Making Healthy Diet Choices for Diabetic Feet
If you’re relatively healthy, your dietary choices are instrumental in helping you to maintain—and perhaps even improve—your health. If you have diabetes, though, those dietary choices are absolutely essential for reducing your risk of serious medical issues.
Even more than that, smart dietary habits may even be able to reverse dangerous conditions caused by diabetes!
For a couple of different reasons, diabetes is a particularly alarming disease. Before we jump into a look at the reasons it is so concerning for an individual, let’s take a quick look at a broader perspective – specifically, the prominence of the disease in our society.
At present, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there are over 29 million people in the United States who have diabetes. This number is disturbing in and of itself, but there’s more to the story!
Alarmingly, out of the 29 million who already have diabetes, the CDC reports that approximately one out of every four people with the disease are undiagnosed and do not actually know he or she has it. On top of that, there is a condition known as prediabetes—which is a situation wherein blood sugar levels are elevated, but not quite to the point of diabetes yet (basically, individuals who are on the cusp of the disease)—and over 86 million people fall into this category.
Clearly, this is a big issue in our society. But how does diabetes actually affect the human body, and why would a podiatrist be so interested in talking about this?
Diabetes is a condition that develops on account of excessive blood sugar levels in the bloodstream. This can happen either when enough insulin—a hormone that allows the body to properly absorb and use sugar (glucose)—is produced or the body is unable to use insulin effectively. For some individuals, both of these problems exist at the same time.
The excess glucose in the blood can cause problems for most of the body’s organs and nerves, thereby rendering essential systems ineffective (or at least reducing their normal capabilities).
To the second point—why a podiatrist would talk about this particular disease—there is a strong and dangerous connection between diabetes and foot health. You will see what we mean as we look further into this matter.
The systemic damage diabetes causes within the body contributes to heightened risk for issues like heart attacks, strokes, blindness, and kidney failure. Compared to these serious medical problems, foot health might not seem like a major concern – but it is dangerous to underestimate conditions like diabetic foot ulcers and Charcot foot!
Foot ulcers are essentially wounds that do not heal and continue to break down over time. This is caused by damage to the nervous, circulatory, and immune systems from the elevated sugar levels.
The problems often start with lack of sensation on account of diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage). If you are unable to feel a cut, scrape, ingrown toenail, etc., then you are unlikely to take measures that will aid in resolving the problem. Further, your body might not recognize the damage as well.
Since your circulatory system isn’t providing adequate blood flow and the immune system is unable to fight off infections, the risk for gangrene is particularly high. This is especially concerning because there is no cure for gangrene (tissue death) and the only way to prevent its spread is through amputation.
Charcot foot is a condition wherein feet become severely misshapen on account of repeated structural damage. More specifically, what happens is bones in the feet that are weakened—because they do not receive enough blood flow—break easily. Nerve damage leaves you unable to feel this is happening, so you continue normal activities – which contributes to additional damage.
The cycle continues until the foot is severely deformed. This is troubling enough on its own, but it can also raise your risk for foot ulcers.
Those are clearly some major reasons you need to have a diabetic foot care plan in place (and we can help you create one!). There are going to be a couple of pillars in your plan – including taking measures to manage the disease.
These are some obvious reasons to manage your diabetes and have a solid diabetic foot care plan in place. If you don’t already have one, we can help!
Medication and exercise play big roles in managing diabetes, but so too does adhering to a proper diet.
With regards to healthy diet choices, we are talking about:
- Eating the right foods. This is something that, when you get down to it, absolutely holds true even for individuals who aren’t diabetic. That doesn’t change the fact that your regular diet needs to be based on foods containing plenty of fiber and healthy (complex) carbohydrates.
So which foods need to be included in your diet? Well, a good starting point is to eat plenty of fresh veggies, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and low-fat dairy products (but be careful of any “low-fat” food wherein the manufacturer has replaced the fat with sugar!).
These kinds of foods assist your body with both digestion and blood sugar regulation. In addition, following a diet centered on healthy choices is helpful in making sure you aren’t eating high-sugar foods.
- Avoiding—or, at the very least, limiting—sugar in your diet. In the previous guideline, we noted that your diet should consist of plenty of healthy carbs. Simple carbohydrates are not the same thing. These ones include sugars and should be avoided (as much as possible).
It’s no big secret that regular candy options are particularly bad for you, but it’s important to also keep in mind that you should pass up baked goods made from refined (“white”) flour. During the processing of refined flours, parts of the wheat kernel that slow digestion are stripped away. The remaining product spikes blood sugar levels – which is definitely something you need to avoid.
- Avoiding soft drinks. On account of the mind-blowingly high sugar content found in beverages like soft drinks and certain juices, this guideline ties in quite well with the previous one. Your starting point in determining which beverages you should buy at the store, is to turn the containers over and read the nutritional labels. When you do, you can see how much sugar they contain per serving.
(The “per serving” part is especially important! Some unscrupulous companies try to make it seem as though their products have lower amounts of sugar by listing unreasonable serving sizes.)
There typically isn’t comprehensive nutritional information available at restaurants—although, some are getting better about at least indicating calories—so pass on the sweet beverages. Instead, stick to water, unsweetened tea, or order black coffee. If you want a little flavor in the coffee, ask to have some cinnamon in it. Not only does it taste surprisingly delicious, the cinnamon can help to regulate your blood sugar levels.
This is a good starting point for diabetes-smart eating, but even better is consultation with medical professionals. We can make further recommendations, give advice, and even recommend dieticians who specialize in dietary plans for diabetic individuals.
For assistance with creating a diabetic foot care plan or understanding how to recognize problems at their earliest, most treatable stages, contact Capital District Podiatry.
Call (518) 273-0053 or connect with us online today!