Dealing with neuropathy is not a pleasant experience but there are foods that you should avoid if you have neuropathy. Though maybe you are not as familiar with neuropathy as others but have heard the term before. About 50% of people with diabetes will develop neuropathy. If you have ever numbness, tingling in your hands and feet then you probably have experienced this condition.
Talking to your doctor about whether you have neuropathy is important. If you do, then there are ways to treat neuropathy with medication and lifestyle changes. This article will not focus on medications you can take but rather on foods to avoid. If you want to learn more about foods to help neuropathy click here to check out our blog post on this topic.
To simplify things, manage your blood sugars, eat healthy and exercise to improve neuropathy. Easier said than done. Though to begin to help with neuropathy, we will explore foods that will worsen neuropathy and should be avoided. Read on to learn more.
What is Neuropathy?
Simply put neuropathy is damage to the nerves. Nerve damage can be caused by many different events. High blood sugar is usually the cause in a person with diabetes.
What Causes Neuropathy?
High blood sugars over a long period of time decreased the effectiveness of the function of nerves. When nerves are not functioning properly then it can lead to the numbness and tingling sensation in our hands and feet.
Other risk factors that can help contribute to neuropathy is excess weight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being over 40 (1).
Why is Neuropathy Damaging to our Health?
Neuropathy is damaging to our health because the nerves are unable to work properly. In our body, nerves are responsible for sending messages throughout the body. It also increases the risk of getting a foot infection as well increasing the difficulty in the healing process.
To reduce or avoid these symptoms then read on about the foods to avoid with neuropathy.
Foods to Avoid with Neuropathy
This one may seem like a no brainer but alcohol really does have very negative side effects. It depletes certain vitamins and minerals that we need. Some of them are necessary for the nerves to work properly in sending messages throughout the body (2).
If you have no idea what saturated fat is then don’t worry, I’ll explain. Saturated fat is fat that is solid at room temperature. It can harden up in our arteries and veins causing clots. This makes it unhealthy to eat. For diabetics with neuropathy, saturated fats slows down the speed at which the nerves are able to send their messages.
Most saturated fats are in animal based products. The main plant based food high in saturated fat is coconut products such as coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut butter and coconut flakes. Therefore, consume these products sparingly.
Another potential substance that can worsen nerve pain is gluten. Though it is unclear where neuropathy makes someone more susceptible to having issues with gluten or if people with gluten issues are more likely to develop neuropathy. Regardless, gluten causes inflammation of the nerves which causes pain.
A gluten free diet helps decrease nerve pain and should be followed by anyone who has neuropathy and also has celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. If you only suffer from neuropathy then it is unclear whether a gluten free diet will help but you can always go gluten free for 1 month to see if there is any improvement.
Foods such as cane sugar, raw sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey and coconut sugar need to be limited. These added sugars break down into simple sugar molecules that enter into the bloodstream and raise the blood sugar very quickly.
Elevated high blood sugar over a long period of time prevents the nerves from working properly and can cause damage to them. It is important to keep blood sugars at 180ml/dL or less.
Whole grains vs refined grains, what’s the difference? Refined grains are stripped of their fiber and nutrients and are often found in baked goods, white bread and white pasta. Whole grains have their fiber and minerals intact and are found in oats, 100% whole wheat bread, and popcorn.
Refined grains break down into simple sugar molecules and can cause the blood sugar to rise rapidly. This is another food to limit as elevated blood sugars can damage nerves over a long period of time.
Salt makes the blood vessels tighten which in turn can cause pain in the nerves. This is no fun at all especially since salt is usually found in almost everything. However, most packaged products such as frozen foods, sauces, condiments, and breads can contain a high amount of salt.
It is best to limit salt to no more than 2000mg in a day. For a packaged meal aim for it to have no more than 500mg of salt or sodium per serving.
What to Eat Instead?
Anti inflammatory diet
A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and legumes is beneficial for our health in fighting neuropathy. It decreases inflammation in our bodies and helps our body heal from nerve damage. For more information on this check out our precious blog foods that heal nerve damage.
Food Myths Regarding Neuropathy
Can chocolate heal neuropathy?
No, it cannot. The research is limited on the anti-inflammatory effects of chocolate on neuropathy (3).
Brown rice contains trace amounts of arsenic due to the way it is grown. Some people avoid it due its arsenic content. However, brown rice also has fiber and minerals that are important to the body. The amount of arsenic that is in brown rice is not likely to have any effect on worsening neuropathy. If you notice that brown rice makes your blood sugar go too high over 180mg/dL then you can consider limiting it if it is a food you enjoy eating.
An overdose of B6 can worsen nerve pain. However, it is a water soluble vitamin so it will be excreted if you have too much in your system. If you have a medical condition such as kidney disease that reduces your ability to get rid of excess vitamins then you need to be careful.
Though it is unlikely that you will eat too much B6 in foods. Instead, pay attention to energy drinks, immune boosting powders and multivitamins. Those are more likely to have an excessive amount of B6.
Think spicy foods worsen nerve pain, then think again. The research in this area is limited. No need to give up on spicy foods unless you do notice an improvement in nerve pain when you eat less spicy food.
Consequences of Neuropathy
Most people with neuropathy will experience some type symptoms such as pain or numbness in their hands or feet. This makes it difficult to perform normal daily tasks such as brushing teeth, combing the hair, eating or getting dressed. It can also be harder to function with constant pain.
When numbness in the feet occurs it is easier for a person with diabetes to get a foot infection. If these infections are not treated right away then it can worsen and the skin can start to die. Skin death is called gangrene. If this occurs and the damage is extensive then the doctor may recommend an amputation.
It is important to take care of your feet. It is hard to feel when we step on something sharp. Therefore, wear shoes as often as possible, have someone check your feet daily for any injuries and manage your blood sugars.
There are many consequences to neuropathy and different types of food that can worsen neuropathy pain. A standard American diet full of sweets, refined grains and processed foods is not good for neuropathy. These foods should be limited as much as possible.
It can be difficult to make a change but I recommended you incorporate beneficial foods that can help with neuropathy pain. Small changes make a big difference in the long run. Mange your blood sugars under 180ml/dL after meals to reduce neuropathy issues.
Neuropathy is a serious health condition. Treat it seriously, talk to your doctor, eat more fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, manage your blood sugar and exercise. Take care of your feet to reduce the risk of serious foot infections including amputations.
Take a moment to breathe and decide how you are going to take care of your neuropathy and discuss it with someone you care about. You can do this!