You are what you eat, and your feet are no exception! From head to toe, the nutrients you take in fuel your body and either work for or against your overall health. While your feet may be the last thing you’re thinking about during a tasty meal, the bones, ligaments, joints, and muscles in your feet are directly affected, either positively or negatively, by the nutrients you consume.
What are some nutrients and foods that are beneficial to overall foot health?
First and foremost, the key to any healthy diet is choosing nutrient-dense foods like whole foods to stay within your daily caloric intake goal while still getting all the required nutrients. Nutrient-dense foods contain things like protein, vitamins, calcium, and antioxidants. These are some examples of nutrient-dense foods. (1)
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, etc. are all high in fiber and contain important antioxidants
- Raw Vegetables: broccoli, carrots, kale, etc. keep muscles strong and help to repair tissue
- Lean Meats/Tofu: protein helps to build and repair muscles
- Milk, Cheese, and Tuna: calcium and vitamin D are important in preserving bone health
- Eggs, Walnuts, and Olive Oil: omega-3s reduce inflammation within the joints
Are there any foods that can help to lower the risk of foot disease?
Plenty of unpleasant ailments manifest in our feet, causing pain, discomfort, and inconvenience. Luckily, there are certain foods you can consume that contain specific nutrients which promote foot health and can lower the risk of these diseases. (2)
- Tendinitis and Plantar Fasciitis: Two of the most common causes of foot pain are caused by inflammation. The symptoms can range from mild to intense pain and, in extreme cases, can leave you feeling limited in your mobility. Vitamin C is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory that is found in lots of different delicious foods! Oranges, bell peppers, and tomatoes are all great sources of vitamin C, along with many other foods.
- Osteoporosis: According to the CDC, osteoporosis affects 19.6% of U.S. adults over 50 years old. (3) This condition resulting in reduced bone density affects your entire body, but especially your feet which have 26 bones each! The absorption of calcium is helped through Vitamin D. You can meet your daily calcium requirements by adding dairy products and leafy greens to your diet -- think milk and cheese, spinach, and kale. Vitamin D also can be consumed through your diet and sunshine, but supplements are often helpful to ensure the recommended daily intake is met.
- Neuropathy: Caused by nerve damage, neuropathy can lead to burning, tingling, and/or numbness in your feet. Though this type of discomfort isn’t easily reversed, it can be prevented with the right diet regimen. You can avoid unnecessary damage by promoting nerve health by consuming B vitamins. Foods like sardines, eggs, legumes, and leafy greens can supply your body with the vitamin B necessary to keep your nerves healthy and your feet happy!
How can your feet suffer at the hands of your diet?
Undoubtedly, your diet affects everything from your skin to your energy levels. When things go awry, and the wrong choices are made, the suffering is felt in many areas of your body -- not just your gut. The feet that carry you also carry the burden of your dietary choices. Many informational campaigns for diseases linked to dietary choices do not overtly display the effects that are felt in the feet, but it is crucial to remember that whether discussed publically or not, foot health is impacted.
- Obesity: As of 2020, around 42% of American adults are obese, which continues to rise. (4) The unhealthy food choices that lead to obesity in many cases are often due to a lack of resources and a lack of access to nutrition education. This leads to eating too much and moving too little. There comes a point when the excess weight a person carries may limit their mobility due to the harmful extra pressure that it places on the tendons and ligaments in their feet and ankles. Over time, this can cause collapsing arches, flat feet, and severe pain, risking permanently compromised mobility.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes must be vigilant about the foods they are putting into their bodies. Often, type 2 diabetes is accompanied by obesity and many other health concerns. With almost half of diabetics experiencing some kind of nerve damage, the feet are an area of the body at high risk for poor circulation and nerve damage that could lead to necessary amputation in extreme cases. Controlling your diet by maintaining your blood sugar levels will reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and help to protect your feet from unnecessary and potentially irreversible damage.
What foods should you eliminate/limit in your diet in order to optimize your foot health?
In the same way that your diet can directly benefit your feet, it can also be harmful if you consume large quantities of certain foods. Some ingredients in particular foods are directly related to foot disease, making them choices to actively avoid when possible. Some of the most common foot diseases are caused by inflammation. Purine-rich foods can cause gout attacks and other forms of inflammation making it a good idea to avoid high-fat fried foods, alcohol, and a number of other dietary choices below.
- Refined Sugar: to avoid major health risks, try something like honey or natural sugar instead
- White Flour: while white flour is stripped of the most nutrient-rich parts of the wheat kernel (the bran and germ), whole wheat flour is a much healthier alternative
- Sodium: as an inflammatory, sodium can cause major problems when it comes to overall health, but especially foot health. Sodium intake should be monitored carefully as it can be easy to exceed daily recommendations
- Trans Fats: also linked to inflammation, it is important to limit your intake of trans fats
- Omega-6 Fats: unlike healthy omega-3s, omega-6s in large quantities can lead to water retention and harmful inflammation. It’s all about moderation!
Despite the distance from your mouth, your feet are directly affected by the things in your diet. As the foundation of your body, it’s important to value your foot health and not tiptoe around the topic of its correlation with your diet. A balanced diet is an expected practice for a healthy body. Don’t forget that your feet are an essential part of that healthy body!