9 ways to boost your kidney health

Keep your kidneys healthy by controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure.
Keep your kidneys healthy by controlling your blood sugar and blood pressure.

Our kidneys work extremely hard to dispose of all the excess salt and water we consume.

During this process, they also eliminate toxins that would otherwise accumulate and negatively affect our bodies.

In addition, our kidneys control blood acidity and blood pressure levels.

“When kidneys fail, the body is literally overwhelmed by excess water, salt and toxins, which defeat every other organ and body system,” says Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson and dietitian Abby Courtenay.

“The job of the kidneys may not be glamorous or poetic, like the heart, but it is every bit as important.”

kidney health, pullout quote

Here nine ways to boost your kidney health:

1. Eat more antioxidants

Cecile Verseput, dietitian and ADSA spokesperson, says that researchers are discovering more links between chronic diseases, including chronic kidney disease (CKD) and the role foods play by forming free radicals or protecting against chronic inflammation through antioxidants.

“Chronic inflammation results in permanent damage, for instance in blood vessels in the heart and kidneys, that causes damage,” she explains. “Antioxidants found in fresh fruit and vegetables can be seen as the ‘firemen putting out the harmful flames’ of inflammation caused by these free radicals.”

All fresh fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants.

2. Cut back on fatty red meat and dairy

Do you regularly eat plenty of fatty red meat and full-cream dairy? Unfortunately, you’re putting your kidneys at risk – they have to work so much harder to get rid of the excessive waste generated from digesting these animal proteins, explains Verseput.

Swap fatty meats and full cream dairy firstly for legumes, tofu and nuts, or alternatively for fresh/unprocessed fish or poultry.

3. Lose the weight

When you carry a bit of extra weight, your kidneys have to work so much harder – they need to filter more blood than normal to avoid the risk of developing CKD in the long term.

In fact, people who are overweight or obese are seven times more likely to develop end-stage renal disease compared to those with normal weight.

If you have a family history of CKD or renal failure, this should raise a red flag that you need to focus on the health of your kidneys. If you are overweight, you need to find ways to lose it and cut back on the stress you’re placing on your kidneys says Courtenay. 

Woman weighing herself on a scale

4. Manage hypertension

The prime culprit in 64% of CKD cases in South Africa is undetected or uncontrolled hypertension.

Protect your kidney healthy by having your blood pressure tested regularly, following your treatment plan (if you’re on one) and making lifestyle changes to keep your blood pressure in check, Courtenay advises.

5. Eat more green

“Go green!” says Verseput. “Give preference to a plant-based eating pattern including lots of fresh, whole foods, fruits and vegetables. You can also swap red meat for plant-based proteins like legumes, nuts and tofu.”

Green fruits and vegetables

6. Get real

“Drop the high-salt, trans-fat takeaways and convenience foods like hot cakes,” says Courtenay. She suggests developing an interest and enjoyment in cooking from scratch with fresh, healthy ingredients – it also means you’ll know exactly what you’re eating, so you won’t be at risk for hidden salt and sugar.   

“It’s so much more delicious, and good for your kidneys.”

7. Be choosy about fats

Fats are not created equal and you need to be careful about the ones you choose to eat.  

“Go for extra-virgin olive oil and avocado oil rather than hard fats to protect the blood vessels in your kidneys,” says Courtenay.

8. Forget the convenient fads

Although convenient, sugar-sweetened drinks and treats, fast foods, processed and red meat are bad news for your kidneys.

“If your diet consists of processed, junk food, it could cause similar damage to type 2 diabetes,” says Verseput.

A study, published the Experimental Physiology journal, showed that regularly eating junk food, such as fizzy drinks, burgers, cakes, biscuits and fast food, causes similar blood sugar levels as type 2 diabetes.

"This causes an accumulation of sugar, or glucose, in the blood, which can have severe long-term consequences for organs, including the kidneys, where it can lead to diabetic kidney disease.”

Woman saying no to junk food

9. Go nuts

Nuts are a great way to provide healthy fats and fibre to your diet. Courtenay says you should boost your intake of both nuts and legumes. 

Image credits: iStock

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