Top Foods for Optimal Kidney Health


Your kidneys, while small, are among the hardest working organs. As a part of your internal filtration system, they’re responsible for removing waste and extra fluids from your body. But that’s not all these two tiny bean-shaped organs do. They also control blood pressure, orchestrate the creation of red blood cells, make vitamin D to support bone health, and balance the body’s pH levels. (1) To maintain healthy kidney function, it’s important to feed them well.

A diet rich in healthy foods can enhance the performance of your kidneys, especially if you have a propensity for kidney stones or are at risk of kidney disease. Poor food choices, on the other hand, can put stress on the kidneys, particularly if they aren’t functioning optimally. Here’s the breakdown of what to eat and what to avoid for healthier kidneys.

Best foods for kidney health

Studies support eating a healthy whole foods diet like the anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet or the low-sodium DASH diet. (2)(3) Both of these diets are high in lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats that support kidney function. And they both tend to be more alkaline rather than acidic, which may help the kidneys as they work to balance the body’s pH. (4) While a balanced diet helps to support overall kidney health, there are foods that provide even more benefits. Here are nine of the best foods for good kidney health.

child holding a red apple

Snacking on an apple a day is a great way to provide your kidneys with the antioxidants they need for optimal health.

Apples

Apples are a rich source of pectin, a soluble fiber that supports healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels. According to preliminary research, pectin also boosts important antioxidants in the kidneys. One study in the journal Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy found that apple pectin, taken as a supplement, increased superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione, and catalase activity in the kidneys by as much as 31 percent. (5)

Blueberries

Dubbed a superfood by many nutritionists, blueberries possess powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit kidney health. They’ve also been found to increase renal blood flow and improve the kidneys’ ability to filter waste. (6)

Cabbage

Cabbage—or more specifically cabbage or sauerkraut juice—has been shown to enhance the activity of key enzymes that may prevent kidney cancer in much the same way compounds in other cruciferous vegetables like broccoli do. (7) Bonus: cabbage is also a good source of vitamin C and vitamin K, as well as many of the B vitamins.

Cranberries

Anyone who’s ever suffered from a urinary tract infection (UTI) is likely familiar with cranberries. But the perks these tart berries provide aren’t just limited to the bladder. They can also help prevent kidney infection, thanks to a plant compound called A-type proanthocyanidin. This compound prevents bacteria from sticking to the lining of the bladder and the kidneys. (8) Cranberries are especially helpful for people with kidney disease as they are at greater risk of UTIs.

Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of protein for anyone looking to support kidney health. They are also rich in leucine, lutein, zeaxanthin, and vitamin D. However, if you have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD), stick to egg whites as the yolk is high in phosphorus, a mineral that compromised kidneys have trouble removing. Over time, excess phosphorus can cause your body to pull calcium out of your bones and deposit it in places like your arteries, heart, or eyes where it doesn’t belong. (9)

Fatty fish

Fatty cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, or anchovies are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These beneficial fats possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties that may help protect kidney function, especially as you age. (10) Omega-3s may also help reduce blood pressure, which is a key risk factor for kidney disease, and reduce the risk of end-stage kidney disease in people with CKD. (11)

Did you know?
Enjoying omega 3-rich fish at least twice a week can provide your kidneys with powerful anti-inflammatory benefits.

woman and daughter making salad in kitchen

Olive oil can help reduce inflammation throughout the body—including the kidneys. It can even be instrumental in preventing injury to the kidneys.

Olive oil

This popular cooking oil is high in oleic acid, which may help reduce inflammation throughout the body—including the kidneys. According to one Spanish study, a diet rich in extra-virgin olive oil could play a protective role against kidney injury. (12)

Shiitake mushrooms

Lentinula edodes (Shiitake), a savory mushroom is an excellent source of the B vitamins, selenium, copper, manganese, and beta-glucan. Beta-glucan is a unique type of soluble fiber with immune-boosting properties that preliminary research suggests is especially protective of the kidneys. (13)

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes contain vitamins and minerals that can help balance sodium levels and may blunt its effect on the kidneys. One less common type of sweet potato—the purple sweet potato—was found to protect the kidneys by reducing free radical damage, especially in people with type 2 diabetes. (14) However, because sweet potatoes are high in potassium, they may not be appropriate for those with CKD.

Hydrate for healthy kidneys

Along with eating a healthy diet that includes these kidney-friendly foods, it’s also important to stay hydrated. Drinking a sufficient amount of water not only helps ensure that the mineral levels in urine aren’t overly concentrated, but it also helps prevent common kidney problems like UTIs and kidney stones. (15) In fact, dehydration has been shown in epidemiological studies to be an important—and common—risk factor for recurrent kidney stones. (16)

man drinking water from a glass

Your individual water needs largely depend on your activity level, age, and climate instead of a one-size-fits-all formula.

But if you think that the old eight-glasses-a-day advice still holds, think again. The Institute of Medicine estimates that, on average, men need approximately 3 liters (13 cups) of H2O and women need about 2.2 liters (9 cups) daily. (17) But be aware that everyone’s needs are slightly different based on age, exercise intensity, the climate you live in, overall health, and for women, whether they are pregnant or breastfeeding. A good rule of thumb is to look at your urine. If it is dark yellow, that indicates that you are dehydrated and you need to increase your water intake. (18)

Did you know?
About 60 percent of your body weight is made up of water. (19)

Foods to limit or avoid for kidney health

While many foods support kidney health, there are some you should either eat in moderation or avoid, even if you don’t have kidney problems. Generally, eating foods that are extremely high in sodium not only taxes the kidneys, they may also increase the risk of high blood pressure—one of the most common causes of CKD. What’s more, a diet high in salt alters your sodium balance, which can put a strain on the kidneys. (20) Here are some foods that are especially high in sodium:

  • Canned foods
  • Olive and pickles
  • Packaged, convenience, or pre-made foods
  • Processed meats
  • Salty snacks like chips or pretzels
  • Soft drinks

While limiting these foods is good advice for everyone, if you have been diagnosed with kidney disease, talk with your health care provider about your diet since some otherwise healthy foods that are high in phosphorus and potassium may also cause problems.

Did you know?
Research shows that a diet high in processed and fried foods is associated with a higher mortality rate from kidney disease while a diet rich in fruits and vegetables appears to be protective. (21)

The bottom line

When it comes to maintaining kidney health, what you eat really does matter. Taking a proactive approach with a diet that contains plentiful amounts of fruit, vegetables, eggs, and omega 3-rich fish can support healthy kidney function and help prevent future UTIs, kidney stones, and even CKD.

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