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Plant Based Diet and Kidney Health

Eating more Plant-based foods such as vegetables and grains in place and animal based foods such red meat may help prevent and slow the progression of chronic kidney disease, Type 2 diabetes, High Blood pressure, and heart disease.

The Benefits of Plant-Based Diets on Kidney Health

Studies show that eating whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables is one of the most important ways to keep kidneys healthy.

  1. 1. The Right Foods Help Keep You Healthy and Fight Chronic Disease
    • Skim milk, cantaloupe and brown rice may be the keys to preserving kidney function. According to research, eating poorly, smoking and obesity can cause kidney disease in otherwise healthy people.
    • Researchers led by Alexander Chang, MD of Loyola University Medical Center found that people with normal kidney function and no hypertension or diabetes whose diet was high in red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium and low in fruit, whole grains and low-fat dairy were 97% more likely to develop kidney disease. Additionally, obese people or those with BMI over 30 were nearly three times as likely to develop kidney disease. Those who smoked were 53% more likely to develop kidney disease.
    • In the first study to look at kidney disease risk factors in healthy young people, researchers used data on 3,500 participants from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA), a 25-year study of cardiovascular risk factors in 18-30 year-old black and white adults.
    • "These findings underscore the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle—eating properly, keeping weight down and stopping smoking. Unlike diabetes, hypertension or family history of the disease, these are all modifiable risk factors that are in our power to control and ultimately, by doing so, we may be able to prevent the onset of kidney disease," said Gail Torres, RN, National Kidney Foundation.
    • It's not clear exactly how these dietary factors prevent kidney disease, according to Dr. Chang, but "there is mounting evidence that low-fat dairy products lower the risk of diabetes and low salt intake can reduce the risk of hypertension."
    • Researchers also noted a strong association between sugary sweet beverages and the development of chronic kidney disease. Those who drank in excess of 3.5 sugary sweet beverages each week had a 150% increased chance of developing kidney disease. "Consumption of these beverages has recently been linked to the presence of protein in the urine, one of the earliest signs of kidney disease, " said Dr. Chang. "It's possible that the fructose in these drinks is uniquely metabolized, promoting production of uric acid which has been shown to cause hypertension and reduced blood flow to the kidney in rat models."
    • *This article is intended to help prevent kidney disease. If you've been told to limit your potassium or phosphorus or are on dialysis, discuss your personal dietary needs with your dietitian or nephrologist.
  2. 2. Plant Based Diets Help Prevent Kidney Disease for People with Type 2 Diabetes

    Choosing soy protein (such as tofu and soy beans) and other vegetable protein sources instead of meats may mean a lower risk of kidney disease for people with Type 2 diabetes. Vegetarian diets may decrease the amount of protein lost in urine, the renal acid load, and renal hyperfiltration. This is thought to possibly help prevent kidney disease. The research is considered preliminary and based on small studies however.

    There are other benefits of following a vegetarian diet. They may help in weight control, diabetes control, and preventing heart disease as well as certain types of cancers. Soy proteins may also help decrease blood pressure. Meats contain saturated fats and cholesterol, whereas vegetable and soy proteins are generally low in fat and saturated fat, and plant foods do not have cholesterol in them. Vegetarian diets also contain more fiber, and may have more phytochemicals: disease fighting substances found in many fruits, vegetables, and plant foods.

    Some people also choose to limit meat for ethical reasons, as well as to help protect the environment: less energy is needed to produce vegetable protein than meats and milk.

    These are some ideas of vegetarian foods you may wish to try*:

    • Whole wheat wrap with hummus (chickpea spread) and vegetables
    • Lentil and vegetable soup or minestrone soup
    • Tofu, nut, and vegetable stir-fry with rice (Tofu is soy bean curd. It is white and mild flavored, and can be firm or soft)
    • Chili made with beans
    • Lasagna with vegetables, tofu, or soy cheese
    • Sietan or wheat gluten
    • Tabbouli - a middle eastern wheat bulgur salad
    • Enchiladas or burritos with black beans
    • More plant-based recipes

    *This article is intended to help prevent kidney disease. If you've been told to limit your potassium or phosphorus or are on dialysis, discuss your personal dietary needs with your dietitian or nephrologist.

  3. 3. 10 Common Habits That May Harm Your Kidneys

    It's not too late to unlearn these damaging behaviors. Here a list of ten common habits that you might not realize are putting pressure on your kidneys.

    1. 1. Overusing Painkillers
    2. Over the counter pain medicines, such as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), may alleviate your aches and pains, but they can harm the kidneys, especially if you already have kidney disease. Reduce your regular use of NSAIDs and never go over the recommended dosage.

    3. 2. Abusing the Salt Shaker
    4. Diets high in salt are high in sodium, which can increase blood pressure and, in turn, harm your kidneys. Flavor your foods with herbs and spices instead of salt. Over time, you may find it easier to avoid using added salt (sodium) on your food.

    5. 3. Eating Processed Foods
    6. Processed foods are significant sources of sodium and phosphorus. Many people who have kidney disease need to limit phosphorus in their diets. Some studies have shown that high phosphorus intake from processed foods in people without kidney disease may be harmful to their kidneys and bones. Try adopting the DASH diet to guide your healthy eating habits.

    7. 4. Not Drinking Enough Water
    8. Staying well hydrated helps your kidneys clear sodium and toxins from the body. Drinking plenty of water is also one of the best ways to avoid painful kidney stones.

      Those with kidney problems or kidney failure may need to restrict their fluid intake, but for most people, drinking 1.5 to 2 liters (3 to 4 pints) of water per day is a healthy target.

    9. 5. Missing Out on Sleep
    10. A good night's rest is extremely important to your overall well-being and, it turns out, your kidneys. Kidney function is regulated by the sleep-wake cycle which helps coordinate the kidneys' workload over 24 hours.

    11. 6. Eating Too Much Meat
    12. Animal protein generates high amounts of acid in the blood that can be harmful to the kidneys and cause acidosis - a condition in which kidneys cannot eliminate acid fast enough. Protein is needed for growth, upkeep and repair of all parts of the body but your diet should be well balanced with fruits and vegetables.

    13. 7. Eating Too Many Foods High in Sugar
    14. Sugar contributes to obesity which increases your risk of developing high blood pressure and diabetes, two of the leading causes of kidney disease. In addition to desserts, sugar is often added to foods and drinks that you may not consider "sweet." Avoid condiments, breakfast cereals, and white bread which are all sneaky sources of processed sugar. Pay attention to the ingredients when buying packaged goods to avoid added sugar in your diet.

    15. 8. Lighting Up
    16. Sure, smoking isn't good for your lungs or your heart. But did you know that smoking may not be good for your kidneys either? People who smoke are more likely to have protein in the urine - a sign of kidney damage.

    17. 9. Drinking Alcohol in Excess
    18. Regular heavy drinking - more than four drinks a day - has been found to double the risk chronic kidney disease. Heavy drinkers who also smoke have an even higher risk of kidney problems. Smokers who are heavy drinkers have about five times the chance of developing chronic kidney disease than people who don't smoke or drink alcohol to excess.

    19. 10. Sitting Still
    20. Sitting for long periods of time has now been linked to the development of kidney disease. Although researchers don’t know yet why or how sedentary time or physical activity directly impact kidney health, it is known that greater physical activity is associated with improved blood pressure and glucose metabolism, both important factors in kidney health.

  4. 4. Plant-Based vs. Animal-Based Diets: The Jury is in!
    • Yes, you can eat a plant-based protein diet if you have chronic kidney disease (CKD). It might even help your condition, say the authors of a new study published in the Journal of Renal Nutrition.
    • "It's been shown that patients with CKD who obtain food from plant sources may actually demonstrate improvement in several of the complications of CKD like hypertension, metabolic acidosis, and hyperphosphatemia," said lead author Dr. Shivam Joshi, clinical assistant professor at the NYU Langone School of Medicine and attending physician and nephrologist at NYC Health + Hospital/Bellevue.
    • "We were inspired to write this paper after reading in the renal literature outdated information from the 1970s," Dr. Joshi said. "We want the general public to reconsider their stance on plant-based proteins in CKD and know that plant-proteins, when consumed in a varied diet, are a great source of amino acids for patients. These foods are rich in healthy substances, like fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals that contribute to improved overall health."
    • Dr. Joshi and his colleagues on the paper favor plant-predominant diets and want to clear up the persistent concerns of the past, he said. "The renal community has had no shortage of reasons to avoid plant-based foods in the past," Dr. Joshi said. "However, over the years, we've seen these concerns fall by the wayside in response to an ever-expanding body of literatures documenting their safety and benefit for patients with CKD."
    • "Other disciplines of the health care field have used plant-based diets to their benefit in treating heart disease, diabetes, and obesity," he said. "Food can be seen as being complementary to pharmacologic therapies for patients with CKD. Instead of running away from these foods, and perhaps incurring harm by doing so, we should be embracing these foods to our collective benefit."
    • If you have CKD, talk to your nephrologist about plant-based protein diets and schedule an appointment with a renal dietitian, Dr. Joshi said. You can also go here to find out more.
    • Want to dive into a plant-protein rich diet? Go here to find "must-have" foods like legumes and beans, grains, nuts and even spices. You can also learn about different diet plans, like the DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet, that are high in plant-based foods. Go here to learn more.
    • The Journal of Renal Nutrition is devoted exclusively to renal nutrition science and renal dietetics. Its content is appropriate for nutritionists, physicians and researchers working in nephrology.