Since advanced kidney failure can cause a buildup of waste products in the body and lead to a number of other health problems, including gout, bone disease, and heart disease, it’s good to protect the health of your kidneys, even if you have not been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. Your diet is one of the main ways to keep your kidneys healthy to prevent or manage a chronic kidney problem. Here’s what you need to know about diet to support kidney health.
How Diet Can Affect Kidney Health
The kidneys are filled with tiny blood vessels that help filter waste and excess water from your blood and remove it from your body. If you have a chronic condition, your kidneys can’t filter blood as well as they should, resulting in a buildup of waste products in your body. Diabetes and hypertension (high blood pressure) are the two main causes of kidney disease. High blood sugar levels in uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure can damage blood vessels in the kidneys, preventing them from doing their job properly
A healthy diet can help you prevent or manage conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, in part by helping you maintain a healthy weight. In turn, this promotes the health of your kidneys.
As part of a kidney-friendly diet, you may need to limit certain foods to avoid further kidney damage.
Diet tips for kidney health
A kidney-healthy diet should limit sodium, cholesterol, and fat, and focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and lean meats (seafood, poultry, eggs , legumes, nuts, seeds and soy products). People who have already been diagnosed with CKD may also need to limit certain other nutrients.
Here are some ways to change your diet to keep your kidneys healthy.
1. Portion your plate
As a general rule, fill your plate about half with vegetables and fruit, a quarter with lean protein, and a quarter with whole grains.
2. Limit your salt intake
Sodium sneaks into all kinds of places you wouldn’t expect, including packaged foods like soups and breads. Limiting your sodium intake helps control your blood pressure. Aim for 2,300 mg per day, which is about a teaspoon of table salt. If you are at risk for or already have high blood pressure, follow a low-sodium diet. Also try the following tips to limit your sodium intake:
Limit takeout orders and restaurant meals. Salt is often added to your foods, and items used in restaurant kitchens may contain added sodium.
Cook at home with whole, unprocessed foods. When you prepare meals at home with fresh ingredients, you control exactly how much sodium (and fat) goes into each bite.
Get creative with seasonings. Avoid salt in the kitchen or at the table. Instead, use spices, herbs, lemon and other sodium-free seasonings.
Check the packaging. Any prepared food that contains 20% or more of your daily value for sodium is considered high in sodium. Choose soups, frozen meals, and other packaged foods labeled “reduced in sodium” or “salt-free” whenever you can.
Rinse canned foods before consuming them. This eliminates excess sodium.
3. Watch out for protein
When you eat protein, your body produces waste products which are filtered by your kidneys. While protein is an important part of a healthy diet, eating more than you need can make your kidneys work harder. Although the effects of a high-protein diet on overall kidney health need further study, your doctor will likely recommend a lower-protein diet if you already have kidney weakness. Excess protein can cause waste products to build up in the blood, and your kidneys may not be able to eliminate them. It may help to opt for healthier sources of protein and watch your portions.
Good sources of protein are:
Lean meat, fish, or skinless poultry (one serving, about the size of a deck of cards).
Dairy products (one serving of yogurt and milk is half a cup, while one serving of cheese is about the size of your two thumbs combined)
Beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas (one serving is half a cup)
Nuts (one serving is half a cup).
4. Favor complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy, and those found naturally in fresh foods are loaded with fiber to support heart and gut health and keep your blood sugar stable. However, simple carbs, like added sugars in desserts, sugary drinks, and many packaged foods, can spike blood sugar levels and increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. As part of a healthy diet, you should limit sweets and foods with added sugars. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils are healthier carbohydrate choices. If you have diabetes and are on insulin, you may need to be even more careful with your carbohydrate intake.
5. Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats
Diets high in saturated fat and trans fat increase the risk of heart disease, and what’s bad for your heart is bad for your kidneys. Heart health and kidney health are linked because the heart constantly pumps blood throughout the body and the kidneys continually filter the blood to remove waste and excess fluid from the body. Limit saturated fat to less than 10% of total daily calories. The main sources are meats, full-fat dairy products, butter, coconut oil and palm oil. And try to avoid trans fats, which are found in baked goods and fried foods. Instead, fill up on the heart-healthy unsaturated fats found in fatty fish, avocados, olives, nuts, and many types of vegetable oils.
6. Watch your alcohol intake
Alcohol harms your kidneys in several ways. It’s a waste product that your kidneys have to filter out of your blood, and it makes your kidneys less efficient. It is dehydrating, which can affect the ability of the kidneys to regulate water levels in your body. It can affect liver function, which, in turn, can impact blood flow to the kidneys and eventually lead to a chronic problem. And high alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to kidney disease.
Men and women should drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. It’s always best to discuss your alcohol intake with your doctor, as some people shouldn’t drink alcohol at all.
7. Ask your doctor if you should limit your intake of phosphorus and potassium.
Phosphorus and potassium are minerals that your body needs for certain processes. Phosphorus helps build strong bones, while potassium helps regulate heart rate and keep muscles working properly.
8. Work with a dietitian
Changing your diet can be difficult. If you’re having trouble following a healthy diet, a dietitian can help you develop a meal plan that’s right for you. Managing your diet can seem overwhelming. A dietician can help you find foods that meet your specific dietary needs.
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