth switching from a less healthy snack to nuts, because they provide:
- vitamin E
- unsaturated fatty acids
- plant sterols
- phenolic compounds
Strong to the finish if you eats your spinach. Studies back Popeye’s endorsement of this leafy green.
Leafy vegetables like spinach, lettuce, and chard can give your heart health a boost that could make Olive Oyl swoon.
Look at that — another accidental Popeye reference.
No Mediterranean kitchen is complete without a bottle of olive oil. This healthy fat also makes appearances in many an article about cardiovascular disease prevention.
Studies suggest that including extra-virgin olive oil in your diet can reduce inflammation and other complications of clogged arteries. Researchers attribute this to — you guessed it — high polyphenol content.
Cocoa and dark chocolate
If you’re loco for cocoa, you’ll be glad to hear it’s a plentiful source of plant compounds.
Cocoa polyphenols cause your body to release nitric oxide, a naturally occurring compound that has a vital role in relaxing blood vessels to improve circulation.
Kimchi is a side dish of fermented vegetables common in Korean cuisine. According to a 2018 review, it has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and lipid-lowering properties.
The British are famous for touting the benefits of a cup o’ cha (and for pilfering it from other countries, but that’s for another article).
Green, black, and (if you feel fancy) hibiscus teas have all scored points in the lab for their artery-cleansing (and palate-cleansing) properties.
The active compounds in the green and black varieties are called catechins. The ones in hibiscus are called anthocyanins. Both have mucho benefits for your blood vessels.
Pop the kettle on, love.
Health risks of clogged arteries
What do clogged arteries mean for your bod? Well, they increase your risk of several health issues:
- Aneurysm. This is a bulge in a blood vessel that can burst, causing a medical emergency.
- Angina. This refers to short periods of tight, dull, or heavy chest pain that occur due to coronary heart disease. Angina may signal an imminent heart attack — don’t ignore it.
- Coronary heart disease. This can develop when your arteries don’t deliver enough oxygen to your heart.
- Heart attack. ’Nuff said.
- Peripheral arterial disease. This is a blockage in the blood supply to your legs that causes leg pain when you walk.
- Stroke. A stroke can occur if blocked blood vessels stop oxygen from reaching your brain.
- Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs). These are temporary symptoms of a stroke, sometimes called mini-strokes.
Diet isn’t a cure-all, and these conditions depend on a lot of other factors and habits. But certain food choices can help reduce your risk of these health issues.
Some foods are a nom-nom no-no for artery health.
Red and processed meats
Some say the route to the heart is through the stomach. And the route to heart health may well be, according to many research studies in a 2020 review.
Red meat consumption has links to gut health, which can be linked to heart health and arterial plaque — in a bad way.
The gut is its own ecosystem, using nutrients and producing by-products on a microscopic level. When you eat and digest red meat, bacteria living in your gut use it as fuel too.
Compounds specific to red meat cause your gut bacteria to produce certain by-products that studies have linked to atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular issues.
The USDA defines a processed food as one that has had any changes to its natural state.
- adding preservatives, flavors, and other food additives
Consider how much the processing has changed the nutritional value of the food. It’s a good idea to choose less-processed options when possible.
Ultraprocessed foods — those in which the food substance is very different from the raw ingredients — have much higher levels of compounds frequently linked to heart disease.
Research suggests that diets high in ultraprocessed food may double your risk of clogged arteries. *Rustling ensues as a bag of Cheetos slowly edges back into the bushes…*
Refined or “simple” carbohydrates are either naturally low in dietary fiber and nutrients or have lost beneficial nutrients and fiber during processing.
A report from 2020 says that eating less refined carbs makes a big difference for clear arteries.
Having too much blood sugar whizzing through your blood vessels can make the artery walls weaker, more leaky, and more at risk of plaque buildup. Swapping refined carbs for foods with more fiber will not only help your heart and your gut but also keep you feeling full longer! (And they’re delicious.)
Research suggests that high alcohol consumption and binge drinking are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
To keep this risk in check, the CDC recommends that men limit their alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day and women stick to one drink or less per day.
The Mediterranean Diet and artery health
A 2019 study in people with higher risks of heart problems found that those following a Mediterranean diet were less likely to experience serious heart problems than people following a reduced-fat diet.
The tradizionale Mediterranean diet:
- includes lots of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and cereals
- includes moderate amounts of fish and poultry
- is low in dairy, red meat, processed meats, and sugars
Short on ideas? No problemo! Here are 22 ways to get a taste of the Mediterranean diet.
Apple flax breakfast squares
Set your day up for heart health with these high fiber treats packed with cinnamon, nuts, and oodles of flaxseed.
Blueberry and cacao smoothie
Blast the morning blues away with this berry delicious drink.
Put some bounce in your lunch box.
Healthy broccoli slaw fish tacos
Containing four of the foods that may help clear your arteries, these are also quick to make.
Seared fish with zucchini farro and tomato tapenade
Squisito! This speedy Mediterranean meal will give you time to practice your Italian.
We couldn’t recommend kimchi for heart health and then leave you hanging without a great recipe.
Medical treatment for clogged arteries
If you’re showing symptoms of complications, you might need treatment for blocked arteries.
Medications often prescribed to treat blocked arteries include:
- angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
- anticoagulant or antiplatelet medicines such as aspirin
- calcium channel blockers
- cholesterol-modifying medications such as statins and fibrates
In some cases, surgical procedures such as these may be required:
- angioplasty and stent placement
- coronary artery bypass surgery
- thrombolytic therapy
Thirty million adults in the United States received a diagnosis of heart disease in 2018. In 2020, heart disease was the number-one cause of death worldwide.
Making simple changes to what you eat could help you avoid this common health issue. With so many foods to choose from that may promote clearer arteries, there are great options for every appetite.
If you can reduce your risk of heart disease by eating some beans or drinking some gosh-darned cocoa, why not give it a try?