How Eating Well Keeps Your Feet Healthy

We all know that eating well is good for us. Consuming more leafy greens, colorful fruits and vegetables, salmon and sardines, beans, legumes, and whole grains improves our health and well-being. So does eating lean protein, good fats, and limiting sugar.

But what does that have to do with our feet? A lot, it turns out. Eating nutrient dense foods can help protect our feet from one of the most serious complications of diabetes — foot ulcers.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight Matters

Why, you ask? Good nutrition helps you lose and keep off excess pounds. And that helps prevent nerve damage, blood sugar fluctuations, obesity, and high blood pressure — all of which put you at greater risk for foot ulcers and impairs your body’s ability to heal itself.

The Role of Nerve Damage in Diabetic Foot Ulcers

Prolonged high blood sugar can cause nerve damage (neuropathy). Carefully monitor your blood sugar keeping it as close to normal as possible. Keeping it at a safe level protects the nerves throughout your body including your feet.

Nerve damage is a major cause of diabetic foot ulcers. It often occurs when your blood sugar is not controlled, you have high blood fats, high blood pressure (hypertension), and are overweight. It can start as tingling and progress to pain. Then you can lose feeling. Blisters and sores can go unnoticed if your foot is numb.

Reduce Your Risk Factors

Smoking, excess alcohol, high blood pressure, and poor circulation in your legs and feet (peripheral arterial disease) also increase your risk for diabetic foot ulcers.

If you smoke, quit. It’s the only solution if you want to protect your feet. Here’s why. Smoking depletes the body of essential nutrients: vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help prevent disease.

What’s more, smoking narrows small blood vessels and hardens them. That means your feet do not get enough blood and nourishment they need, so they are less able to fight infection and heal.

Many people with diabetes who require foot amputation are smokers.

Limit alcohol consumption. Excess alcohol damages your nerves and blood vessels — two major risk factors for foot ulcers — and greatly increases the likelihood that you will get an infection.

If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), work with your doctor to lower it. High blood pressure damages your blood vessels. They thicken, stiffen, and build up fat reducing blood flow and healing nutrients to your feet. Eating less animal protein and eating more plant-based, nutrient rich meals helps reduce blood pressure.

If you have poor circulation in your legs (peripheral arterial disease or PAD), the large vessels in your legs are partially blocked limiting blood flow to your feet. Eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and exercising can help treat poor circulation.

The Bottom Line

Eating a nutrient rich diet can save your feet — and your life. Half of all people with diabetes who require foot amputation are dead within two years of losing their feet.

Luckily, you can train your brain and your taste buds to adopt a nutritious diet.

Need help inventing nutrient dense menus that you will enjoy? Talk with a registered dietician to create delicious, nutritious meal plans that match your tastes and lifestyle.

Your feet will thank you.


What are diabetic foot ulcers?
Often people ask me, “What are diabetic foot ulcers and why are they so harmful?” So I am here to help you understand what they are, why they occur, and why they can be dangerous.

What is a diabetic foot ulcer?
A diabetic foot ulcer is an open sore on your foot that fails to heal. They often occur on the bottom of your feet but can occur anywhere skin or tissue breaks down or is cut open.

Why do diabetic foot ulcers occur?
Normally, if you injure your foot, you feel pain that alerts you to the injury. You then take steps to treat it: clean the wound, apply a bandage and perhaps ointment, and replace poor fitting shoes if that is the underlying problem. Your body continues the healing process and your foot heals well.

But when you have diabetes, your natural healing process and pain reflexes can be disrupted. If you develop poor circulation in your legs and feet (peripheral arterial disease or PAD), have high blood sugar, or both, healing slows down.

If you have nerve damage (peripheral neuropathy), your feet may feel numb. Or you may have no feeling at all. In either case, the injury may be painless. When that happens, blisters, cuts, and sores can go unnoticed. That’s when serious problems can begin.

Why are diabetic foot ulcers so harmful to me?
Diabetic foot ulcers can be downright dangerous. They are the leading cause of amputation and hospitalization when you have diabetes.

If infection spreads throughout your body, or severe ligament, muscle, and bone damage occurs, amputation may be necessary. In less severe cases, you may need surgery to remove tissue that has died.

In the best circumstances, it takes weeks to several months for a diabetic foot ulcer to heal.

Having diabetes puts you a much greater risk for a foot ulcer. Once you have had one, you are more likely to develop another.

What can I do to prevent them?
Although preventing a diabetic foot ulcer is not always possible, you can take steps to reduce your risk.

Here are my 6 basic rules to help prevent diabetic foot ulcers:

  1. Keep your blood sugar at your target level throughout the day.
  2. Practice daily foot care. Wash, thoroughly dry, moisturize (except between toes), and carefully inspect your feet every day. Use a mirror or helper if needed.
  3. Eat a healthy diet as advised by your doctor and dietician.
  4. Keep your toenails trimmed, cutting straight across.
  5. Have a podiatrist remove corns and calluses.
  6. Always wear well-fitting shoes and clean, dry socks indoors and out.

Most important, talk to your doctor right away if you have any foot sore or foot problem that does not heal promptly. Report any breaks in your skin and any changes in the feeling, shape, or color of your feet.

Early treatment is key to preventing infections and serious complications.