Kidneys don’t get the same kind of attention as the brain or the heart, but they’re seriously important organs when it comes to maintaining good health.
These unsung heroes remove waste from our blood and filter it out of our bodies through urine. They assist the production of red blood cells, release hormones to keep blood pressure stable, and make vitamins that control growth.
Did you know that even though each kidney is only about the size of an adult fist and weighs less than half a pound, it receives more blood than any other organ except the liver?
With a role like that in the body, it’s no surprise that eating in a way that supports kidney health is key for our minds and our bodies.
One Drop coach, Danica, a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), licensed dietitian (LD), and certified nutrition support clinician (CNSC), came on the Life Without Limits podcast to talk about how to eat well for your kidneys.
Whether you’re looking to prevent chronic kidney disease or you’re in stage 1, 2, or 3, Danica discusses the quantity and quality of protein, the role of sodium, and how to best set the stage—and the breakfast, lunch, and dinner table—for kidney-friendly foods.
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Kim Constantinesco: Welcome back to another episode of the Life Without Limits podcast, where we talk with health experts to give you extra support as you work toward your health goals. I’m your host, Kim Constantinesco, and on today’s show we have Danica, a dedicated One Drop coach and registered dietician who’s going to talk about how to eat for good kidney health. Danica, welcome. So nice to have you back on the show.
Danica: Hi, Kim. Thanks for having me. It’s good to be back.
Kim Constantinesco: Let’s get right into it. The kidneys are an often forgotten organ in our bodies. They don’t get the same love as the heart or the brain, but they’re seriously important for keeping us healthy. Can you briefly explain what role the kidneys play in our bodies?
Danica: Certainly. So the kidneys are small organs, but they are mighty. They play an essential role in maintaining a healthy balance in the body. Most people associate kidneys with their role in urine production, but their functions go way beyond that. When the kidneys are functioning well, they filter the blood and help to remove excess waste and toxins. They regulate the body’s fluid, electrolytes like sodium and potassium and acid content as well. And they release hormones that control blood pressure, red blood cell production, and keep bones healthy and strong.
Kim Constantinesco: So clearly the kidneys are absolutely essential for good health, but most people won’t know there’s anything wrong with them until there’s a severe problem. And that’s why asking your doctor to screen your kidneys’ health by ordering labs once a year can be so helpful, but I know what can also help is choosing foods that support our kidneys’ functioning. So let’s say you don’t have any signs of chronic kidney disease. Are there any nutrition tips you can give to help people eat well for kidney health?
Danica: Certainly. So diabetes and hypertension are the two leading risk factors for developing chronic kidney disease, and we know that nutrition is so important in managing blood sugars and blood pressure. And keeping those in target range can keep the kidneys healthy as well. So a healthy feeding plan is going to look different for everyone, but we know there are benefits to eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains over processed and refined grains, eating beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, as well as lean proteins. And chronic kidney disease is also closely associated with cardiovascular disease, so ultimately, a heart healthy eating plan is a great place to start. And this would also include limiting sodium intake and processed foods, reducing intake of saturated fat, as well as added sugar.
Kim Constantinesco: So, Danica, how does that change, if at all, for people who have been diagnosed with either stage one, two, or three chronic kidney disease?
Danica: Once someone has received a CKD diagnosis, many of the same nutrition recommendations apply. There are generally few restrictions early on in these early stages of CKD, but healthy eating is still essential. So it’s important to focus on high fiber, nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, which can help with weight management and lowering blood pressure, also limiting sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day or 1,500 milligrams per day if you already have high blood pressure. So that would be eliminating things like processed food, fast food, cured meat, and excess added salt, also choosing heart healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil. And, fortunately, just like you mentioned before, most individuals with CKD are not diagnosed until it has progressed to the later stages, so early detection is so important. And for those who do receive an early diagnosis, the key is to slow progression of declining kidney function, and healthy eating is just one of the actions someone can take to slow CKD progression.
Kim Constantinesco: I know one of the most talked about topics when it comes to kidney health and chronic kidney disease is protein as it relates to nutrition. So if you’re in stage one, two, or three, should any changes be made to your protein consumption either in terms of the amount of protein you’re eating or the source of protein you’re eating?
Danica: Yes. So the most recent guidelines for CKD nutrition do not suggest a need to limit protein intake in stages one to three beyond what is recommended for a normal daily intake. But it also well known that in the Western culture we emphasize and prioritize the consumption of protein, particularly animal protein, so many people often eat above and beyond the RDA for protein. So although there isn’t necessarily a need to restrict, it should be noted that overconsumption could be damaging to the kidneys. There is also some preliminary research that suggests benefits for swapping some animal protein intake for plant-based protein sources. A plant-based eating plan has been shown to improve insulin resistance, lower blood pressure, decrease the amount of protein lost in urine and prevent the kidneys from having to work as hard. But anyone who is living with CKD and is wondering about their protein intake, they should certainly talk to their doctor and a registered dietician to come up with a plan to find the appropriate amount and type of protein to meet their specific needs.
Kim Constantinesco: Yes, you’re so right. Everyone’s needs are different, so talking with your health care provider is the best approach. Now, what about other nutrients that people might want to be mindful of if they have CKD?
Danica: I already mentioned sodium, but that nutrient is particularly important for maintaining fluid balance and blood pressure in someone who has CKD. Having high blood pressure is a risk for developing CKD but is also a result of having CKD, so maintaining that with a proper amount of sodium intake is really important.
Potassium is also important because if the kidneys are not functioning properly, potassium can build up in the blood, which can cause heart and muscle issues. Potassium restrictions are typically based on someone’s blood level of potassium, but they might need to be mindful of foods like potatoes, bananas, dried fruit, tomatoes, meat, and nuts. Phosphorous is another nutrient of importance in CKD. The most recent guidelines emphasize the importance of the source of phosphorous. So there are additives in processed foods that contain phosphorous, and this form is absorbed much better and in higher quantity than phosphorous that would be found naturally in foods like beans, nuts, dairy, and poultry. So it is important to limit the phosphorous additives that can be found in processed foods and dark sodas.
Fluid intake is also important for someone living with CKD. In the later stages of CKD particularly or someone who is on dialysis, there may be a need to restrict daily fluid intake to prevent swelling.
Kim Constantinesco: So to close out the show, can you give us an example of a breakfast, lunch, and dinner that would support kidney health?
Danica: Yes. When it does come to an eating plan, the stage of CKD as well as other chronic conditions should certainly be considered. But kind of going back to what I was saying about getting in more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, a healthy eating plan for the day could look like whole grain oatmeal in the morning made with almond or soymilk topped with strawberries and peanut butter and chia seeds. Lunch could be a hummus, spinach, roasted vegetables and roasted or grilled chicken and hemp seeds in a whole grain wrap with an apple. And dinner – a favorite dish of mine would be tacos with lentil and walnut filling, salsa, avocado, and some shredded lettuce, and that could be served with a salad. So you’re kind of looking at aiming to make about half of your plate your non-starchy vegetables. You’re adding in some whole grains and a lean protein, either a lean animal protein source or even trying to do some more plant-based meals like the dinner I mentioned.
Kim Constantinesco: Those all sound like really good options. Danica, is there anything else that you want to add about eating for good kidney health, anything that we haven’t talked about already?
Danica: I think just the importance of knowing that it is a very individualized plan because someone with stage two or stage three CKD could look very different than someone with stage one or stage four, so it’s really important to have that bloodwork to be monitored by your doctor, to be talking about your individualized needs and plans and not just kind of go into having CKD or kidney health and assuming that you have to have all these restrictions. It really is a very individualized approach.
Kim Constantinesco: Great. Danica, as always, thanks so much for coming on the show. We can’t wait to have you back on.
Danica: It was so great to be here. Thank you so much for having me, Kim.
Kim Constantinesco: Stay tuned for more episodes of the Life Without Limits podcast as we help you make changes to your health. We’re in this together.
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