Nutrition for Kidney Health

A healthy kidney filters out waste products from the blood. When your kidneys are not working well, you may need to limit certain foods to prevent the build-up of waste products.

The nutritional management of patients with renal disease focuses on the intake of calories, protein sodium, potassium, phosphorus, and fluids. Here are some nutrition tips on how to maintain healthy kidneys:

1. Keep hydrated. Most people don’t drink enough water during the day, which may have the biggest negative impact on their kidneys. Being the high-volume filters that they are, the kidneys need adequate water to remove toxins, waste products and unwanted or unneeded compounds from the blood. As such, drinking plenty of water at regular intervals throughout the day will help your kidneys function properly and not get too congested or calcified. Aim for 8-12 glasses of water a day . Your urine should be fairly clear or straw-colored when you go to the bathroom. If it’s any darker than that, then it may be a sign you are dehydrated. Caffeinated beverages (coffee, black tea, soda pop) obviously contain water, but caffeine is diuretic and triggers frequent urination, so they are not great sources of hydration. Stick with filtered water and natural fruit/veggie juices.

2. Maintain healthy blood pressure. High blood pressure is damaging to blood vessels throughout the body, including the small arteries within the kidneys that are so important for its filtrating ability. As such, keep your blood pressure at a target set by your doctor, which is typically less than 120/80 mm Hg Blood pressure below this level can help delay or prevent kidney dysfunction and failure. Check your blood pressure regularly, either at your local pharmacy, health centers, or at home with some purchased equipment. Hypertension often has no obvious symptoms, so you need to keep an eye on your numbers. Eating a low-salt diet, reducing stress and maintaining a healthy weight, all help maintain normal blood pressure.

3. Get regular exercise. In addition to watching your calories, getting regular cardiovascular exercise is a great way to maintain your weight, which fosters kidney health. Obesity strains the heart and blood vessels, which leads to higher blood pressure and eventual kidney damage. Just 30 minutes of mild-to-moderate cardiovascular exercise on a daily basis is associated with better kidney health as it can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as trigger weight loss. Start by simply walking around your neighborhood, then transition to more challenging terrain with some hills. Treadmills and cycling are also great for cardiovascular exercise. Avoid vigorous exercise as a starting point, especially if you have been diagnosed with heart issues. Vigorous exercise (such as long-distance running) temporarily increases blood pressure, which strains the kidneys and heart. Thirty minutes of exercise five times a week is a good start, and an hour is even better.

4. Eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies. A healthy, low-salt diet is healthy for the kidneys because it keeps blood pressure in check. For the most part, fresh fruits and veggies are low in sodium, high in vitamins and minerals, and a good source of antioxidants, which are all beneficial for the cardiovascular system and the kidneys. Fruits and vegetables are also good sources of water, which the kidneys need to properly filtrate the blood. Fruits that have a little more sodium than average include tropical mammy apples, guavas and passion fruits. Canned and pickled vegetables are usually high in sodium and should be avoided or minimized in your diet. Fruits and vegetables, especially rich in antioxidants include all dark-colored berries, strawberries, apples, cherries, artichokes, kidney and pinto beans.

5. Consider taking helpful supplements. Eating a nutritious diet certainly reduces the risk of experiencing any nutritional deficiencies, but supplementing can be beneficial and make up for any gaps in your diet. Supplements that have demonstrated to be beneficial to kidney health in studies include vitamin D, potassium, coenzyme Q10 and omega-3 fatty acids. Clinical trials conducted on chronic kidney disease patients concluded that vitamin D supplements improved kidney and heart function. Remember that our skin can make vitamin D in response to intense summer sunshine. The sodium-potassium balance in the kidneys is crucial for proper function, so adding more potassium to your diet (via foods or supplements) helps to reduce the negative effects of high sodium levels. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation helps to decrease the prevalence of chronic kidney disease by reducing blood pressure and excess protein in the urine.

6. Cut back on drinking alcohol. It’s no secret that over-indulging in alcoholic beverages, which contain ethanol, a carcinogen, is strongly associated with numerous types of cancer and organ damage, including the kidneys. Ethanol damages the delicate internal structures of the kidneys, making them less able to filter your blood and balance fluids / electrolytes — frequently leading to high blood pressure. Binge drinking (about 4-5 drinks within a couple of hours) can raise blood alcohol levels to the point that the kidneys essentially shut down — a condition called acute kidney injury. Under these circumstances, either stop drinking alcohol entirely or limit your consumption to no more than 1 alcoholic beverage per day. The least harmful alcoholic beverage is considered to be red wine because it contains antioxidants, such as resveratrol, which can help prevent free radical damage of blood vessels and other tissues.

7. Don’t overdo it on medications. To some extent, all medications are toxic to organs such as the liver and kidneys (dosage is obviously an important factor too), but some are much more damaging than others. For example, common over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin are well known to cause kidney damage if they are taken regularly over a prolonged period of time. The byproducts of their breakdown within the body can easily damage the kidneys and liver. If your kidneys are otherwise healthy, then occasional use of these medicines for inflammation and pain control is probably fine but keep continuous use to less than 2 weeks and dosages under 800 mg daily. If you’re taking anti-inflammatories on a long-term basis for arthritis or other chronic conditions, ask your doctor about monitoring your kidney function via certain blood and urine tests.

8. Intake less salt. The typical diet of most people is relatively high in salt, which is composed of sodium and chloride. Too much sodium inhibits your kidneys from filtering and excreting water, which builds up in the body and increases blood pressure. High blood pressure (hypertension) creates turbulence within the kidney’s small blood vessels, which leads to damage and dysfunction. As such, avoid high-sodium foods and stop using the salt shaker during meals. You should consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day if your kidneys are healthy, and less than 1,500 mg if you have kidney dysfunction or high blood pressure. Avoid or limit consumption of foods high in sodium, such as processed meats, crackers, salted nuts and snacks, canned soups, pickled foods, frozen foods and most processed condiments and dressings. Consider adopting some form of DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet that’s based on low sodium foods, such as fresh fruits and veggies.

9. Monitor your protein consumption. Protein is obviously an essential macronutrient needed to build muscle tissue, skin, enzymes and many other compounds in the body. However, high-protein diets tend to be hard on the kidneys because they must work harder to filter all the protein and amino acids out of the bloodstream. Furthermore, high-protein diets may worsen kidney function in people with kidney disease because their bodies often have trouble eliminating the waste products of protein metabolism. The amount of dietary protein that’s healthy for you and your kidneys depends on your body size, muscle mass and activity levels. Men need more protein than women, and athletes need more protein than people who are sedentary. Healthy sources of protein include beans, most soy products, unsalted nuts, hemp seeds, fish, skinless poultry and lean meats.

10. Stop Smoking. Smoking cigarettes on a regular basis is one of the most harmful things you can do to your body. It’s well established that inhaling cigarette smoke damages nearly every organ and blood vessel in the body. Smoking is bad for the kidneys because the toxins that dissolves in the bloodstream damage the small blood vessels and “filters” inside the kidneys. The toxic compounds essentially decreases the flow of blood in the kidneys by clogging them up. ( via )