What we eat affects every part of our body. A Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. While eating certain foods can protect your brain, a diet high in added sugar can lead to heart and liver disease. Yet few organs are as affected by our choices as our kidneys. Everything from inadequate rest and smoking to eating too much red or processed meat can damage these organs. That’s because they serve as a sort of waste treatment facility for our bodies. So, if you are eating a lot of salt-laden foods, you aren’t doing your kidneys any favors. Opting for sugary soda or sweetened fruit juice instead of water isn’t ideal either. Eating a kidney-friendly diet means choosing foods that are good for your entire body, not just this small bean-shaped organ. Here are some things to consider.
Your Kidneys at Work
Around the size of a fist, your two kidneys lie on either side of your spine. When they are in optimal condition, they filter around half a cup of blood every minute. By removing the extra fluid, acid, and waste products produced by your cells, healthy kidneys help your body maintain its ideal balance of water, salts, and minerals. They also help regulate blood pressure and produce red blood cells.
Around one out of three adults is considered at risk for kidney disease. In its early stages, it’s often asymptomatic. Catching it then usually requires a doctor’s visit and tests to determine how efficiently the organs are working. If you are diagnosed with stage one kidney disease, it means the organs are still functioning properly but display early signs of damage. When kidney disease enters its later stages, the diet becomes very restrictive (stage five is total organ failure). However, for most people, eating right for the kidneys means enjoying a greater variety of foods than most people put on their table. For example, just ten percent of U.S. adults actually eat the recommended two cups per day of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables.
Some fruits and vegetables to choose on a kidney-friendly diet include blueberries, red grapes, and cauliflower which can be mashed as a substitute for potatoes. You’ll also want to reduce your kidney’s workload by reducing your sodium intake. This applies both to people dealing with early stage kidney disease and high blood pressure––which is why the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is ideal. Besides being loaded with fruits and veggies, this diet doesn’t skimp on the lean chicken and fish, along with plenty of whole grains. Just remember to opt for fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible as the canned versions are usually higher in added salt or sugar. Avoid food with nutrition labels indicating daily values over 20 percent of sodium.
Keeping the Kidneys Happy
The key to a kidney friendly diet is eating the rainbow––filling your plate with a wide variety of different-colored fruits and veggies each day. This simple exercise helps you take in all the nutrients you need, while the smaller portions of your plate can include brown rice and whole wheat pasta. Meat should be mainly for flavor and not bigger than a deck of cards.
If you’re already experiencing diminished kidney function, then you need to avoid food that is high in potassium and phosphorus. This includes everything from oatmeal and beans to poultry, meat, and fish. Because your kidneys work hard to filter protein, watching consumption of meat is vital. Opt for foods like turnips, pineapples, and arugula along with corn and rice cereals along with low potassium choices including apples, peaches, rice milk, and wheat cereals.
Unless you are in the later stage of kidney disease, one item that should always be on your table is water. Keeping hydrated is a good way to make sure your kidneys are filtering salt and toxins. It can also help you avoid kidney stones. Aim for two liters or around nine cups of water each day. Strive to get seven hours of sleep a night and, above all, engage in moderate exercise regularly!
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.