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The DASH Diet and Kidney Disease

John Bankston John Bankston April 28, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Avoiding salt seems impossible. Sodium is added to everything from breakfast cereals to salad dressings. The result? A clear link between high sodium intake and high blood pressure. In 2018, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “nearly half a million deaths in the United States included hypertension as a primary or contributing cause.” 


Beginning in 1992, researchers began studying both how diet affects blood pressure and what diet plan is best for controlling the condition. An eating plan focused on low-fat dairy products, fruits, and vegetables that also limited salt, sugar, and red meat not only reduced blood pressure in subjects but did so in as little as two weeks. Further study showed it also had the added benefit of controlling blood sugar. 


Since heart and kidney disease are inextricably linked, it makes sense to wonder if the DASH diet could also help people with kidney disease. If you or a family member are struggling with this condition, what should you know about DASH–-including its risks to those in more advanced stages of kidney disease?


Mighty Kidneys


The kidneys rest just below your rib cage, with one on either side of the spine. The size of a fist and the shape of a bean, the organ is your body’s filtration system––cleansing around half a cup of blood every minute. When the kidneys aren’t functioning at 100%, wastes, extra fluid, and the acid produced by your cells accumulate in your blood. This not only upsets the vital fluid’s delicate balance of water, salts, and minerals but can also eventually harm your muscles and nerves while damaging healthy tissues. Hormones that regulate blood pressure and red blood cells are also produced by your kidneys. 


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What The Kidneys Actually Do

What The Kidneys Actually Do

Adults are encouraged to be tested because across the world nearly 10% are estimated to have chronic kidney disease (with women at higher risk). Unfortunately, at its early stages the disease is often asymptomatic. Eating fruits and vegetables is an essential component of maintaining healthy kidneys, which is one reason U.S. News and World Report has consistently named DASH as among the best diets overall. It may also be one of the best kidney disease diets.


DASH for Better Kidneys


When dining on DASH, your focus is filling your plate with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Instead of red meat or processed lunch meats, protein arrives in the form of nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, fish, and poultry. Besides most meats, the diet restricts salt and sugar intake along with saturated fat and cholesterol. Adherents often purchase cookbooks with gourmet DASH dinner recipes or follow along on YouTube tutorials. 


Since those studies in 1992, the DASH diet has been shown to not only reduce the incidence of kidney stones but lower the risk of end-stage kidney disease in people with hypertension or diabetes along with stage three chronic kidney disease.


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Kidney Stones - Prevention

Kidney Stones - Prevention

For people with early stage kidney disease, DASH works because it reduces the kidney’s workload. However, kidneys also must filter protein from the blood along with potassium. For those approaching or at the stage where they need dialysis, protein, potassium, and phosphorus must be limited. Examples of foods to avoid include beans, lentils, oatmeal, and sodas (all high in phosphorus) and potassium-rich foods such as whole-wheat bread, oranges, and bananas. Sensible substitutes include corn and rice cereals along with fresh fruit like apples and peaches. Rice milk and wheat cereals are also acceptable.


As registered dietitian Peggy Harum points out, dialysis patients aren’t dieting to lose weight but to limit fluid build up and control electrolytes. Patients with kidney disease who want to lose weight, she explains, should eat less and do more. For those in the early stages, however, the DASH diet represents a tasty solution to kidney problems.

Doctor Profile

John Bankston


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.

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