By Elizabeth Shimer BowersMedically Reviewed by Michael Cutler, DO, PhD
Reviewed: September 20, 2019
Blood clots often form in the deep veins of the lower legs and can cause pain and swelling in the area.
Because we all have blood pumping through our veins, we’re all at some risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a condition in which a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside the body, typically in the lower leg or thigh.
The bad news: DVT can lead to serious illness, disability, or, in severe cases, death, if part of the clot breaks off, travels to your lungs, and blocks blood flow, causing a pulmonary embolism.
The good news: DVT is both preventable and treatable. One simple step you can take right now to lower your risk is changing your diet. “Some foods do increase the risk for blood clots,” says Steven Masley, MD, author of The 30-Day Heart Tune-Up. On the flip side, he says, adding certain foods to your diet can help prevent DVT and decrease your risk for blood clots.
To help keep DVT at bay:
Drink Up to Keep Blood Flowing Smoothly
Dehydration can cause your blood to thicken, increasing your risk for a blood clot. To stay well-hydrated, women should consume an average of 91 ounces (oz) of water from all beverages and food daily, and men an average of 125 oz, according to the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine guidelines.
One way to gauge if you’re on track is to check your urine. If it is a pale yellow color or clear, you are probably drinking enough, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If it’s amber-colored or darker, you’re probably not and should increase your daily water intake.
Sip Grape Juice or Red Wine to Make Platelets Less Sticky
Drinking moderate amounts of red wine or purple grape juice daily helps keep blood platelets from sticking together and forming clots, thanks to powerful antioxidants called polyphenols in purple grapes, suggested a review of previous studies, published in The Journal of Nutrition.
Flavor Food With Garlic to Stop Trouble Before It Starts
Garlic is thought to have many health benefits, including possibly breaking up potentially harmful clusters of platelets in the bloodstream, according to research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The best way to reap that benefit from garlic, the research shows, is to crush the raw cloves to release their beneficial compounds, then eat them raw, oven-roasted, or boiled for three minutes or less.
It’s important to talk to your doctor about how much garlic you should eat if you are taking a blood thinner already, as garlic could interfere with the medication’s effectiveness.
Avoid Unhealthy Fats to Avoid Slowing Circulation
The same foods that in excess can cause plaque buildup in blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease, can also increase the risk of developing DVT, Dr. Masley notes. That means you want to stay away completely from unhealthy trans fats and cut way back on the saturated fats in full-fat dairy and fatty cuts of red meat, as well as sugar and salt, according to the American Heart Association. “These are all foods that increase inflammation,” Masley explains.
At first glance, these culprits may not be obvious in packaged foods, so study ingredient labels. Sugar, for example, comes in many forms — honey, molasses, corn syrup, brown rice syrup — and you want to limit your intake of all of them, Harvard Health says. Sugar can be listed under other aliases, too — lactose, fructose, barley malt, malt powder, ethyl maltol, and fruit juice concentrate, to name just a few. Trans fats may be hidden in the ingredient label as partially hydrogenated oil and hydrogenated oil. Also check nutrition facts labels and choose the option with the least amount of sugar, sodium, and saturated and trans fat per serving.
Use Virgin Olive Oil to Cut Your Blood Clot Risk
Consuming olive oil at least once a week reduced platelet activity in nonsmoking obese adults (those with a body mass index, or BMI over 30), a sign that consuming olive oil may lower the risk of a blood clot, according to a National Institutes of Health–funded study presented March 7, 2019, at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions.
Similarly, an earlier study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that antioxidants called phenols in virgin olive oil helped prevent blood clots. In the study, people who consumed virgin olive oil with a high phenol content had lower levels of a substance that promotes blood clots. They also had lower levels of a blood clot promoter. So a good DVT food choice would be to forgo butter and dip your bread in olive oil — the virgin kind — instead.
Make Leafy Greens a Routine
If you take warfarin, an anti-coagulant to prevent blood clots, fluctuating amounts of foods high in vitamin K, such as green, leafy vegetables, can interfere with your medication. “Too often, doctors tell patients to avoid all green leaf veggies,” Masley says. “Instead, eat leafy greens consistently every day.” Have a small salad every day rather than once in a while.
Limit Animal Fats in Your Diet
Finally, Masley says that the same foods that are bad for cardiovascular health in general can also increase your risk of developing blood clots. That means you want to stay away from unhealthy trans fats, from the saturated fats in full-fat dairy and fatty meats, and from all types of sugar. “These are all foods that increase inflammation,” he says. Read labels because many of the culprits may not be obvious ingredients in packaged foods.