Most Americans with kidney disease are not even aware they have it. You will not feel symptoms until your kidneys are badly damaged.
Knowing what causes kidney disease — and knowing what actions you can take to prevent it — can help you live your best life.
Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located in your lower back area. You need at least one healthy kidney to keep your body working the way it should. Your kidneys help control your blood pressure and help keep your bones healthy.
However, the kidneys' most important job is to clean out the waste from your blood. If your kidneys do not work, or do not work well enough, they cannot get rid of the waste in your body. If your kidneys stop working, known as having kidney failure, you will need dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive.
Eating foods that are low in sodium (salt) and fat can help keep your kidneys healthy.
Here are some tips to eat less sodium (salt):
- Cook with fresh herbs, lemon juice or spices to add flavor instead of adding salt to your food.
- Choose fresh or frozen vegetables instead of canned. If you do use canned vegetables, rinse them with water before eating or cooking to remove extra salt.
- Shop for items that say "reduced sodium" or "low sodium." If you have kidney disease, check that these foods do not contain potassium instead of salt.
- Avoid processed foods, such as frozen dinners or packaged lunch meats.
- Limit fast food and salty snacks, such as chips, pretzels and salted nuts.
- Limit foods that are pickled or preserved, such as pickles and olives.
Here are some tips to eat less fat:
- Choose low-fat meats like chicken, turkey or fish.
- Remove the skin and trim the fat off your meat before you cook it.
- Bake, grill or broil food instead of frying it.
- Shop for fat-free or low-fat dairy products or condiments.
- Try cooking with olive or canola oil instead of vegetable oil.
- Try to use egg whites or egg substitute instead of whole eggs.
Following an eating plan that is low in added sugar can help prevent heart disease, manage diabetes and help maintain a healthy weight. These are all important factors when managing or preventing chronic kidney disease (CKD).
Here are some tips to eat less sugar:
- Choose low-calorie or sugar-free drinks instead of drinks with sugar. If you struggle to get enough water in during the day, try adding fruit to your water or try a no sugar added flavored sparkling water. These will give your water more flavor and may satisfy that craving for soda or other sugary drinks.
- Be aware of the condiments you add to your food like ketchup or barbeque sauce that can actually be high in sugar. Instead, use low-sugar options like hot sauce, salsa or mustard.
- Most adults should be eating one and a half to two cups of fruit a day. Fruit can have many health benefits, including helping satisfy your sugar cravings. When craving sweets, choose fruit instead of baked goods.
- If you struggle to eat enough fruit in a day, try making a fruit smoothie in the morning or make your own frozen fruit bars like these watermelon coconut swirl popsicles on Kidney Kitchen.
- If you are baking:
- Often you can cut the amount of sugar in a recipe in half and not notice a difference in taste.
- Try using extracts like vanilla, lemon or almond instead of the full amount of sugar.
Being active and exercising
Being active can keep your kidneys healthy by helping you:
- Stay at a healthy weight.
- Keep a healthy blood sugar level.
- Lower your blood pressure.
- Lower your cholesterol (a waxy, fat-like substance in your blood).
Set a goal to be active for at least 30 minutes, most days of the week. If that seems like too much, start slowly and work your way up. Here are some tips to add activity to your everyday routine:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Go for a walk after dinner.
- Try activities you enjoy like dancing, swimming or playing a sport.
- Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise plan. Your doctor can help you learn which exercises are safe for you and how often and for how long you should exercise.
Limiting your alcohol use
Drinking too much alcohol can make your blood pressure go up, which in time can lead to kidney disease. The healthy guidelines for drinking alcohol are:
- For men: No more than two drinks per day
- For women: No more than one drink per day
Quitting smoking or using tobacco
Using tobacco (smoking or chewing) can make your blood pressure go up, which in time can lead to kidney disease. If you already have kidney disease, using tobacco can make kidney disease worse in time. Using tobacco can also cause other serious health problems such as cancer, heart disease and stroke. Quitting can help lower your chance of getting kidney disease or help prevent your kidney disease from getting worse.
If you are looking for help quitting tobacco use, talk to your doctor.
Talk to your doctor today about prevention and treatment
The only way to know how well your kidneys are working is to get tested. Testing is especially important if you have diabetes, high blood pressure or a family history of kidney disease.
Your doctor can help you create a plan to keep yourself as healthy as possible. Ask your doctor about:
- Testing how well your kidneys are working with a blood test and a urine test
- What a healthy weight is for you and tips on how to lose weight and maintain your weight in a healthy way
- Recommendations for a kidney-friendly food and fluid plan
- How much exercise you should be including in your daily routine
- Any medicines that you should avoid
- Advice on how to quit smoking or using tobacco products if you are an active smoker
Be proactive in knowing about your kidneys and ways to protect them. No one should be more invested in protecting them than you!