Eat wisely to protect your kidneys

Eat wisely to protect your kidneys

Environmental Nutrition Newsletter

Your kidneys work hard every day to filter out wastes from your bloodstream. Unfortunately, an estimated 20 million Americans have impaired kidney function, and many don’t even know it.

Most people won’t progress to complete kidney failure, but kidneys that don’t work well raise the risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis and anemia. Kidney disease is the 9th leading cause of death in America. But if we take care of our kidneys, they’ll take care of us, and diet can help.

People who eat a poor quality diet are more likely to develop kidney disease than those who make nutritious food choices, according to a study published in 2013 in the American Journal of Kidney Disease. That means eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and less red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium.

If that advice sounds familiar, it may be because you’ve seen similar recommendations for reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer. Dietary patterns like this have been linked to lower levels of blood lipids and blood pressure, lower incidence of diabetes, and now lower incidence of kidney disease.

Eating to lower risk of kidney disease

A high quality diet actually protects your kidneys by reducing risk factors. While some kidney disease risk factors like age, family history and race can’t be helped, we can positively impact obesity, high cholesterol, and the two main culprits in kidney disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Here’s the nutrition low-down on protecting your kidneys:

1. Cut the sodium.

Eating a lot of salt is linked to high blood pressure, which can damage both the large arteries that bring blood to the kidneys to be filtered, and the tiny blood vessels where the filtering takes place. Most Americans consume twice the amount of sodium recommended by health professionals. Shoot for no more than 2,300 mg of sodium (about one teaspoon of salt) a day.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 44 percent of the sodium we eat comes from just 10 types of foods: breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, pizza, prepared poultry, soups, sandwiches, cheese, pasta dishes, meat dishes, and salty snacks like chips.

2. Slow down on sugar.

Eating too many foods with added sugars can lead to weight gain, which stresses the kidneys. What’s more, consuming added sugars has been linked with the development of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. The high blood sugar levels that are a hallmark of diabetes make the kidneys’ filters work overtime, eventually causing them to become leaky or stop working altogether.

3. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.

Sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, sweetened iced teas and juice drinks, are prime culprits for added sugar in our diets.

4. Watch your weight.

Extra pounds are hard on the kidneys. With a larger body, there are more wastes to be removed, and the kidneys’ filters can become enlarged and possibly even damaged trying to keep up. Obesity also raises the risk for high blood pressure and diabetes.

5. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.

This handy visual cue lets you know you’re getting enough vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, and doesn’t leave a lot of room for less healthful choices. Leave some space for whole grains, which have plenty of these nutrients, as well.

6. If you smoke, quit.

While this is not a nutrition recommendation, it can’t be left out of any kidney-saving advice: Smokers are about 60 percent more likely to develop kidney disease.

Taking these steps toward a higher-quality diet can help to control your weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar, taking pressure off your hard-working kidneys and protecting them for years to come.


About 200 quarts of blood pass through our kidneys every day! Along the way, the kidneys:

a) Filter out waste and toxins

b) Help control blood pressure

c) Activate vitamin D

d) Maintain our acid-base ratio

e) Control the manufacture of red blood cells

f) Keep water and electrolytes precisely balanced


Kidney stones form when waste products filtered from the blood crystallize instead of staying dissolved in the urine. Obesity, too much salt and sugar, and possibly high animal protein intake may increase the risk for these painful crystals.

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of fluids, and getting calcium (from foods, not from supplements) and potassium in your diet are all associated with a lower risk of kidney stones.

If you’ve already had a kidney stone, drink at least 8 cups of water or other unsweetened beverage a day, and limit high-oxalate foods like spinach, rhubarb and almonds.

Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384.