Your kidneys are working hard, so it’s important to follow some nutrition tips to optimize their functioning.
Here’s a breakdown of all your kidneys do. Kidneys remove waste from the bloodstream, keeps the body from becoming too acidic or basic, produce hormones that help control blood pressure, promote red blood cell production and help maintain bone health, and balance water, salt and mineral levels.
Follow these healthy lifestyle tips to make their job just a little easier.
Eight cups a day is a common recommendation for fluid, but it isn’t right for everyone. Fluid needs are based on age, gender, activity level, climate and health conditions.
Use urine frequency — the average is 6-8 times per day — and color — should be pale yellow — to help determine the right amount for you. The right amount of fluid helps your kidneys flush waste from the body. Make most of your fluids water to really optimize health.
It’s recommended you have 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, the amount in 1 tsp. of table salt, to help maintain good health. Those with high blood pressure, kidney disease, or who are at high risk for kidney stones should try to get as low as 1,500 milligrams of sodium.
With at least a little bit of salt in everything and a lot of salt in heavily processed foods, it is easy to see why the average American is consuming 3,400 milligrams of sodium. Eating too much salt in the diet means more water left in the bloodstream by the kidneys which can drive up blood pressure.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate herbal supplements for dose, content or pureness. There are very few high-quality studies proving the effectiveness of even the more popular supplement ingredients. Therefore, it is always best to work with your care team to determine risk versus reward when considering herbal supplements.
Common conditions affect kidney function. Work with a dietitian to make sure you are making the best choices for any underlying health concern. This is especially important if you have multiple health complications or concerns that have conflicting diet recommendations.
Here are some recommendations specific to certain kidney concerns.
If you are at high risk for calcium oxalate kidney stones, the most common type of stone, you may want to consider a few things.
Include calcium in your diet. Because these stones are made of calcium it is often assumed that limiting calcium in the diet would limit formation. But research has shown that a diet low in calcium actually increases risk. For most people eating 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day is recommended and should be spread throughout the day.
Pair your oxalates with your calcium. Oxalates are found in many extremely nutritious foods — spinach, beets, rhubarb, and nearly all whole grains. Although it may be necessary to cut down on oxalates, you may be able to leave some in if paired with higher calcium foods.
By eating them together, the calcium and oxalate will bind together in the stomach or intestines instead of in the kidney while urine is being produced. Trying to limit oxalate can feel a little like chasing your tail — the exact amount in a portion of food can be hard to find and can change significantly based on where the item was grown, when it was harvested, etc.
Add a little lemon juice. If urine citrate and urine pH levels are too low, the citric acid in lemon juice might help. Unfortunately, the sugar in lemonade won’t help, so try to stick with just lemon juice in water.
Go nuts for protein, but not too much. The kidneys have a big job when it comes to managing the byproducts of protein digestion. It has been shown that high protein diets lead to more uric acid and calcium in the urine, both of which are involved in stone formation.
There isn’t great research on how much protein is too much, or how long a high protein diet is safe. If you are following a high protein diet, consider using more plant-based proteins and leaner white meats as they are slightly less taxing on the kidneys.
Don’t forget, chronic kidney disease recommendations must be individualized.