Healthy, efficient kidneys are crucial to our health and well being. These remarkable bean-shaped organs which sit beneath our rib cage are our body's most effective means of expelling all sorts of unwanted substances so that we can function as required. Most of us will have experienced the pain of a kidney infection (or even kidney stones) at some point in our lives and there are over 26 million people who suffer from chronic kidney disease in the USA alone.
Given that they are performing such important work for us, it is only right that we provide them with some love and attention. This list of ten foods that can help people with kidney problems improve their function while also providing a way that people with healthy kidneys can look after these vital organs without encouraging overly frequent urination.
Why Are Your Kidneys So Important?
The kidneys are responsible for three essential activities that your body needs in order to work properly:
1. Regulate Water Levels
Your body needs the right amount of water to work properly. If it has too little or too much, it will bear a noticeable effect on your health and ability to go about your day successfully. The kidneys are important regulators of water levels, ensuring that we retain water when the body requires more fluids, and release more when the body has more than it needs (typically by converting it into urine).
2. Remove Waste Products and Toxins
Your body is a complex machine and its numerous activities frequently produce waste. If the waste was not expelled, your organs would soon stop functioning altogether. This is why you need a way of filtering and flushing waste out. It is the kidneys that take on this task, making sure waste products such as urea (produced when the body breaks down proteins such as meats during digestion) and creatinine (a by-product of muscle activity) are disposed of efficiently. Many other waste products are poisonous toxins, such as those produced when we break down drugs. Your body has to flush them out so it can keep functioning correctly.
3. Produce Certain Hormones
Hormones are chemical messengers produced by various organs in your body, including the kidneys. These messengers circulate around your bloodstream, regulating and controlling bodily functions including the production of red blood cells and uptake of calcium and blood pressure levels - all extremely important factors effecting your short and long term health.
So How Can You Look After Your Kidneys' Health?
Now that we have established just how important the kidneys are for good health, you will need to know what steps you can take to help improve their function. Luckily, studies have found that a number of common foods and drinks can help protect and strengthen your kidneys as part of a balanced diet. If you are worried about the overall health of your kidneys, please make sure you also consult a doctor.
The list is suitable for people who have kidney disease but also provides ideas for people with healthy kidneys who are looking to safeguard the long term health of the body. If you have healthy kidneys, you should also include other foods that contain potassium as part of a balanced diet (these include nuts, whole grains, seeds and green vegetables). However, if you are already suffering from kidney disease then potassium rich foods can encourage the need to urinate excessively and increase your thirst levels. These foods are low in potassium and also provide other key nutrients that can aid the performance of your kidneys.
Cranberries are something of a super food, and can help cleanse the body in a number of ways. You can eat them or drink them in a juice (just make sure it's 100% cranberry juice, preferably using organically grown cranberries). They are a fantastic way of clearing out your kidneys and are packed full of Vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber. They prevent ulcers and bacteria from forming in the urinary tract and can even fight existing bacteria in the stomach. If you are eating cranberries, try to choose fresh ones when possible but if they are out of season, buy dried cranberries as long as they do not contain added sugar. Blueberries and Raspberries are other healthy alternatives too.
Cauliflower is another food that is helpful to your kidneys. It provides plenty of fiber and Vitamin C, and contains compounds that can help your body neutralize toxic substances. People undergoing dialysis treatment for their kidneys often subsitute potato for cauliflower as part of their diet.
3. Red Bell Peppers
Red Bell Peppers are a great choice for those concerned with the health of their kidneys. They are low in potassium but high in Vitamins A, C and B6 as well as fiber. They also contain a natural antioxidant called lycopene which protects the body against certain types of cancer. Antioxidants help neutralize harmful molecules in the body, allowing the kidneys to perform their role as our body's detox organ.
Vitamin D is important for healthy kidneys and mushrooms are one of the best plant-based source of this crucial vitamin. Studies have proven that Vitamin D helps control kidney function and can also protect your body from kidney disease. Fortified soy milk is another good option, but if you already suffer from kidney disease you must make sure the potassium content isn't over 200-300 miligrams to avoid any associated problems.
Apples are a great body cleanser, which means they are great for the kidneys. They will help keep the kidneys clean and clear without increasing your need to urinate too frequently. They are also another source of Vitamin C and pectin; the latter is also great at slowing down blood sugar levels and removing excess cholesterol.
What better method can there possibly be for maintaining water balance in the body than the substance itself? You don't need to go to massive lengths - just the classic 8 standard 8 glasses (or 2 liters) of H2O will do, depending on how active you are on any given day. Water flushes through your body, helping transport those harmful toxins out of your kidneys' filtering system. It is the best cleanser of all so you should never be flippant with your need for regular water intake.
Your body needs Vitamin C to help protect its immune system and stop bacteria from developing. This will help your kidneys perform their duties. Grapefruits are packed with this vital vitamin, and they are also low in potassium and sugar, making them an excellent source of natural nutrients for the kidneys.
Ever trusty garlic is great for reducing inflammation and has antioxidant properties which can help expel and control levels of harmful toxins in your body, aiding the function of your kidneys. Garlic granules are a great option for adding flavour to food if you are suffering from kidney disease.
Cabbage is filled with chemical compounds that help break apart harmful molecules in your body and support it in a number of ways. It's low in potassium yet high in Vitamin B and folic acid so it's especially friendly for the kidneys.
Another trusty super food, onions are rich in natural chemicals that help process fatty materials in the body so that waste can be flushed out. They are also powerful antioxidants and contain minerals that assist your metabolism, while being low in potassium, making them suitable for people with kidney issue
FOOD Habits that Damage Our Healthy Kidneys
It's hard to notice when we do our kidneys damage. Even if 80% damaged, kidneys can still do their job, and so we rarely realize they're on their last leg. Often, even common daily habits can cause your kidneys continual damage, and when you finally discover something's wrong, it's too late.
Our kidneys are incredible organs that work very hard. By themselves, they absorb minerals and nutrients, produce hormones, act as a filter for toxins in our blood, produce our urine and maintain a normal acid to alkaline ratio. We cannot live without our kidneys functioning properly. The Chinese, for example, have looked at the kidneys as a site of essential life force for centuries.
If you're serious about looking after yourself, then taking care of your kidneys should be one of your primary concerns. If you want to make sure your kidneys thrive and continue to serve you in the coming years ahead, here's a helpful list of habits you should definitely avoid:
1. Drinking Sodas
A study conducted on employees working at Osaka University in Japan found that drinking 2 or more soda drinks a day (either diet or regular) may well be connected to a higher risk of kidney disease. The study included 12,000 people, and those who drank larger quantities of soda were found to have protein in their urine, which is one of the first signs of kidney damage. However, early detection can reverse the disease with proper treatment.
2. A Deficiency in Vitamin B6
The healthy function of our kidneys also depends on a healthy diet, especially one that contains certain nutrients. According to a study performed at the University of Maryland, a vitamin B6 deficiency increases the risk of the formation of kidney stones. For healthy kidney function, a person should have at least 1.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 in their food every day. The best sources for this vitamin are fish, beef liver, potatoes, starchy vegetables, chickpeas and non-citrus fruits.
Perhaps not surprisingly, smoking has been linked to arthrosclerosis - the narrowing and hardening of blood vessels - which influences the blood supply going to all the major organs, including the kidneys. According to a study published in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, just 2 cigarettes a day are enough to double the number of endothelial cells (the cells that line our blood vessel walls) present in your bloodstream. This is a sign of arterial damage.
In addition, the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology references a number of different studies conducted in the last decade that link smoking to decreased kidney function.
4. Lack of Exercise
Another good way of protecting your kidneys is to get some exercise. A comprehensive study published in 2013 in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology found that postmenopausal women who exercised had 31% (!) less risk of developing kidney stones.
5. Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium is what helps our body to properly absorb and assimilate calcium. If we don't get enough magnesium, we get overloaded in calcium and, once again, develop kidney stones. To prevent this from happening, add some leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts or beans to your diet. Another good source of magnesium is fresh avocados.
6. Disrupted Sleep
I just love a good night's sleep and, as it turns out, so do my kidneys. According to Science Daily, a chronic disruption in our sleep can cause kidney disease. According to Dr. Michael Sole, Cardiologist and Professor of Medicine and Physiology at the University of Toronto, kidney tissues get renewed during the night while we're sleeping, so when we can't sleep without constant interruptions, the kidneys suffer direct damage.
7. Not Drinking Enough Water
One of the most important things for our kidneys is for them to get hydrated enough to perform their functions. If we don't get enough water in our system, toxins start accumulating in our blood because there isn't enough fluid to take them through the kidneys. The National Kidney Foundation recommends drinking at least 10-12 glasses of water every day. An easy way to check if you're drinking enough is to make sure your urine is a light color or clear. If it's dark, you're not drinking enough. You can check the color of your urine with this helpful guide.
8. Not Emptying Your Bladder Fast Enough
When you hear the call to pee, you should listen to it. Obviously we're not always at a place where we can pee right away, but if you 'hold it in' on a regular basis, it will increase the pressure of urine on your kidneys, which can lead to renal failure or incontinence.
9. Having Too Much Sodium in Our Diet
Salt is an important nutrient, but a disaster when taken in excessive amounts. Over-consumption of sodium will raise your blood pressure and put a lot of strain on your kidneys. We recommend limiting yourselves to no more than 5.8 grams (0.2 ounces) of salt per day. So put down that salt shaker!
10. Consuming Too Much Caffeine
We usually drink more caffeine than we think we do. There's coffee, tea, soft drinks and sodas - before you know it, your body is full of caffeine every day, which causes your blood pressure to shoot through the roof and your kidneys to suffer damage.
11. Abusing Pain-Killers
Many of us have a daily routine of taking medications. When we suffer from pain, our first reaction is usually to swallow a pill. They do help the pain, but you should think twice before taking too many. All pharmaceutical drugs have side effects, and many of them cause kidney or liver damage. Check out some natural painkillers you can find or make at home. That said, some drugs SHOULD be taken, which brings us to my next point...
12. Not Taking Certain Drugs You Need to
If you suffer from high blood pressure and/or type 2 diabetes, two very common conditions these days, you will probably also suffer kidney damage. Don't leave these conditions untreated and take your daily meds to reduce your blood pressure and control your insulin levels. Without them, you're almost guaranteed to suffer kidney damage.
13. Consuming Too Much Protein
According to a study conducted at Harvard University, an overdose of protein in our diet can cause our kidneys damage. When we digest protein, our body produces a byproduct - ammonia. Ammonia is a toxin that your already-hardworking kidneys need to neutralize. This means that the more protein we consume, the harder we work our kidneys, which can eventually lead to kidney failure.
14. Not Treating Common Infections
We all get lazy sometimes and ignore a simple cold or a flu, which can push our body to the brink of exhaustion. Studies have shown, however, that people who do not rest or treat their infections often end up with kidney disease.
15. Consuming Too Much AlcoholNow this is a no brainer. The toxins in alcohol not only damage the liver, like many believe, but they are also something your kidneys simply hate to deal with. According to Kidney Health Australia and the American Kidney Fund, one good way of avoiding kidney failure is drinking alcohol in moderation