(BPT) – Your kidneys may be your most underappreciated organ. They constantly filter all your blood — removing waste and toxins — as well as help regulate your blood pressure and keep your bones strong. But you may not be taking care of them as you should. One in three American adults is at risk for developing kidney disease, according to the National Kidney Foundation. The good news is you can decrease that risk, starting by doing your best to prevent high blood pressure and diabetes, the two main causes of kidney disease.
“Your kidneys don’t take a holiday. They work for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that means you need to treat them kindly 24-7,” says Joy Lutz-Mizar, RD, senior director of nutrition services for Fresenius Medical Care, a long standing leader in caring for nearly 200,000 people with kidney disease at 2,200 dialysis clinics around the country. “To take care of your kidneys, you need to take care of your body.”
So how do you do that? In honor of National Kidney Month, Lutz-Mizar has some suggestions:
Skimp on the salt. Americans eat far too much salt — not only do we sprinkle it on our food, but it’s also already in many of the things we eat, particularly prepared foods. Excess salt makes your body retain water which makes your kidneys work harder and raises your blood pressure. It’s a good idea to cut back on salty foods such as salty chips, canned soups, deli meat and fast foods. Avoid the salt shaker, or at least use less. To boost flavor, try herbs and seasonings (just be sure they don’t contain sodium, which is salt). Aim for 2,300 mg of sodium or less a day.
Watch your weight. Being overweight can cause many problems, including increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. To maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly and ensure that no more than 20 to 30 percent of your daily calories come from fat. Cut back on butter, margarine, fatty and greasy foods. Baking, grilling or boiling is better than frying. Ditch creamy sauces and high-fat salad dressings, and seek out lower-fat alternatives. But it’s not all about fat — many low-fat foods have a lot of sugar, which also leads to weight gain. Stick to 25 grams of sugar a day or less. That works out to about 6 teaspoons per day, much of which is already in foods you consume such as soft drinks and sugary cereals. Your best bet is to eat more “super foods” such as vegetables, fruit and milk.
Drink up. Drinking fluids is essential, and water is a healthy kidney’s best friend. Among other things, water keeps your kidneys flushed out and helps prevent (painful!) kidney stones. A good rule of thumb is to drink six to eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day, more if you are active. If you get bored with water, consider iced tea or sparkling water. While that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sipping anything else, it’s best to limit it, especially sugary drinks such as soda.
Eat protein in moderation. Whether it comes from meat, nuts, soybeans or other sources, protein is essential to health. But too much protein is hard on the kidneys. Further, your body will convert the extra protein into fat. While the amount of protein needed varies by body weight, experts generally recommend 46 grams of protein for women and 56 grams for men. When you consider that a piece of meat the size of your palm is 21 grams of protein and a cup of milk is 8 grams, it’s clear that most of us get more than enough protein in the day.
Read labels. To accomplish all of these things, studying the label on packaged foods is a must to determine the exact amounts of sodium, fat, sugar and other ingredients (even if the package claims the item is “low sodium” or “low fat”). Read the list of ingredients as well — the shorter the better. Avoid products that list phosphates in the ingredients. Often included in sodas, water with added nutrients and processed cheeses (among other foods), phosphate additives increase the risk of developing heart disease, the leading cause of death in patients with chronic kidney disease and kidney failure.
Follow these five steps and your kidneys will thank you.
Learn more about kidney health by visiting www.freseniusmedicalcare.us/en/home/patients-families/kidney-disease/.