As a urologist, I most often see patients with kidney conditions well after their symptoms have presented and the damage as a result, has progressed. Although this fact comes with the territory of being a doctor, it is no less disheartening. There is so much that can be done to prevent our kidneys from deteriorating to the point of requiring medical intervention, especially surgery.
Simply put, the kidneys are the filtration system for the waste our bodies produce. What goes in must come out and taxing our organs beyond the capacity for which they were designed can have major consequences, including the development of certain types of cancer. Though implementing it might be tougher for some people, the solution is simple: Significantly reduce or eliminate altogether those foods that, over time, can severely impair kidney health. To make it easy, here is a list of some of the worst offenders:
1. Diet Soft Drinks: It was recently reported in an 11-year research study done by Harvard Medical School of more than 3,000 women that diet soda was associated with a doubled increase in declining kidney health. The same results were not replicated in a study of sugar-sweetened soft drinks, leading the researchers to conclude that the negative effects on the kidneys are associated with the artificial sweeteners found in these beverages. My advice: stick to water. It's has zero calories and is so much better for nearly every organ system in your body, including your kidneys.
2. Salt: Let's be clear, our bodies need some sodium in order to function properly. However, all of what the body requires can actually be found in a large number and variety of fruits and vegetables. Yet the added salt we really don't need is found on most people's dinner tables, in the form of a salt shaker. When it's sitting right in front of us, we tend not to think before we use it to season foods. The problem is that when you eat too much salt, the kidneys respond by retaining water in order to dilute it. This is a protective measure that helps balance the chemical levels of the blood stream, which is required to keep our hearts in working order. Over time, placing this much stress on the kidneys can cause damage to them and to the heart muscle. So next time you sit down at a meal, taste your food before you season it. If it needs a little something more, add just a pinch. Better yet, choose an alternative that adds more flavor without adding more sodium.
3. Red Meat: It has long been studied that animal-based proteins force the kidneys to work harder to eliminate the waste produced when we eat meat. Red meat tops that list. Frequent consumption of red meat, over time, has been associated with the increased risk of developing kidney stones. If you've never developed them, I can assure you that you'll never want to. They're painful and don't always "pass" quickly. But the good news is that they're avoidable. Reduce your intake of red meat now and replace it with other great sources of protein: nuts, grains and vegetables. You will save yourself a lot of unnecessary pain long-term.
4. Heavily Processed or "Fast Foods" Foods: This one is no surprise, really for many of the reasons listed above. The human body and its filtration system, including the kidneys, weren’t designed to process the "fast foods" our society so readily consumes today. Too much of these foods over too long a period effectively shut down the way our bodies handle the waste from them. Consuming foods in their most whole and complete form, whenever possible, is the best way to go for overall kidney health and general wellness.
5. Caffeine: It seems that every time we turn around, another study is coming out about the positive or negative effects of caffeine on the brain or the heart or some other body system. This can be confusing for the public in determining whether to eliminate it from the diet altogether or increase the intake. Because caffeine is a stimulant, too much of it can increase blood pressure which increases stress on the kidneys and makes them go into "overdrive." The long term effects of this can include kidney failure. Avoid the risk by reducing your intake to no more than one or two daily cups of coffee.
While health care professionals like to use the term "everything in moderation," it can be a misleading concept. One person's idea of moderation might be the next person's idea of excessive. Instead, focus on incorporating or increasing a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and WATER into your diet. Doing so will help leave a lot less room for the foods that can ultimately ruin your kidney health.