Eating to support kidney health
Diet, smoking, and obesity are modifiable lifestyle factors that we can all control. By eating well, quitting smoking, and maintaining a normal weight, people can protect their kidneys and prevent future damage
Our kidneys play a vital role in protecting our overall health. What exactly are their main functions?
- Remove wastes and excess fluid: They filter about 200 quarts of blood daily to create one to two quarts of urine.
- Assist in the creation of red blood cells: They make a hormone called erythropoietin which signals bone marrow to make red blood cells. Red blood cells deliver oxygen to all our cells.
- Help regulate blood pressure: They produce angiotensin, a hormone that causes blood vessels to restrict as needed to maintain blood pressure and fluid balance in the body.
- Keep bones strong: They produce an active form of vitamin D which is needed to absorb calcium and phosphorus, minerals crucial to strong bones.
- Maintain pH levels: Our bodies require a tightly controlled pH level in the blood of about 7.4. Our kidneys balance the amount of acid and alkaline to keep that level just where we need it.
The main causes of kidney disease are high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. These diseases can damage the blood vessels of many organs, including the kidneys. The good news is that making changes to our lifestyle can prevent or slow kidney disease.
“Diet, smoking, and obesity are modifiable lifestyle factors that we can all control. By eating well, quitting smoking, and maintaining a normal weight, people can protect their kidneys and prevent future damage,” says Dr. Alex Chang, MD, MS of Johns Hopkins University.
Dietary changes to help maintain kidney health:
- Reduce sodium. Most Americans consume about 50% more than the recommended intake of 2300 milligrams. Eat less salty snacks, limit convenience foods, prepare more meals at home, and remove the saltshaker from the table to help reduce your sodium intake.
- Choose plant-forward meals. Diets high in animal protein from red meat may harm the kidneys. Consuming more plant-based foods like dried beans, nuts, seeds, tofu and vegetables protects your kidneys and provides great nutrition and fiber.
- Drink water more often. Sugar sweetened beverages like sodas, energy drinks, specialty coffee and tea drinks, and smoothies are often high in calories and sugar. Too much sugar can contribute to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Some sodas, including cola drinks, also contain phosphorus which can be harmful to the kidneys.
- Pass on processed foods. Processed, packaged and convenience foods are generally high in sodium and phosphorus additives which can damage the kidneys.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet
The DASH diet was originally designed to help lower blood pressure. It is rich in vegetables and fruits, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts and low in salt, added sugars and sweets, and red meats. A study published in the American Journal of Kidney Disease concluded that in addition to its benefit for blood pressure, the DASH Diet was also associated with a lower risk for developing kidney disease.
“In addition to offering other health benefits, consuming a DASH-style diet could help reduce the risk of developing kidney disease,” says study leader Casey M. Rebholz, PhD, MPH, MS, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School. “The great thing about this finding is that we aren’t talking about a fad diet. This is something that many physicians already recommend to help prevent chronic disease.”