By Sheena Gow
Our kidneys are amongst the human body’s core organs, facilitating the crucial function of removing waste and excess fluids from our bodies as well as regulating hormones that regulate our blood pressure. For renal patients suffering from chronic kidney disease (CKD), their ability to perform these core functions is adversely impacted, as more waste accumulates in their blood – including waste products from food.
It is therefore crucial for those living with damaged kidneys to follow a renal diet that is friendly to the kidneys; one that would help prevent further kidney damage and boost kidney function, which could then help the patients live healthier and longer. Such a diet requires them to limit certain foods and fluids to prevent certain minerals from building up in the body, while also obtaining optimum levels of protein, vitamins, minerals and calories.
Keeping nutrient intake in check
Dietary restrictions vary depending on the stage of a person’s kidney failure. For instance, end stage renal disease (ESRD) patients will need to keep a watchful eye on their nutrient intake to manage the limits of their severely impacted kidneys. However, no matter what level a kidney sufferer may be at, it is important to limit the intake of the following nutrients to prevent them from building up:
This is a mineral found naturally in most of the foods we consume and is important for blood pressure and maintaining the body’s water balance. Yet, while healthy kidneys can help balance sodium levels, those with impaired kidneys (especially CKD patients) cannot properly regulate it, which could lead to high blood pressure, shortness of breath, swollen ankles and fluid build-up around other vital organs such as the heart and lungs. For those with kidney disease, it is recommended that they take no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily.
For most people, potassium helps with the nervous systems and the proper functioning of muscles. However, kidney disease patients will find this harder to do so while CKD patients cannot filter excess potassium at all. Having too much potassium in the blood could then lead to serious heart issues.
However, potassium is largely found in a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables we eat every day, such as bananas, potatoes, melons and even avocados. Those at advanced stages of kidney disease should then curtail the intake of such foods, on top of switching to low-potassium substitutes such as apples, cranberries, strawberries and pineapples. For most kidney patients, it is recommended that they limit their potassium intake to under 2,000 milligrams each day.
Phosphorus and calcium
Both of these minerals work together to keep our bones strong and healthy, and excess levels of them can be filtered out by healthy kidneys. Kidney patients – especially those at advanced stages – will find it hard to regulate phosphorus and calcium levels. Having too much phosphorus raises the risk of heart disease, while having low calcium levels (as many CKD patients find it hard to absorb calcium) could see the body obtaining that mineral from the bones, which could make them weaker and more brittle – meaning they would be easier to break.
For those living with kidney disease, it is recommended that they limit their phosphorus intake to 800-1,000 milligrams per day, while daily calcium intake should not exceed 2,000 milligrams. Foods that are high in calcium tend to be high in phosphorus too, so patients may need to cut back heavily on calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables and fish with bones.
Protein is one of our body’s crucial building blocks, playing an important role in generating bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood as well as repairing tissues and producing bodily chemicals such as enzymes and hormones. But, when the body uses protein, the kidneys work harder – meaning that kidney patients will need to stress their kidneys out further if they take too much protein.
Protein is a mineral that needs to be controlled according to the stage of kidney disease.
For those at the early stages, it is best to limit their protein intake (especially by substituting animal sources of protein with plant-based ones). For advanced stage of CKD – where dialysis is required – patients need to instead increase the amount of protein in their diet. This is because once they have started dialysis, having higher protein levels is important for them to balance blood protein levels and improve their overall health. Also, dialysis removes protein waste from the patient’s blood, eliminating the need for a low protein diet.
Creating a renal diet plan that works for you
While these recommendations can serve as an early guideline for new kidney patients and those helping to take care of them, it should be stressed that no one kidney patient is the same. It is therefore crucial to consult with their doctor and a nutritionist to determine the proper renal diet plan that is best suited to their stage of affliction.
That being said, kidney patients may be able to take some matters in their own hands to maintain the right balance of nutrients in their body. This can be done by eating and cooking fresh as often as possible, especially as many nutrients (such as sodium) are added to foods at levels we cannot control if we get them from restaurants or from packaged foods at supermarkets. Essentially, when you prepare your own food, you have complete control as to what goes into it.
At the onset, a renal diet can feel daunting and restrictive. However, there are still plenty of nutritious foods that can be incorporated into a well-balanced diet plan that makes it delicious as well as kidney friendly.
To learn more tips on creating and maintaining a kidney-friendly diet, visit AWAK’s Facebook page.
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