The entire human body is interconnected in ways we don’t often consider. Some connections are easily established, such as how nutrition can relate to heart health or weight management. Not as much thought is given, however, to the way your dietary choices affect foot health.
Today, let’s take a moment to explore the relationship between food choices and foot health. Knowing more about this will help you eat a healthy diet that will keep your feet feeling and functioning their very best.
Before we go any further, though, we need to clear up a common source of confusion. When we say “eat a healthy diet,” we are not talking about “going on a diet.” When people go on diets, they are making temporary changes and often follow fads that might not be safe. Instead of dieting, you want to make smart choices with the foods you eat on a regular basis (which is your diet). Hopefully this makes sense.
Your feet support your entire body and allow you to move, all while facing significant force loads. In order to endure those forces, your feet are intricately structured. In your lower limbs, you will find over one-quarter of all the bones in your body, along with over 200 muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The bones and respective soft tissues combine to form over 66 different joints between the two feet (and ankles).
All of those tissues are impacted by your dietary choices. There are several ways a proper diet will help you have optimal foot health, including:
- Lower bodyweight. When you walk, you place up to two times your bodyweight in force on your feet. When you run, those forces can be up to four times your weight! A sensible diet will keep your weight down, which equals less stress for your feet.
- Strong bones. As we just noted, feet face a lot of physical force and stress. To lower your stress fracture risk, you should strive for strong, healthy bones. This means eating foods high in calcium and vitamin D.
- Healthy circulation. Feet are the farthest points on the body from the heart, so keep the pathways for oxygenated blood clear by eating whole grains and vegetables to lower your cholesterol levels.
- Healthy nerves. Damaged nerves can lead to various foot issues, but you can strengthen your nerves by consuming foods rich in all B vitamins, vitamins E and C, calcium, and magnesium.
- Disease prevention and management. This can apply to other medical issues, but gout and diabetes are two conditions that can really affect your lower limbs. Gout causes periodic bouts of intense pain and diabetes causes serious complications (diabetic foot ulcers, Charcot foot). Dietary habits are essential for preventing and managing both of these diseases.
Looking a little closer into dietary choices for those who have gout, you should know that flare-ups are triggered when uric acid—a product the body makes when it digests purines—in the bloodstream exceeds a certain threshold. With this in mind, those who have gout should limit or avoid foods and drinks containing purines.
Some common purine-rich foods include meat (especially red meat and organ meat), poultry, seafood, alcohol (especially beer), high fructose corn syrup (common in soft drinks, juices, and processed sweets), and refined carbohydrates. Although fruits and veggies are usually a good option, a few do have elevated purine levels and should be eaten more cautiously—these include asparagus, spinach, and cauliflower.
With regards to diabetes, a key part of regulating your blood sugar levels is making sure you practice appropriate eating (and drinking) habits, which includes:
- Eating the right foods. Base your normal diet on foods that are both rich in healthy (complex) carbohydrates and fiber. This will help your body with both digesting your food and regulating blood sugar levels. To do so, make sure your meal plans include fresh vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans, etc.), nuts, and low-dairy products. Further, it is important to be mindful of the portions you consume. (Really, this is all great eating habits for all individuals – diabetic or not!)
- Avoiding—or, at the very least, limiting—sugar in your diet. Eating complex carbs and high-fiber food is a great start, but you also need to avoid simple carbs (including sugars). Remember, sugar actually comes in a variety of forms (fructose, glucose, sucrose, etc.). Additionally, take a pass on refined (“white”) flour (since it will spike your blood sugar).
- Avoiding soft drinks. Along with foods that contain copious amounts of sugar, take a pass on soft drinks and high-sugar fruit juices. Basically, when deciding which kinds of beverages to order at the restaurant or buy at the store, choose options like unsweetened tea or coffee, and make water your beverage of choice. Something you may want to consider (if you drink coffee) is to add cinnamon to black coffee. This helps to regulate your blood sugar, and is also surprisingly delicious.
Since the year is still young, it’s possible you’ve already made a commitment to better dietary practices. If you haven’t, there’s no need to worry about “missing your chance to make a resolution” – you can resolve to improve any area of your life at any time!
Eating well is a good start when it comes to your foot health, but don’t forget the importance of getting early treatment when issues arise. We offer many foot care services, so contact our Berkeley office by calling (510) 647-3744 for additional information or to schedule an appointment.