Our kidneys play a vital role in protecting our overall health, with these key functions:
- Removing waste and excess fluid: They filter about 200 quarts of blood daily.
- Assisting in creating red blood cells: They make a hormone called erythropoietin that signals bone marrow to make red blood cells.
- Helping regulate blood pressure: They produce angiotensin, a hormone that causes blood vessels to restrict as needed to maintain blood pressure and fluid balance.
- Keeping bones strong: They produce a form of vitamin D that’s needed to absorb calcium and phosphorus — crucial to strong bones.
- Maintaining pH levels: Our bodies require a tightly controlled pH level in the blood of about 7.4. The kidneys help keep the acid-alkaline balance where we need it.
In the United States, 37 million adults have kidney disease. The main causes are high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. But making diet and lifestyle changes can prevent or slow kidney disease.
“By eating well, quitting smoking and maintaining a normal weight, people can protect their kidneys and prevent future damage,” says Dr. Alex Chang of Johns Hopkins University.
These are among dietary changes people can make to help maintain kidney health:
- Reduce sodium. Most Americans consume about 50% more than the recommended 2,300 milligrams. Eat fewer salty snacks, limit convenience foods, prepare more meals at home, and ditch the salt shaker.
- Choose plant-forward meals. Diets high in red meat can harm the kidneys. Consuming more foods like beans, nuts, seeds, tofu and vegetables helps protect your kidneys.
- Drink water often. Sweetened beverages like pop, energy drinks, specialty coffee and tea drinks and smoothies often are high in calories and sugar. Too much sugar can contribute to obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
- Take a pass on processed foods. They’re generally high in sodium and phosphorus additives that can damage the kidneys.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension — or DASH — diet can help the kidneys and overall health. Designed to help lower blood pressure, it’s rich in vegetables and fruits, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts and low in salt, added sugars and red meats. A study found the DASH diet also was associated with a lower risk of kidney disease.
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