Dietitian’s Digest: Follow these tips so you can eat healthy for your kidneys

Published 8:34 pm Monday, February 24, 2020

Dietitian’s Digest by Emily Schmidt

Emily Schmidt


Popular topics of health and nutrition discussion include eating well for our heart, cancer risk and body weight, to name a few. However, how often do you think about eating well for your kidneys? With March being National Kidney Month, it’s a good opportunity to bring awareness to these bean-shaped organs — and specifically, kidney disease.

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According to the National Kidney Foundation, the most common risk factors for kidney disease include “diabetes, high blood pressure, a family history of kidney failure and being age 60 or older.” Due to the lack of symptoms associated with this condition, unless you are having urine or blood tests performed, you may not realize you have kidney disease. Aside from talking to your doctor about your risk for kidney disease, there are certain preventative lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce your likelihood of developing this disease as well.

Considering the fact that high blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to kidney disease, it makes sense that managing our salt intake is very important. Salt, or sodium chloride if we’re referring to basic table salt, causes our heart or cardiovascular system to work much harder than it should. If you have high blood pressure or are working to prevent it, one of the first treatment recommendations your doctor or registered dietitian may advise is limiting your sodium intake. According to the American Heart Association, the majority of the sodium the average person takes in comes from heavily processed foods. For instance, canned or packaged foods, fast food, processed meats and cheeses, and condiments may potentially be loaded with sodium. Both our heart and our kidneys will sustain less damage over time if we limit these processed foods (note: not necessarily avoid completely, but limit amount and frequency) and increase our intake of whole, minimally processed foods. For instance, a chicken breast cooked in olive oil and herbs and spices served with asparagus and wild rice would be better for our blood pressure, and subsequently kidney disease risk, compared to chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and canned green beans. (However, keep in mind you can purchase “no salt added” canned green beans or other vegetables in most grocery stores).

Obviously we can’t do much about our family history or age, but another risk factor for kidney disease — diabetes — is something we can manage, prevent or delay. Of course, Type 1 diabetes, the autoimmune form of diabetes, is not preventable, but can still be managed in order to limit additional health issues and complications. If you have Type 2 diabetes, working toward reaching or maintaining a healthy weight, following a low carbohydrate diet and any other individual treatment recommendations (medications, blood sugar monitoring, etc.) are excellent goals to focus on. Regardless of the type of diabetes you have, if you are keeping your blood sugar at a healthy level, this is an important step in reducing your risk of developing kidney disease. If you have pre-diabetes or are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, it’s also quite important that you work to manage both your weight and blood sugar if you’re concerned about your kidney health.

Ultimately, you don’t need to follow a strict crash diet, but make gradual changes. For instance, eat a portion-controlled, plant- and whole foods-based diet, drink plenty of water (for most people, at least two liters daily), and get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. More specifically, eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and keep the majority of your animal-based foods lower fat and minimally processed — for instance, wild caught salmon, ground turkey or lean beef, skinless chicken, eggs and 1% fat dairy products are healthier examples for diabetes and kidney disease risk than full fat or processed meats such as sausage or hot dogs, whole fat dairy and poultry with the skin.

Remember, when focusing on your health, there is more to it than body weight and heart health (though both extremely important as well!) — our kidneys also need us to make positive lifestyle changes including diet and exercise modification. Reach out to your physician if you have questions or concerns about your kidney health.


Albert Lea resident Emily Schmidt is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. She enjoys writing, cooking and spending time with her son and family.