What to Eat for Happy Feet
By Leah Kleinschrodt, MS, RD, LD
June 22, 2021
It’s officially summer in the northern hemisphere, which means most of us have tucked the wool socks away and have exchanged the winter boots for strappy sandals, golf shoes, or flip flops. As we see more bare feet and summer activities (running, hiking, swimming, kayaking, gardening!), we want to share with you some nutrition tips for foot health (that just so happen to be in season all year round!).
Each foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments. There’s a lot going on in a small amount of space! When we stand and move, our whole body rests on those feet. Have you ever thought of how many places your feet have carried you? As you may have heard us say before, food first when it comes to nourishing those feet and legs!
Focus On Foods First For Foot Health
Eat balanced meals of real food frequently throughout the day to strengthen, support and prevent injury.
- Quality protein: collagen is the primary protein that makes up a lot of the soft tissues and connective tissues in our body. It can be found in high-quality animal protein products, like homemade bone broth, pork rinds, and chicken, especially with the bone-in and skin on. Eating protein at least three times a day will prevent injury and help you heal faster.
- Good fats: especially important for those nerves in our extremities, eat traditional fats like quality olive oil, grass fed butter, coconut oil, ghee, bacon fat, and avocado oil. Nerves have a sheath or covering around them that is primarily made of fat, so scraping the bad fats (soybean oil, corn oil, vegetable oils, fake butter spreads) for the good stuff will help step up your foot health.
- Vegetable and fruit carbohydrates: not only will these give you the burst of energy you need for your activity, but they provide essential nutrients and vitamins to helpall the tissues in your feet. For example, we need vitamin C to keep our tendons and ligaments healthy, flexible, and pliable. One cup of broccoli has 80mg of vitamin C while a cup of red bell pepper is over 100 mg! Eat the rainbow for supple foot health.
- Water: okay, not something you actually EAT, but keeping those ligaments and muscles hydrated with plenty of good, filtered water, especially in the summer heat, is key to keeping limber and eliminating cramping.
Kick These Out Of Your Diet To Eliminate Foot Pain
What's at the end of your fork could directly be impacting your foot pain, for better or for worse. It comes back to inflammation and blood sugar being huge culprits for soreness, swelling, nerve damage, tenderness, and pain. For many, inflammation in the body manifests as foot pain and, to reduce inflammation, you have to help your body stop producing it. Try to cut out these things for better blood sugar control and less inflammation:
- Sugar: no surprise here, as the sugar you eat in the obvious sources, like candy, cookies, ice cream, and donuts changes blood sugar pretty quickly. Remember, you can also “drink” your sugar too: that Gatorade you’ve been drinking to replenish your electrolytes can be causing stress to your body and your feet. Swap it out for water instead.
- Processed carbs: this section could also be called “sugar” because all processed carbohydrates turn to sugar in the body and spike blood sugars. Processed carbs are bread, crackers, pasta, pretzels, chips. High blood sugars lead to high insulin levels which cause blood vessel constriction. Narrow blood vessels will not allow blood to flow well to injured body parts and inflammation will continue to happen in the body.
- Refined oils: like we said above when we recommended good fats, those refined, damaged oils are no good for your nerves.We want nourishing fats that protect and moisturize tissues and nerves, not manmade oils that create a stressful response in the body, like from cottonseed oil or canola oil.
Step It Up With Supplements For Support
Sometimes our bodies need some extra help beyond food, so here are some ways you can supplement as a prevention plan or for when you have Charlie horse cramps, restless legs, neuropathy, a long marathon day of standing on your feet, or actually running a marathon!:
- Repair nerves and decrease inflammation with essential fatty acids. Supplementing with GLA, or gamma-linoleic acid, can kick start the repair process in not only the feet and toes, but also the fingers. Omega-3 fish oils can help the blood flow to your extremities and reduce inflammation that can cause pain in the body.
- Protect your ligaments and tendons with vitamin A and a collagen powder. A great source for vitamin A is liver, but if you’re not a fan of eating liver (not many of us are!) a cod liver oil is a great active source of vitamin A. Key Collagen in your tea, coffee, or smoothie is a great connective-tissue booster to supplement with the protein you’re eating at meals.
- For lots of activity, exercise, and on-your-feet jobs make sure you’re on a muli-mineral. Remember all those bones and joints and ligaments we said were in the feet? A good multi-vitamin will have all those B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin E, calcium, zinc, and magnesium to keep all those structures happy and strong.
- Foot cramps, restless legs, tight muscles? The magical mineral magnesium is your friend! Magnesium helps muscles relax and often muscle cramping or twitching can be a signal from your body that it’s deficient in this mineral. Leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds are all great sources and magnesium glycinate is a highly absorbable form if we aren’t getting enough from our diet.
For more information on foot health, check out these resources:
- Listen: My Aching Feet (Plantar Fasciitis & Neuropathy) podcast
- Learn: Eating to Reduce Pain & Inflammation online class
- Read: Avoiding Diabetic Neuropathy with Real Food article
- Try: How to Make Bone Broth a Step by Step Instructional Video