Your kidneys are responsible for removing toxins from your body while also maintaining salt and mineral balance. Your kidneys are also hard at work balancing red blood cells, and helping metabolize vitamin D.
March 11 is World Kidney Day. More than 100,000 people are diagnosed with kidney disease or kidney failure in the United States annually. This happens when your kidneys can no longer properly eliminate waste.
When the kidneys are not working optimally, many serious complications can arise including the inability to balance potassium levels in the blood, which can lead to an increased risk of heart attack.
Like most chronic diseases, kidney disease is impacted by diet. Although there is a pervasive myth that eating protein damages the kidneys, the evidence reveals otherwise: there no evidence that protein intake negatively influences renal health in otherwise healthy, active individuals.
Developing kidney problems is a common concern for people who are just starting a Paleo diet where the focus is on well-raised animal proteins, naturally occurring fats and seasonal produce. The Paleo diet, in fact, supports kidney health.
Causes of Kidney Disease
The two main causes of chronic kidney disease are diabetes and high blood pressure. A Paleo diet can improve both of these risk factors. (read here and here )
Other risk factors include
- Old age
- Family history of kidney disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chronically high blood sugar levels
Weight control is also crucial for maintaining healthy kidney function. Obese people are more prone to chronic kidney disease. Following a Paleo diet can significantly help with weight loss, blood sugar control and improve kidney function which can help prevent kidney damage. The sugar and refined carbohydrates that are avoided on a Paleo diet are dangerous to the kidneys. High blood sugar stresses the kidneys and ultimately contributes to kidney failure.
There is some evidence that people already struggling with kidney disease might do better with a lower-protein diet. For those people, kidney function is already impaired, and the kidneys might not be up to the specific adaptations necessary to effectively deal with a higher protein load. This does NOT mean that eating a low-protein diet will prevent kidney disease in healthy people.
If you already have or suspect you may have kidney disease, please consult your health care professional. If you don’t have kidney disease, there is no evidence that eating protein will do you any harm.
Diet and Kidney Health:
There are plenty of Paleo-friendly foods you can enjoy to support your kidneys in functioning at their best.
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While many hardly consider water to be a food, keeping your body hydrated is the number one best thing you can do for renal health. Urine that is properly diluted will be able to more effectively filter and remove toxins. When the body becomes dehydrated, you are at an increased risk of developing kidney stones. The more diluted your urine is, the healthier your kidneys will be. Drinking filtered water is the primary way to stay hydrated, but herbal teas, green teas, and coconut water can all contribute to your body’s daily hydration needs. If you’re not sure how much you should be drinking, you can use your urine as a guide: when clear, light, and mostly transparent, hydration needs are most likely met.
Cranberries benefit the kidneys in particular due to their d-mannose content. This simple sugar is processed differently from glucose and works to help prevent bacteria, especially E. coli, from thriving in the kidneys, bladder, or urinary tract. Cranberries are a whole food way to support the kidneys preventively, but in severe cases of kidney or bladder infection, supplemental d-mannose can be equally or more effective than antibiotic treatment. Cranberries also are good sources of fiber, vitamin K, vitamin E, and vitamin C.
Beets are one of the highest dietary sources of folate, along with numerous other nutrients like manganese, magnesium, and iron. Beets offer a perfect nutrient blend to benefit detox organs, specifically the liver and kidneys.
Onions are rich in biotin, a B vitamin that is notable for its benefits for hair, skin, and the nervous system, as well as manganese, copper, and vitamin B6. Onions are also sources of in quercetin, which is beneficial for cardiovascular health, and thiosulfinates, which prevent the growth of bacteria and other harmful organisms, supporting the liver, kidneys, intestines, and colon in the process.
Cucumbers are water-dense and thus a hydrating food. Cucumbers are also low in potassium, making them a kidney-friendly vegetable for those with kidney health issues.
This fruit is another excellent addition to your diet to support your kidney health. Research has found that cherries can reduce gout risk by 35%. Gout is a type of arthritis that occurs when the kidneys are functioning inadequately, making them a good, seasonal addition to those with and without these health concerns.
Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower can help support the body’s ability to detoxify. Cauliflower in particular is rich in vitamin C, folate, and fiber, all of which can help ward off toxins and lessen the stress placed on the kidneys.
Red Bell Peppers
Red bell peppers have both low in potassium and high in water content, helping to support hydration. These peppers are also rich in lycopene, a carotenoid that reduces high blood pressure, which is one of the primary risk factors of kidney disease. Lycopene also holds anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties to help support overall health.
Garlic can aid the body in detoxification, and is also anti-inflammatory. According to some research, the active compound allicin, which gives garlic its unique smell, can support kidney health by reducing hypertension and oxidative stress, supporting overall renal function.
Blueberries are excellent for overall health, as they are particularly rich in antioxidants which help reduce inflammation in the body. Blueberries provide a wide variety of phytonutrients, including stilbenoids like pterostilbene and flavonoids like quercetin, myricetin, and kaempferol. They are a good source of vitamin K, vitamin C and manganese as well as a good source of fiber and copper. Blueberries are also supportive of kidney health specifically by boosting renal function and supporting glucose metabolism.
Raspberries and strawberries are other fiber-rich berries to add to your diet. They are low in potassium, rich in antioxidants are anti-inflammatory.
Olive oil contains powerful anti-inflammatory health benefits, making it a great alternative to refined vegetable oils that are implicated in the root cause of many chronic diseases. This oil is rich in monounsaturated fats which are supportive of cardiovascular health and is a good source of vitamins E and K. Since inflammation, obesity, and diabetes put a strain on the kidneys, using an anti-inflammatory oil can make a big difference in the health of your kidneys.
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Wild-caught salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help combat inflammation in the body. These fatty acids have been found to help lower blood pressure, a key part of supporting optimal kidney function. Salmon is also a good source of riboflavin, pantothenic Acid and Phosphorus, and contains high amounts of, Niacin, folate and vitamins B6 and B12.
Mushrooms are one of the few non-animal foods that contain ergosterol, a precursor to vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in kidney health, as low vitamin D levels are linked to early signs of kidney disease.
The science is in: A Paleo diet does not cause or exacerbate kidney problems, and in fact, can be protective kidney health. Including Paleo friendly, humanely raised animal protein sources in your diet will not damage renal function, as long as you don’t have any pre-existing kidney conditions. A Paleo diet removes many of the inflammatory foods that contribute to kidney disease risk factors and numerous Paleo friendly foods are supportive of kidney health
If you are following a Paleo diet and experience kidney issues, look at the most common risk factors first: high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
Of course, always consult with your health professional first before starting a new diet, especially if you have kidney problems or have any other risk factor for kidney disease.