It is the beginning of a new year and gyms are once again packed with enthusiasm. Space is becoming limited in and yoga and barre studios. The sales of books preaching paleo, vegan and ketogenic eating diets spike and you find yourself trying to figure out which direction to take your fitness and health goals.

 

While every nutrition program may come with its benefits, most people rarely take a moment to evaluate the effects that diet may have on our legs and feet. A Western diet, with which most of us are familiar, is rich in carbohydrates such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. In order to maintain a steady blood glucose level for healthy function, the pancreas works restlessly to pump out insulin, which is critical in shuttling the glucose out of the blood and either to our muscles and brain to be utilized or to be converted into energy reserves as glycogen or fat. A high carbohydrate diet is essentially a high glucose diet at the metabolic level and has your body—more specifically your pancreas—working very hard to keep the balance. The pancreas, like any other organ, is at risk to wear out if overworked. Another serious consequence of constantly elevated glucose and insulin levels is resistance to insulin, which occurs as the insulin sensitivity in the muscles decreases. We see a steady rise in diabetes as a direct consequence of the Western diet with devastating effects on the neurovascular system leading to thinning brittle skin, peripheral vascular disease and neuropathy.

 

Choosing a diet high in protein and increasing intake of meat and fish may help with controlling insulin spikes, blood glucose and appetite. However, the high protein diet may not be best for everyone due to the increase in uric acid level that would be added to the diet. Most animal derived protein has high levels of uric acid and people with decreased ability to excrete the acid or people who are natural overproducers of uric acid may develop a painful condition of Gouty Arthritis, better known as “Gout”. The common symptom of a Gout attack is a red, hot and swollen joint. The condition is commonly isolated to one joint at a time as the uric acid condenses into crystals, which leads to pain and joint erosion. In the foot, it is commonly the first metatarsophalangeal joint proximal to the great toe.

 

Some people may consider adopting a vegan or a vegetarian diet for ethical, environmental or the health benefits. It is important to keep in mind that Vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid are essential for healthy functioning blood cell and myelination, the covering of nerve cells. A strict vegetarian diet would promote a B12 deficiency as animal based foods such as red meat, dairy products, fish, poultry and eggs are the only recognized source of dietary B12. Without proper oral or injectable supplementation, eliminating animal derived food products may put one at risk for anemia and serious nerve damage leading to neuropathy. One of the first symptoms of neuropathy is the tingling and numb sensation of the feet.

 

Most Americans cite lack of time as the reason to have neglected making healthier choices. The savvy entrepreneurs noticed a need and there are now many options for delivery companies that will help you with your dinner plans. Walking down the aisle of your local grocery store frozen foods section, you notice that there is no lack of options for convenience foods. The controversial topic of preservatives aside, we need to be cautious of the sodium in conveniently packaged foods. While prepackaged meals advertised as healthy can help us with controlling the calorie intake, the increase in sodium may contribute to swelling and aches of the legs and feet that some people feel at the end of a long day.

 

It is possible that the change in your diet is the reason for an inflamed joint, swelling of the legs and feet or the tingling sensation of your toes, but taking your health to online research is never enough. It is essential that you speak with your medical and foot care provider about these symptoms. Your provider will help with narrowing down the differential diagnoses for the symptoms of the neuropathy and you may need follow-up testing or imaging for appropriate treatment. Of course, it is recommended to consult your provider before making significant changes to your diet and/or level of physical activity.