Hi There! Today I thought we’d talk about the two cute little bean-shaped organs that sit just below the ribcage. It’s amazing how the human body functions and how everything works synergistically. This blog post will specifically review a basic understanding of the kidneys and how managing your diet through proper nutrition can help prevent kidney damage.
According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 3 adults who have diabetes may have chronic kidney disease (CKD) and 1 in 5 adults with hypertension or high blood pressure may also have CKD (1). Not to mention, according to The National Kidney Foundation (NKF), 1 in 3 American adults have a higher risk for chronic kidney disease. There are many causes for the kidneys to become damaged or weakened; however, the main causes of CKD are hypertension and diabetes. In fact, these conditions accounted for 75% of CKD cases between the years 2015 through 2017 (2).
You may be asking yourself what does this all mean and why are my kidneys important? Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
How Kidneys Work
The kidneys, (as mentioned previously) are located just below the ribcage on either side of the spine. We are born with two kidneys. The primary responsibility of the kidneys is to filter or “clean” your blood, remove toxins, and excessive amounts of water by producing urine. Once urine is produced, this will travel to your bladder and then you know what happens next. It gets excreted! Another important note to make is that your kidneys are also responsible for excreting minerals such as phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and calcium. When the kidneys are damaged, they have a harder time excreting these guys causing concern for having elevated levels in the blood as well as fluid retention. The kidneys do a TON that we are completely unaware of. Remember that your body’s goal is to maintain homeostasis.
Kidney failure can be sudden which is called Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) or can lead to a chronic condition as mentioned previously, Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). When a person has AKI, it is common to see the kidneys bounce back with the correct treatment. However, when the kidneys are not able to function properly again, this can become a chronic condition. With the help of proper medical nutrition therapy, the progression of CKD may be slowed down. Some of these nutrition recommendations may include limiting your intake of protein and fluids as well as monitoring pertinent lab values. There are a total of 5 stages of chronic kidney disease where stage 5 is considered end-stage renal disease or (ESRD). This is where dialysis or a kidney transplant takes place.
When we look at the nutrition recommendations for people with renal failure, it is important that the dietitian takes an individualistic approach based on the person’s stage of chronic kidney disease. Some of the important lab values that are reviewed to help understand a person’s stage of chronic kidney disease include potassium, phosphorus, calcium, glomerular filtration rate (GFR), creatinine/blood urea nitrogen (BUN), hemoglobin and albumin to name a few. Medical nutrition therapy will be based on multiple areas that are provided by the person.
Nutrition Therapy for Kidneys
Now that we have the basics down, what can we do to prevent ourselves from damaging our kidneys? Remember that the 2 main causes of CKD is high blood pressure and diabetes. A person is able to maintain healthy kidneys by incorporating a nutritious lifestyle that includes consuming whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats while also incorporating exercise and limiting alcohol intake. It is also important to limit your sodium intake to less than 2300 mg per day (3).
Sample of a Renal Diet Breakfast
(low sodium, low potassium, low phosphorus)
2 soft boiled eggs
2 slices of whole-wheat toast
1 tbsp of butter
½ cup of blueberries
½ cup of skim milk
If you are uncertain if you are at risk for kidney disease, speak with your doctor and work with a registered dietitian who specializes in renal to work with your condition. If you have any further questions, feel free to reach out!
Rebecca Goodrich MS, RDN, LDN
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chronic Kidney Disease in the United States, 2019. www.cdc.gov/kidneydisease. Page last reviewed: March 11, 2019.
- National Kidney Foundation. Kidney Disease: The Basics. www.kidney.org. 2020 National Kidney Foundation Inc.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Chronic Kidney Disease. www.niddk.nih.gov/health. October 2016.